Vast Design District project rolls ahead
Written by Meghan Mangrum on August 8, 2013
Miami is moving forward to amend the Design District special area plan by expanding the 19-acre mixed-use site 10% to almost 21 acres. The expansion would add 12 smaller properties along North Miami Avenue to the district, bringing the total area to over 1.3 million square feet.
Amendments to the plan had previously been proposed and then revised after a meeting of Miami’s Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board in July. Board members had voted unanimously to recommend the plan to the city commissioners responsible for accepting the plan.
The amendment adding properties to the special area plan passed last month on first reading by city Commissioners Marc Sarnoff, Wifredo Gort and Michelle Spence-Jones. Commissioners Francis Suarez and Frank Carollo were absent.
A second reading is required to finalize the amendment following normal protocol, which the City Clerk’s office predicates will be at the City Commission meeting Sept. 26.
The expanded plan would increase the number of commercial properties, residential units and parking available as well as turning the retail district into a more walkable area.
Amending the special area plan, the legislation says, will aid redevelopment as well as create more residential units, hotel rooms, commercial space and civic or open space in the area.
The expansion would also create more than 1,200 jobs when the project is completed, as well as temporary construction jobs as the development is underway, the developers say.
Originally, the project’s approved 19 acres consisted of 951,718 square feet of commercial space, 53 hotel rooms, 96 residential units and 2,571 parking spaces and was supposed to generate $3.2 million in tax revenue annually for the city. With the amended additions, the plan would generate almost $4.7 million a year in taxes.
The original expansion proposal almost included the rezoning of a condominium on Biscayne Boulevard, but that component was removed. It was also recommended that the developer meet with area neighborhood associations throughout the work, as many have expressed concerns including height restrictions, security and parking availability due to the district expansion.
“We started from the very beginning with the neighborhood and making sure [developer Craig] Robins’ plan is conducive to the neighborhood,” said Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, citing problems originally with a lack of communication between developers and the neighborhood associations.
Developers have since met with these associations and will be required to do so quarterly throughout the project.
Wendy Stephan of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association spoke during the hearing at the commission meeting late July about the association’s concerns, including the setback on Northeast 31st Street and zoning concerns, and how these concerns had been addressed.
Miami’s Design District is a plan developed by Mr. Robins, president and CEO of DACRA, to create a luxury retail district. Mr. Robins designed the layout for the luxury district that includes a pedestrian passageway lined with luxury shops and cafes, as well as civic and open spaces for shoppers to rest and linger.
The district has already gained international attention as a center for furniture design, as well as home for the arts, fashion and restaurants. The district is already home to a Christian Louboutin boutique, and Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Fendi, Bulgari, Pucci and Marc by Marc Jacobs have signed on.
“I’m sure you are well aware of the improvements already to the Design District,” said Neisen Kasdin of the Akerman law firm and representative of the Design District proposal. “It is already having a tremendous economic impact and benefit to the city as the project is well underway… it’s a magnificent project.”
One other concern was emphasized by Commissioner Spence-Jones in regards to the availability of parking as the project stretches into the Buena Vista Heights neighborhood.
“I’m going to ask that there is some sort of parking plan that take place in those areas where you have developments going on,” said Ms. Spence-Jones. “I think it is important to say here are some alternative parking options.”
Commissioners approved the original Design District special area plan in August 2012. Prior to the addition of properties, the district already spanned across properties bounded on the east by Biscayne Boulevard, south by Northeast Sixth Street, north by Northeast 40th Street and west by North Miami Avenue.