HOME » Press Room » Thursday, August 6, 2009
 Opinion Editorial:  Give Miami 21 a try
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 view-limiting walls.


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 it.


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.


Permitting streamlined

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 vacation.


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.