HOME » Press Room » Friday, May 18, 2007
 News Article: Miami 21 Plans Ready for Commission in Spite of Critics


The update of the city's zoning code focuses on the relationship of one building to another rather than on a building's use.

Dates are being set for two days of review by the commission on the east quadrant, which includes downtown, Brickell Avenue and east of I-95 up to Northwest 79th Street. The west quadrant includes East Little Havana, the north quadrant includes the Allapattah industrial district, and the south quadrant includes Coconut Grove and Bay Heights.

Acclaimed architect Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, who is heading the project, said she hopes to move onto planning the second quadrant by the end of summer.

The plan has drawn criticism for delays and from affordable housing groups.

Plater-Zyberk spoke to the Daily Business Review about those issues and the zoning changes expected for the first quadrant.

Where does Miami 21 stand?
We are very close to a City Commission hearing. We've been through the planning advisory board and, at this point, we are hearing some last minute comments and questions which we are trying to resolve before going to the City Commission.

What are some of those comments and questions?
The issues in general are the same that we started with at the inception in this process. On one hand neighborhood concerns too much about overdevelopment and the development community concerns about too many restrictions.

There have been protests on the affordable housing aspect of Miami 21. What has been the response so far?
We had a meeting with one of the groups representing those interests and, first of all, the city has an affordable housing trust fund, which received fees for developers. So we're building on that with the public benefits program, which encourages developers to ask for more height capacity paying into that fund, and essentially the city has used that fund to assist in the development of affordable housing. So we're expanding the old bonus program to generate more funds for affordable housing.

But that's an incentive rather than a requirement. The groups were asking to require new buildings to include affordable housing, correct?
Many of the things that they are asking for are things that zoning can't deal with, but the one thing that we could do but there is a general reluctance is what's called inclusive zoning in which you require everything that's built to have some percentage of affordability, and the county has been exploring that with committees and consultants. Around the country, people have been looking at that, and very few municipalities have incorporated inclusive zoning. And there are many reasons.

Essentially the other units in the building then are subsidizing that unit, which puts the other units at a higher cost. So there is a great concern that we would just be impacting another kind of affordability.

If you're helping affordable housing, you might be driving the cost of work force housing up. If you're helping work force housing in your building, then you might be driving up the cost of the market rate such that there are more people that need work force housing.

Is there a chance that the inclusive zoning would make it to Miami 21?
We are not suggesting that because we have seen the discussion about the difficulty with it. If the city or the county or the region at some point said this is our last possible strategy to be able to provide housing, then it should come up as a separate issue.

Will there be any changes to the affordable housing aspect of the current plan?
No. We are already doing more than the existing code with Miami 21, and what people should understand is that we are taking a step forward. We are taking the first steps with this code and should be appreciated for that. But what we can't afford to do is to stop the whole code because society, our region, hasn't figured out the whole affordable housing issue.

There has been some criticism about the delays. What do you attribute the delays to?
This is a complex endeavor, to take a city which has an old and many-layered zoning code and try to make that code into a coherent and clear regulation, which accommodates the value expectations of the old code but also tries to produce a better public realm with additional components of quality that relate to the quality of public space.

But there is a very important reason, which is the amount of public interaction that has taken place. There's been endless e-mailing. There have been many public meetings and much correspondence with people making suggestions.

I should add that in the east quadrant, the commissioners have changed several times. So in a sense, with each commissioner we've started over, but I want to make sure that doesn't sound like I'm blaming them.

Do you have a plan on when to move to the second quadrant?
We have shown the city an accelerated timeline for the next quadrant, given how much work has been done in this first quadrant, but they have not responded to us on whether they have accepted it yet. We want to make sure that this next quadrant has its share of public input, but there is a lot of work we don't have to redo.

What was the suggested timeline?
We've suggested that maybe two quadrants could go forward together, and we've suggested several different ways of accelerating it.

In all likelihood, if it passes the commission in the first part of the summer, then we would start doing our research and prep work for the next quadrant. If all goes well, we could start having some of the public meetings towards the end of the summer.

What would be the most significant changes from the existing code to this first quadrant?
One of the obvious ones is the residential or commercial building with the parking garage on the ground floor or several floor of parking decks open to the street will no longer exist. The code asks for liners with habitable space so the building at every level presents a pedestrian-friendly façade to the street.

Developers are concerned about rushing to get building approval before the zoning changes because they are afraid there will be a building moratorium. What do you think of that?
People have been rushing in for the last year and a half, and in some cases I think people will study their property, and they will reconsider it under Miami 21 because it's intended to make a better building. It's not just for the passerby but also for the property owner.

The zoning codes are tied to land and real estate value. Can you think of an area where there will be downzoning?
In general, we have not reduced the capacity. There are some areas adjacent to neighborhoods - very specific in small areas - where there was an agreement that things should be lower. But for the most part - especially in the Central Business District, in Brickell, in Edgewater, Midtown - there was never any intention to downzone. There is no reason to try to devaluate the city. In general, form-based codes add to the value because they increase predictability, and there is kind of an understanding of what's intended, and that gives confidence to investors.

Can you give me some examples of those small areas that you mentioned where downzoning will happen?
For instance, in northeast Overtown where Habitat for Humanity has been building single-family houses, and there are two blocks of new single-family houses that were built as affordable housing. I believe that might have been zoned R-3, which is a kind of garden-apartment density, and we're suggesting that be rezoned T-3, which is the lowest zoning. It's single family and duplex.

Do we have the infrastructure necessary, like public transportation, to make Miami 21 effective?
No. What Miami 21 is doing is ensuring that new buildings will make a pedestrian-friendly public realm, which is the environment you need for people to use transit. The provision of transit has to come separate. In the United States, transit follows development.

There will be a period of time in which there is not enough transit, but we know that it's already being planned. We are in a pattern of growth and transition in which we are looking to a complete future but the completion can't happen overnight.

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