Miami 21 zoning code could come into effect this year
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
This could be the year for Miami 21.
The proposed new zoning code dubbed Miami 21, unveiled almost four years ago, could become the law of the land in 2009.
Earlier this month, the three remaining quadrants — the north, south and west —received approval of new zoning maps, getting the green light from the Planning Advisory Board. The east quadrant won approval in April 2007.
The board reviews zoning and planning changes and makes recommendations to the final decision-maker: the Miami City Commission.
Miami 21 is weeks away from going in front of the commission, a date has yet to be set.
City officials say if the new code is approved, they are ready to begin its implementation.
The commission scrapped plans to approve the code in mid-March, after commissioners Tomás Regalado, Angel Gonzalez and Marc Sarnoff voted to give residents more time to review the complex land-use code.
The planning board approved the quadrants after making some key recommendations.
Board members asked the allowable size of buildings to be reduced in areas such as tree-lined Coral Way and Southwest 27th Avenue, between US 1 and Coral Way, both areas where large-scale residential developments sprung up during the recent real estate boom.
Since Miami 21's debut, the city has held more than 50 public meetings and more than 400 individual meetings with stakeholders, said Luciana Gonzalez, project manager for Miami 21.
But the numerous meetings didn't seem to clear all the questions.
The planning board's recent meetings to discuss Miami 21 were marked by high-attendance with long hours of debates and much public reaction from neighborhood associations, area architects and developers' lawyers who voiced their concerns and discontent with the proposed code.
Expecting a similar outpour, the city commission plans to hold meetings solely dedicated to iron out the proposed Miami 21.
Some code critics, outspoken about the plan since its conception, plan to present their arguments to the commission.
While some neighborhoods are asking for less development, others like Brickell West stakeholders want more.
Charles Tavares, a Brickell real estate investor, said the proposed zoning is not giving the Brickell West area its "ideal zoning." They are asking for higher height limits so that the area can attract more "desirable mixed-use projects.
"This can and should be a win-win situation for the community, city and environment."
Mr. Tavares, a longtime property and business owner in Brickell, said easing up on height restrictions would allow the community to grow like its East Brickell neighbors.
He said new planning and zoning conditions need to allow for more mixed-use projects with amenities.
For Miami to become a world class city, he said, the new zoning code has to make it possible for "world class developers to bring these desirable projects to Brickell West."
On the other hand, supporters say the new code is designed to create a more sustainable city with more landscaping and wider streets and denser development for Miami's next generation of commercial and residential construction.
But if the city commission passes Miami 21, what happens next?
Ms. Gonzalez said the city has worked on the new code's implementation phase for some time.
She said staff in other departments such as information technology, code enforcement and building are getting trained and instructed on the new code as it would transform many city services like permit requests and zoning changes.
"We understand in the weeks and months [to come] will be a time of transition and learning," she said. "The bottom line is we are preparing for the implementation process to go smoothly with all departments involved."
Members of the Builders Association of South Florida are concerned at the non-conforming uses that could surface from the transition to a new zoning code and if their development rights are going to be affected, said association president Ashley Bosch in a recent interview.
"When you have change, some people are fearful," he said. "More important is how this transition is going to work."
Ms. Gonzalez said there is time to address concerns with any land-use and zoning changes before Miami 21 is implemented.
For example, she said developers and builders with already-issued major use special permits have invested rights on those projects approved under the current zoning code.
"We are addressing that right now; we are aware of the legalities," she said, adding the department intends to work with existing permit holders.
Major-use special permits are valid for two years followed by two two-year extensions.
"At the end of the day, Miami 21 is something better than what we have today," she said.
Last week, the city took another hit after the state's Department of Community Affairs rejected for the second time zoning plans for the Miami River that would weaken marine industry and make room for residential development along the river.
In its second submission of the comprehensive plan, OK'ed by the commission in November, the city's planning department kept its arguments for condos on the river backing them with a report by a hired consultant.
Both the Planning Advisory Board and the South Florida Regional Planning Council rejected the city's comprehensive plan for removing the word "Port" from the Miami River element.
The council argued that lifting working river protections would displace marine uses along the river to make way for condos.
Andrew Dickman, who represents the Miami River Marine Group, said three developments planned along the river could be one of the reasons the administration keeps fighting for commercial development in the waterway.
"The political powers don't want to admit perhaps it is not a good idea, especially in this economic situation where development pressures are not there," he said.
Mr. Dickman said the city should first deal with issues in the comprehensive plan.
"The city should resolve the problems that the state rejected before they move on with Miami 21 rather than sending the state new amendments."