HOME » Press Room » Thursday, May 18, 2006
 News Article:  City Unveils a 21st Century Look for this Area


Miami residents got an initial glimpse Saturday into how city planners aim to reshape the look and feel of their neighborhoods by overhauling what some say is an antiquated zoning code.

At a four-plus hour meeting at the Coconut Grove Expo Center, Miami leaders and planners unveiled a long overdue draft of Miami 21 -- the citywide effort looking to redefine zoning -- to scores of developers, property owners, local activists and residents.

The draft presented Saturday targeted the city's ''Eastern quadrant,'' which includes neighborhoods from downtown and Overtown to Little Haiti and the Upper Eastside.

Incorporating elements of the New Urbanism movement which invites pedestrian use, the plan proposes wider sidewalks, narrower roads and shady trees in the eastern quadrant, and later citywide. Miami 21 also encourages setbacks, which allow for smoother visual transitions between homes and high-rises.

It is also intended to simplify the city's zoning code, which some say encourages hodgepodge development.

The plan was crafted after a series of meetings and workshops between residents and planners last year.

Audience members said Saturday they welcomed the draft, seeing it as a way to curb wildfire-like growth in their neighborhoods.

Some, however, also quibbled with details.

'We're disappointed that the proposal will keep the area `industrial,' '' said Silvia Wong, who owns a Little River-based whole foods distributor with her husband.

Wong is part of a group of property owners calling themselves ''West of the Tracks,'' who want to see the industrial zone west of the FEC corridor converted into a residential or mixed-use area. The area's commissioner, Michelle Spence-Jones, has said she fears such zoning changes could spur displacement.

''I think there's a misconception among city officials that jobs will be displaced,'' said Wong, who planned to expand her business. Miami 21 caused her to hold off, she said.

Bob Powers, president of the Palm Grove Neighborhood Association, suggested that a zoning code for a shopping strip at the corner of Northeast 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard be reconsidered. The proposed code recommends a high-density ''transect,'' or development zone, which could allow for as many as 6,000 people.

''That is one of the places where density makes sense,'' said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who as the project's chief consultant led a presentation of charts, maps and graphs. ``We're working with an imperfect beginning.''

One matter that's concerned residents for years is the dearth of park space.

In an attempt to address this, a city consultant told audience members that Miami 21 seeks to build a park within a half-mile walk of each resident and, later, within a quarter-mile walk.

''This has really become the urban standard,'' said Larissa Brown, chief planner for consultant Goody Clancy, a firm overseeing the development of the city's park system.

A more detailed park plan will be released in July, Brown said.

Steve Hagen, a Belle Meade resident and parks advocate, said the plan would only be feasible if the administration ``makes the commitment to collect the fees that are going to purchase the land in proportion to the number of residents being added to the city.''

He added, ``some of these parks may be just tot lots. But at least they're something for people to go to.''

The Miami 21 plan is expected to go before the City Commission in October.

To learn more about Miami 21, call 305-416-2121, e-mail info@miami21.org or visit miami21.org.

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