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 News Article:  Miami 21 plan is back on fast track to vote
The city of Miami's stalled Miami 21 rezoning plan now appears to be headed for a commission vote in December.



Miami, FL. – After months in limbo, the city of Miami's far-reaching but controversial Miami 21 rezoning plan has suddenly picked up steam again and is on a fast track to a commission vote in December.

In the past two weeks, city planners and their consultants have launched a new series of public workshops and meetings to draw up new zoning maps for the city's south, northwest and western areas.

The maps are based on a re-conceived zoning code pushed by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. It would scrap the existing patchwork of outdated regulations in favor of a cohesive plan that planners say will better preserve neighborhoods, help revitalize commercial districts and produce a more urban, pedestrian-friendly Miami.

The legal code and a zoning map for the easternmost neighborhoods were completed last year, but became mired in political squabbling at the City Commission after residents of other city quadrants complained they had little input on the new rules. Originally, the commission sought to approve the new zoning one quadrant at a time.

It took several votes, one broken compromise and a contract extension to get Miami 21 moving again.

The commission forged a new agreement to have the code and maps for all quadrants be completed and considered as one package, rather than one quarter at a time, to ensure that the plan reflects input from a broad cross-section of city residents. The commission asked that it be ready for a vote by December.

But work could not resume until the commission, in a 4-1 vote in May, also agreed to pay the consultants, the Miami firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., an additional $500,000 to finish the rezoning, which has been under way more than three years -- at least one year longer than initially projected. That brought the total bill to $2.2 million.

''There has been a lot of head-butting for some reason,'' Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said before voting for the additional money. Commissioner Tomas Regalado, a persistent Miami 21 critic, was the lone no vote.

But comments from commissioners at the meeting suggested the go-ahead doesn't mean the plan doesn't face an uphill battle. While some said they agreed with the concepts in the underlying code, all suggested they will closely scrutinize the specific applications in their districts.



Marc Sarnoff, whose district encompasses much of the already-completed east quadrant, said his office has drawn up a markedly different zoning map for the area that significantly reduces heights in several neighborhoods from what consultants propose.

Other critics, ranging from neighborhood activists to architects, remain leery of the plan. Representatives of Miami Neighborhoods United, a coalition of homeowners' groups, worry that the plan's untested formulas will allow far greater volume and height of development than planners admit in many areas.

Hadley Williams, a member of MNU's Miami 21 committee, said last week some of the public presentations may be "deceptive.''

He contends planners have understated the heights allowed under some of the new code classifications, called ''transects'' in the Miami 21 language.

Also, as commissioners debated how to kick-start the stalled plan, the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects passed a resolution urging the city to scrap it.

Well-known Miami architect Bernard Zyscovich, an AIA director, has led the charge against the plan, complaining its guidelines will impose a straightjacket on design freedom, forcing all buildings into a monotonous succession of squat, square structures -- a contention Miami 21 planners heatedly deny.

Zyscovich and others also say the plan needlessly uses technical terms and concepts not found in any other major U.S. city's zoning code.

To meet the commission's end-of-the-year deadline, City Manager Pete Hernandez has put planners on a tight schedule.

A score of public meetings now under way will produce the remaining zoning maps in time for a vote by the city's Planning Advisory Board on Oct. 1, said city Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez.

''The time is short, but hopefully we will have the whole city mapped,'' she said. "The draft of the code is ready, but we will adjust it as necessary based on what we hear in the meetings.''

Because the plan contemplates changes to the city's land-use maps, it must be reviewed by the state Department of Community Affairs, which manages growth, before coming back to the city for a commission vote in December, Gelabert-Sanchez said.

The public workshops resumed June 16 in Liberty City's Hadley Park, part of the north quadrant. By the time a second meeting was held there on Wednesday evening, the city had released a draft of a new zoning map for the quadrant.

About 25 residents huddled around tables with planners, studying the new zoning -- which employs new terminology and new formulas for calculating buildable space -- block by block.

Among their concerns: that the mix of uses along depressed commercial corridors be broad enough to draw new residents and encourage revitalization, and that adjacent single-family home districts be shielded from large developments without hurting the ability of longtime commercial property owners to redevelop.

That's the balance the plan attempts to strike, lead consultant Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk told attendees. In response to questions at one table, she suggested different ways the proposed code along one commercial street, which sharply reduced allowable heights to protect an adjacent residential neighborhood, could be changed to permit slightly taller buildings if residents and property owners wish.

Echoing worries expressed in other city districts, residents asked whether single-family homes that don't conform to the new rules -- which discourage house facades dominated by garages, for instance -- would be able to rebuild after a fire or hurricane.

The answer: So long as the home was built with permits, it can be rebuilt exactly the same way within two years of being damaged or destroyed -- something the current code doesn't permit.



Diaz and city planners say the Miami 21 plan represents a vast improvement over the current code, whose complex, and often confusing, layer of rules they contend have encouraged over-scale or intrusive development cheek-by-jowl with residential neighborhoods, while doing little to guarantee usable open space, revive commercial districts or weave new buildings into a coherent urban fabric.

The new plan would do so by classifying different urban areas according to density, then establishing clear, consistent guidelines for each they say will ensure future development is both predictable and broadly beneficial.

The next meeting is Tuesday night at La Salle High School in Coconut Grove, in the city's south quadrant.

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