HOME » Press Room » Friday, March 30, 2007
 News Article: Panel Rejects Zoning in Progress

by: Tania Valdemoro


For years, critics of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz have accused him and his administration of never turning down a development project that would boost the city's coffers.

So two years ago, when Diaz launched Miami 21, a comprehensive plan to define and control how Miami grows as a city in the future, critics feared it would be doomed by loopholes exploited by developers.

Now, critics say city leaders crafted a loophole that might destroy the Miami 21 plan, whose signature feature is a new zoning code that specifically determines how each area of the city, known as a ''transect,'' should be built.

They cite a proposal by Zoning Administrator Lourdes Slazyk to water down a ''pause button'' law that would put development approvals on hold while the new zoning code takes effect in the city's eastern quadrant, which includes downtown, Overtown, Wynwood, Edgewater, Little Haiti and the Upper Eastside.

The Planning Advisory Board rejected the draft of the law presented by Slazyk, known as ''zoning in progress,'' by a vote of 8-1 on March 21.

Board member Janice Tarbert, said if ''zoning in progress'' does not apply throughout Miami, developers would be able to submit their projects under the existing zoning rules in Miami's north, south and west quadrants and undermine the new zoning code. The current zoning code has looser requirements on height and density than Miami 21 does.

''When Miami 21 comes in, it will be too late,'' Tarbert said.

City Manager Pete Hernandez disagreed.

''A phased approach is more prudent. We are doing this to ease the concerns of people for the areas without a new code,'' he said.

The Planning Advisory Board intends to hold a workshop about ''zoning in progress'' so more people can weigh in on the proposed law. Arva Moore Parks, the board's chairwoman, said no date has been set.

The city's Planning Department will present Miami 21, including the new zoning code for the eastern quadrant, to the Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday; the nonbinding board vote takes place April 18. The City Commission, which ultimately decides the issue, is expected to vote on the plan in June.

Miami 21 came under renewed criticism Saturday, when Diaz and Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., the city's consultants, presented a new draft of the plan at an open house at Archbishop Curley-Notre Dame High School in Little Haiti.

Key components of the Miami 21 plan were absent. Among the items promised but not included: the draft plan of Miami's Historic Preservation program and updated economic analyses of the Wynwood and Little Haiti industrial priority development areas.

City staff and officials downplayed the omissions and defended the months-long delay between drafts of the zoning code. They said they took the time to resolve numerous issues before presenting the public with a comprehensive plan.

''We gave a complete draft with form-based zoning, economic development, parks and open space and a transportation plan,'' said Marina Khoury, a project manager with Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, the architecture and planning firm leading Miami 21.

The omissions raised questions among several of the 150 people who attended the open house.

''We were told the historic preservation plan will be coming out soon and will be reviewed in parallel with Miami 21,'' said Don Worth, a historic preservation activist.

Worth came with Nancy Liebman, president of the Urban Environmental League, and others concerned about how the new zoning rules would affect the redevelopment of two dozen MiMo motels on Biscayne Boulevard that belong to Miami's newest historic district.

Luciana Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Miami's Planning Department, said city staff is still rewriting the current historic designation rules so they conform to the new zoning code. Gonzalez did not say when a draft of the new rules would be made public.

Khoury said another draft of the economic development plan by Washington, D.C.-based Economics Research Associates, would come out soon.

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