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 News Article:  City looks for fee negotiation with Miami 21 designers


Miami, FL. – Planning for new zoning code Miami 21 is to continue after city commissioners agreed last week to up the designers' $1.7 million contract by $510,000 — but things must be different this go round, they warned.

Take advantage of the economy and get more value for the city's dollar, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said — pay consultants less. "We should use the law of supply and demand to our benefit," he said, noting that the real estate bust means architects are seeing less business now.

A Duany Plater-Zyberk principal is paid now $350 an hour to work on the new code, and a director $150 an hour, Mr. Sarnoff said.

He asked City Manager Pete Hernandez to "renegotiate those fees at least 25% off."

The rates were set in 2003, Mr. Hernandez pointed out, but agreed to give it a try.

"I'll talk to them about the rates as to whether we can do anything with them," he said. Regardless, he vowed costs would not exceed the newly approved $2.21 million.

"My commitment is that we can't go a penny above it, period," he said. Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones requested also that staff report to the commission as money is spent.

Mr. Hernandez agreed to check in monthly.

Commissioners' action breathed new life into the project, which has faced tumult for nearly a year.

The new code is designed in quadrants, and commissioners outside the first — which includes downtown and Brickell — began protesting last June that their constituents are being left out of the planning process.

They called for meetings throughout the city.

Extra meetings meant extra money and extra time, planners and administrators said in requesting the $510,000 last month.

They attributed the requested higher cost to additional meetings required during planning and economic consulting and public benefit work anticipated in the coming months.

Commissioners resisted, deferring approval.

The commission needs to decide whether to continue with the project or kill it, Angel Gonzalez said at the time. If the commission doesn't want to continue paying, "let's disconnect the tubes and let it die. Let's start working on another program," he said.

In approving the increased payment last week, they showed resolve to keep the code alive. "I have no problem, Mr. Manager, in playing the deck of cards out until the end," Mr. Sarnoff told Mr. Hernandez. "I want to see this come to fruition."

Only Commissioner Tomas Regalado dissented.

He agreed the firm must be paid for completed work but opposed funding additional services.

And extra costs can't be blamed on commissioners requesting meetings in their districts, he said. "More than half of the meetings were done in-house." Carmen Sanchez, assistant director of the city's planning department said, that of 322 meetings, 125 "have been with a cross section of the public."

So don't blame commissioners for what administrators call services outside the project's scope, Mr. Regalado said, rejecting the "diplomatic language" and using the term "cost overruns."

"This is the doing of the administration," Mr. Regalado said. "So next time when we discuss this, just don't say that this cost overrun was because the City Commission required more meetings."

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