In the four years since Miami Mayor Manny
Diaz proposed overhauling Miami's complex zoning
code with a new pedestrian-oriented concept
called Miami 21 there have been more than 500
meetings involving residents, developers,
architects and other stakeholders, government
agencies and city staff. Some 60 of those
meetings were public forums. The city's website
has fielded 510 questions from the public about
the zoning proposals.
And still, the plan arouses passionate opposition from
respected professionals, in particular
architects and urban designers, and some
developers and homeowners groups.
Some developers dislike the plan's higher fees
for building taller. Homeowners groups say the
plan doesn't do enough to protect neighborhoods
from encroaching high-rises and their
The architects like the plan's green and
pedestrian components. But they say Miami 21's
rules will force cookie-cutter, boxy building
designs, especially in dense residential areas.
They prefer tweaking the current code to achieve
some of Miami 21's goals to bring more people
and fewer cars onto city streets.
But tweaking the mish-mash of current building
codes, which were developed in an anything-goes
era allowing high-rises next to homes, won't cut
Miami 21 has many good features. It would make
Miami more walkable with inviting street-level
attractions, driveways hidden on side streets
and condo garages tucked behind storefront
facades. The plan would require high-rises to
step up gradually, like stairs. Condo developers
would be encouraged to install plazas or green
spaces in front of buildings.
Miami 21 emphasizes more density in commercial
sections away from single-family home sections.
Its concepts are working between 18th and 36th
streets along Biscayne Boulevard -- similar to
Brickell Village, a people-oriented development
south of the Miami River. The plan would
streamline most permitting, known now as the
``90 days from hell'' ordeal.
Further fueling the controversy is Mayor Diaz's
decision to put the plan to a City Commission
vote Thursday during a month when commissioners
rarely meet and when many stakeholders are on
The term-limited mayor surely wants Miami 21 to
be part of his legacy, so timing is important.
In September, the annual budget will consume the
commission. After that, the race between
Commissioners Tomás Regalado and Joe Sanchez to
replace Mr. Diaz will be in full swing, and
Miami 21 could become a political football.
To solve the impasse, consider a compromise
that's worked in other cities undergoing zoning
overhauls. The commission should adopt Miami 21
as an overlay to the current zoning code. Set a
trial period -- two years, say -- during which
developers can use Miami 21's rules,
guaranteeing a quicker permitting process, or go
by the current code.
After two years the results of each Miami 21
project can be evaluated. If the plan lives up
to its promises, it should be adopted
permanently. It may need some tweaking. Or if it
turns out to be a dud, the current code is still
in place and could be changed with the parts of
Miami 21 that did succeed.
The commission has a clear choice here, one that
all sides should be able to live with. A
four-year gestation period (involving 500
meetings) is long enough. Give Miami 21 a
chance. We'll never know if it can work unless
we try it.