Miami legislation could tighten waterfront property rules
Written by John Charles Robbins on October 2, 2018
City of Miami leaders have worked hard for years to increase and improve public access to the bountiful waterfront locations hugging and bisecting the growing urban area.
The city charter and the city’s Miami 21 zoning code require most waterfront properties to install and maintain a public walkway along the water, which includes the baywalk on Biscayne Bay and the riverwalk on both sides of the Miami River.
Development on most waterfront property must include a 50-foot setback and 25-foot public walkway.
City commissioners on Sept. 27 approved on a first reading legislation that clarifies and tightens waterfront rules. A final vote may come this month.
The city’s Planning Department, Waterfront Advisory Board and Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board are recommending approval of the amendment.
Among other things, the amendment would define a waterway as: “Biscayne Bay and any body of water navigable to Biscayne Bay; Miami River and its tributaries from Biscayne Bay to salinity dams or termini, whichever comes first; and the Little River from Biscayne Bay to the salinity dam.”
Waterfront would be defined as: “The area of property that fronts a Waterway or Waterbody and is improved to preserve the City’s natural shoreline and to guarantee Open Space along with water’s edge.”
The Miami River Commission, City Manager’s Office, the mayor and city commissioners have all championed the waterfront setback rules and need for public access to the water, and fought for extending the growing baywalk and riverwalk.
The city itself has spent big money to construct improved public walkways and dockage on city-owned portions of the bay and the river.
One of the city’s latest projects is the revamping of Lummus Park on the river, which includes an expansive riverwalk and dock system.
Brett Bibeau, managing director of the river commission, attended the Sept. 27 meeting and read a letter into the record recommending approval of the legislation.
He said the amendment maintains the zoning code’s current requirements for the public Miami River Greenway.
The greenway is being implemented consistent with the city’s adopted Comprehensive Plan, Miami River Greenway Action Plan, Parks Master Plan,
Miami River Corridor Urban Infill Plan and the Miami River Corridor Multi-Modal Transportation Plan, he said.
“Thanks to a strong positive partnership between the public and private sectors, 6.5 miles or 65% of the public Miami River Greenway is complete, with 3.5 miles or 35% remaining to be constructed,” Mr. Bibeau said.
“The Miami River Greenway is significantly improving the natural environment and economy, with over 8,000 connecting new residential units, additional 7,450 approved residential units, major hotels with an additional three approved hotels featuring 1,160 new rooms, 23 operating restaurants with an additional 23 planned restaurants, over 550,000 square feet of retail currently under construction, etc.,” he said.
Mr. Bibeau added that the greenway serves as a safe transportation route for alternate transportation like bicycles and pedestrians, and directly connects with two Metrorail stations and two Metromover stations, reducing vehicular traffic, gas consumption and carbon emissions.
“In addition, walking and biking on the Miami River Greenway improves your physical health. Your time and continued strong support for completing the public Miami River Greenway are appreciated,” he told commissioners.
In 2016, river commission officials said they were surprised by a “shocking” interpretation issued by the city’s zoning administrator that in effect removed the zoning code’s waterfront building setbacks, view corridor setbacks and public riverwalk requirements along the river west of the Fifth Street Bridge.
The river commission unanimously agreed to appeal the zoning interpretation and began work with city officials toward amending or reversing the interpretation, in order for the code’s legal requirements for waterfront walkways, building setbacks and view corridors to remain in place for the entire Miami River and all connecting waterways.
The zoning administrator was apparently citing a charter amendment, approved by voters in 1979, requiring that all future development along the bay and along both banks of the river below (east of) the Fifth Street Bridge be placed 50 feet from the water’s edge.
But Miami 21, effective in May 2010, clearly says: “In addition to the Miami City Charter requirements, the following setback, walkways, and waterfront standards shall apply to all waterfront properties within the City of Miami …”
Since this was brought to the zoning administrator’s attention, river commission and city officials have been working on language to add to the waterfront standards in Miami 21.