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 News Article:  Miami 21 urban redevelopment plan gets airing

A public hearing on Miami 21, a major rezoning plan, drew scores of complaints, indicating tough issues ahead for the city leaders.

Miami Herald 

By Andres Viglucci

A public hearing on the last major pieces of the controversial and long-delayed Miami 21 rezoning backed by Mayor Manny Diaz stretched late into the night Wednesday as a long line of activists, lawyers, architects and property owners complained about aspects both major and minor of the sweeping overhaul proposal.

The city's Planning Advisory Board was scheduled to consider proposed zoning maps for the city's north, west and southern quadrants, a long-awaited step that would set the stage for consideration of the full Miami 21 plan by the City Commission.

But a decision by board members to allow public comment on recent revisions to the underlying code and the proposed map for the city's eastern quadrant drew extensive and, at times, contentious complaints, and by late evening the panel had not gotten to the scheduled matter.

Though the zoning board's vote would be only a recommendation, and not binding on the City Commission, it was widely anticipated by the plan's numerous critics and backers as a measure of how much planners have managed to overcome doubts from some neighborhood groups, developers, lawyers, architects and others.

Wednesday's hearing suggests the commission will have to wrestle with a lengthy list of issues.

The zoning overhaul, which backers say would change the shape of development in the city for a generation, is designed to produce a better-regulated, denser and pedestrian-friendly fabric of commercial corridors and neighborhoods -- what defenders sometimes refer to as a ``real city.''

A board vote would move the entire Miami 21 package -- the new underlying regulatory code as well as the zoning maps for the entire city -- to the commission. Barring a failure to vote Wednesday, an initial vote would come in January. The code would take effect if the commission approves it in a second and final vote a month after its initial vote.

There the plan faces an uncertain reception. City Commissioner Tomás Regalado, a critic of Mayor Diaz and now a candidate to succeed him, has been a steadfast opponent. The other four commissioners have, at least publicly, been on the fence.

The planning board recommended approval of the underlying code and a new map for the city's east quadrant in April 2007, but the commission postponed consideration until maps of the whole city were completed. That happened in November.

The planning board postponed its vote last month after some members and city residents complained they did not have a chance to fully digest changes made to the eastern quadrant map and the code since the 2007 vote.

City planners and consultants ran down a long list of revisions Wednesday night. Those ranged form minor corrections to changes in heights or allowable uses in some places, but city officials said these were not substantial enough to merit a new vote.

The board took public comments on those revisions as a ''courtesy,'' said chairwoman Arva Moore Parks, who tried, in vain, to move the discussion quickly.

The Miami 21 code is a major goal of the Diaz administration. It would scrap the existing zoning code, a patchwork of regulations that Diaz and other critics contend has led to haphazard and outscale development, and car-dominated, lifeless streets.

But the plan has been dogged by criticism from some architects, developers' lawyers and neighborhood activists who contend it is hard to understand, would limit public input on new development and could lead to long stretches of homogeneous design.

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