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 News Article:  Miami's New Look Makes Public Debut
   
THE MIAMI HERALD

 

Tattered Northwest Second Avenue could be lined with town houses and live-work units -- homes where residents live above their own businesses. The bayfront might see no more super-sized condo surprises. No longer would exposed parking garages mar city street fronts.

The first public peek at Miami 21, the city's months-overdue zoning overhaul, served up ample details Saturday to scores of residents, activists, developers and lawyers at the Coconut Grove Expo Center -- and left some as-of-yet-unresolved questions on their plates.

It also brought the first, if still tentative, schedule for enactment of the initial portion of Miami 21, covering the city's development-crazed eastern quadrant: After numerous public hearings and workshops, a final City Commission vote would occur in September.

That gives residents, developers, city officials and their planning consultants several months to digest a heavy meal that sandwiches new blueprints for shady, pedestrian-friendly streets, sidewalks, neighborhoods and commercial corridors between novel zoning terms, formulas and concepts.

The aim of the intricately comprehensive plan -- detailed in charts, maps and sketches that will be available Monday at www.miami21.org-- is to bring clarity and predictability to the city's Byzantine zoning rule book, which many blame for Miami's helter-skelter development.

''It's good,'' said Alan Ojeda, a Brickell-area developer who sat through much of Saturday's four-hour presentation. "I think it will simplify life for a lot of people.''

Among other features, Miami 21 jettisons pages of legalistic zoning verbiage and replaces them with charts and diagrams that would permit anyone to easily determine the building shape, scale and allowable uses on any particular site in the city.

It also condenses multiple layers of existing zoning categories into a set of development zones, called transects, that range from suburban-style single-family neighborhoods to the densest, sky-is-the-limit downtown districts.

STRICT RULES

The result, planners hope, will be more-orderly development, governed by strict rules that pinpoint areas fit for higher density -- including some major intersections such as Northeast 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard in the east quadrant -- while drawing clear demarcations around adjacent residential neighborhoods.

Density would drop in some other places, but overall development capacity across the city would remain about the same as under the current code -- a concern for developers and owners worried about property values.

Miami 21 would also place greater emphasis on historic preservation. It proposes allowing owners of historic buildings to sell air rights to developers in high-density areas such as downtown, enhancing the economic viability of old buildings.

''As a community we have to identify the places where we want to grow and the places we want to preserve,'' said the city's lead consultant, planner and architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. ``And that's what we're trying to do.''

Still, in spite of a generally open-minded reception, Saturday's presentation did not quell lingering skepticism about the city's intentions from some residents whose neighborhoods have been besieged by a wave of intense redevelopment and who regard Mayor Manny Diaz's administration as overly friendly to developers.

Chief among their concerns: that in attempting to standardize and streamline the application process for new development projects, Miami 21 appears to grant city planners authority to approve new buildings without public hearings or notification.

''Basically, this is pre-approving everything in the future,'' said Hadley Williams, president of Miami Neighborhoods United, a citywide group. "The overall planning intention is excellent, but this is very troublesome. There has to be a way for the public to participate.''

OPTIONS OPEN

Planners are looking for a way to do that but haven't settled on any option, Plater-Zyberk said. She emphasized that the plan outlined Saturday -- which includes a proposed new zoning map for the eastern quadrant -- is a working draft and that public feedback will play an important role in determining its final shape.

''A lot of things are still malleable,'' she said.

Others expressed concern that the plan, while accommodating future public transit, won't do much to curb growing traffic congestion.

Plater-Zyberk said the plan seeks to reduce automobile dependency by redirecting larger-scale development, which now occurs haphazardly along the city's main commercial corridors, to denser ''nodes'' at major intersections that would serve as pedestrian-friendly centers for surrounding neighborhoods.

By mandating active storefronts, wider sidewalks and the planting of shade streets in commercial districts, Miami 21 would enhance the city's ''public realm'' to make walking safer and more appealing. Eliminating exposed garages and minimizing garage openings along pedestrian corridors is part of that strategy, Plater-Zyberk said.

The plan would also establish new townhome zones to buffer single-family neighborhoods from over-scaled high-rises already built on the commercial corridors -- a potentially controversial notion that would in some places require replacement of blocks of single-family homes.

SOME OPPOSITION

Activist Elvis Cruz of Morningside circulated fliers at Saturday's meeting opposing the idea, which he said would lead to greater congestion in single-family neighborhoods. Instead, he urged strict three-story height limits on buildings outside of downtown.

Miami 21 would institute height limits outside of downtown, but at greater heights than that -- ranging from eight stories to 48 stories, depending on the area.

But by changing the generous formula now used to calculate allowable building volume, Miami 21 would curtail developers' ability to super-size towers in many places, especially lots fronting water or parks, said assistant planning director Lourdes Slazyk.

Bonuses that now allow developers to add floors -- for instance, by paying into an affordable-housing fund -- will likely be kept. However, the price will go up, from the $12 a square foot to somewhere between $60 and $200, and, in some cases, developers may be required to build affordable units in their projects or elsewhere.

But their buildings, Slazyk said, "will have a cap, and it can never be higher than that.''




   
   
 
   
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