HOME » Press Room » Thursday, December 15, 2005
 News Article:  Zoning Plan for Miami Delayed Till '06


The word from Miami officials to residents, developers, activists and others pining for a glimpse at Miami 21, the ambitious effort to create a sweeping new blueprint for the city's development: Not this year.

When Mayor Manny Diaz launched Miami 21 in April, administrators and their consultants estimated they could have a draft plan for the city's construction-crazed northeast quadrant ready by the end of this year -- including an entirely new zoning code meant to protect neighborhoods while ensuring that new development is cohesive and pedestrian-friendly.

But that timetable has turned out to be too ambitious, city officials say.

''We've made a lot of progress and it's coming together, but we're not ready yet to present it,'' said Otto Boudet-Murias, the city's chief of planning and economic development. ``We didn't want to rush it. This is something that is critical, and we want to make sure it's a very well thought-out plan.''

Planners divided the city into four sections to speed up enactment of the new code, meant to replace antiquated zoning rules that critics and officials say are bewilderingly complex and encourage hodgepodge, outscaled development. Each quadrant's code is to be completed and voted on by the commission in successive six-month blocks.

The city, however, has canceled public meetings scheduled for this month on a draft of the northeast quadrant plan that was to be presented to the Planning Advisory Board, planning department spokeswoman Luciana Gonzalez said. Instead, the consultants hope to make a progress report to the planning board at its Dec. 21 or Jan. 4 meeting, said planner and architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. the city's lead consultant.

Miami officials also say it's unlikely the east quadrant plan will be ready for a city commission vote in March, as they once contemplated.


Planners nonetheless believe they can still complete the citywide blueprint in the promised two years, Boudet-Murias said.

Developing a new kind of zoning code from scratch, and ensuring that it jibes with transportation and economic development plans being developed in tandem, has proven more complex than expected, city officials and consultants said.

''We were trying very hard to put a piece of it forward before Christmas just to show the progress, but as the work evolved, we saw that we need to bring it all together at the same rate,'' Plater-Zyberk said.

''It's really about being properly coordinated,'' she said.

Because the basic building blocks will be in place once the east quadrant plan is completed, Boudet-Murias said, ``subsequent quadrants will flow a lot better.''


Some activists are unhappy about the delay. Leaders of many city neighborhood groups have expressed worries about fast-moving development beating out the new rules.

''This has taken too long,'' said Joe Wilkins, secretary of Miami Neighborhoods United, which groups together local associations. ``My primary concern would be, how many projects are going to be approved while they're delaying? The longer they take, the more stuff goes up.''

City officials, including a commission majority, have rejected calls by MNU and others for a moratorium on approval of new projects while Miami 21 is finalized.

But administrators say they hope soon to submit to the commission a measure, called ''zoning in progress,'' that would essentially freeze many if not most new development proposals once the Miami 21 east quadrant plan is advertised for public comment.

''The purpose really is to prevent people from trying to rush applications in order to be grandfathered in'' before new rules go into effect, Boudet-Murias said.

Miami 21 is designed to overhaul an outdated zoning code that encourages outscaled development next to residential districts. The new code is meant to protect established neighborhoods while ensuring new construction is more cohesive and pedestrian-friendly.

Miami attorney Lucia Dougherty, who represents developers with pending city projects, said the delay doesn't affect her clients.

''It's certainly understandable it would take a long time to sort out the many issues involved, and two hurricanes haven't helped the progress of the studies,'' she said.

She said her clients aren't doing anything differently in anticipation of new rules, noting that city planners have already incorporated many of the Miami 21 zoning principles in the design review for large-scale projects -- including requirements that parking garages be hidden, and that new buildings line sidewalks with doors and windows to create pedestrian activity.

''We have advised our clients that we should be employing the principles of Miami 21 as we know them, so we don't get slowed down when it does pass,'' Dougherty said.


Plater-Zyberk said dissecting the current code, which contains more than 120 land-use categories and in some districts has as many as three layers of rules added on over the years, proved more time-consuming than expected. (The resulting analysis has been posted on the Miami 21 website, miami21.org.)

To simplify the code, the consultants also had to create new zoning categories and definitions, and now are coming up with proposed zoning virtually block by block along the east quadrant's main commercial corridors -- while ensuring they don't bar existing or desirable uses and businesses, or hiccup with the economic and transportation planning now also under way.

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