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Discussion Starter · #1 ·

Miami to scrap old code, design `new city'

The city of Miami, long criticized for helter-skelter development, plans to replace its antiquated zoning code with a neighborhood- and pedestrian-friendly set of building rules in an effort to map the future.


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Miami, where complaints about hodgepodge development are as old as the city itself, is poised to try something completely different: planning.

On Saturday, Miami officials will formally launch an ambitious two-year effort to produce a series of comprehensive plans to guide the city's future development.

The most dramatic, and potentially contentious, element: The city intends to junk its antiquated and confounding zoning code -- which critics say encourages urban horrors like high-rise towers next to single-story homes -- and start over.

''We are really designing a new city,'' said Mayor Manny Diaz, who is heading the effort, dubbed Miami 21, and has made it a top priority of his administration. ``It's long overdue. As far as I can tell, no one has looked at this since, well, ever.''

The effort will also include plans to improve transportation, parks and public spaces, and to spur economic development in the city until well into the new century.

But the code overhaul is the linchpin of Miami 21.

The goal is a simple ''form-based'' zoning code that clearly and concisely delineates where intensive development is appropriate and where it isn't, and outlines how buildings should be shaped to ensure attractive, people-friendly streets.

Miami would be the first major U.S. city to adopt such a code.

It will be written by the Miami firm of Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, co-founders of the New Urbanist movement, which seeks to revive the principles of traditional town planning -- denser, compact development and walkable streets -- as an alternative to auto-dependent urban sprawl.

Though perhaps best known for planning the Florida Panhandle resort town of Seaside, Duany and Plater-Zyberk's firm has more recently created urban plans for cities from Berlin to Baton Rouge, La.

The rewrite would take place even as a high-rise condo-construction boom of unprecedented scope is already recasting downtown Miami and surrounding areas -- gobbling up vacant land, flattening some of the city's oldest buildings and, in some cases, invading long-established neighborhoods where the quirks of the zoning code permit out-scaled development.

The city and its consultants say it's not too late to ensure that the new condo towers are woven into a coherent urban fabric.

''I think it's all good,'' said Plater-Zyberk, who also is architecture dean at the University of Miami. ``The question is how to make it all work together.

``Walking out of a single-family house and going two or three blocks to a Starbucks is pretty great. But having a 50-story building looming over your backyard is not.''


Some activists who have battled the city over development say the well-publicized launch of Miami 21 is meant to pacify critics while construction continues largely unchecked.

The city selected Duany and Plater-Zyberk for the task in May 2004, but it took the ensuing months to assemble a team of national economic, transportation and legal experts.

In the meantime, city planning statistics show, 51 large-scale projects have been approved across Miami, encompassing 17,776 residential units and more than three million square feet of floor space. Applications for new buildings continue to flow in.

The city's largest residents' group nonetheless intends to participate intensively in the public sessions that will help shape the plan.

''I'm basically optimistic,'' said Joe Wilkins, secretary of Miami Neighborhoods United, a 1-year-old coalition of 20 city homeowners' associations. ``We've been victimized by the antiquated zoning code. The feeling is that the city has had a bias toward development at the expense of the neighborhoods.

``The city always says they want to preserve neighborhoods. This is a chance for them to put their money where their mouth is.''


The city fully intends to use advice from residents, Diaz vowed, noting that he also expects input, and potentially opposition, from developers fearful of regulation.

''We want that debate,'' Diaz said in an interview.

The city will be divided into four quadrants, with the new zoning for each to be completed and enacted in successive six-month blocks, starting with the city's northeast neighborhoods. When it's done, the rewrite will cover every significant commercial corridor in Miami and a quarter-mile to each side of it, encompassing virtually the entire city.

Parts of the current code date to the early 1900s, and have not been rewritten since, residents and city officials say.

Since then, new regulations -- called overlays -- have been added on top of the old, so that the code has become dauntingly complex.

It fills several volumes, forcing developers and homeowners to hire lawyers versed in exploiting loopholes, and leading to inconsistent decisions, city officials say.

Firmer and clearer definitions will lead to more consistent and quicker decisions, city officials hope, reducing the need for protracted negotiations or battles over projects.

''With Miami 21, the developer will know what he can do, and neighbors will know what can go in next to their property,'' said city Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sánchez.


Also important, Diaz said, is an economic development plan to go along with the zoning rewrite to identify possible new economic uses and ensure that jobs or businesses aren't unintentionally hurt by the new code, as well as a transportation study to propose solutions to traffic congestion.

Also planned is a survey of the city's long-neglected system of 110 parks to determine how to put them to optimal use, and also look for ways to create new parks and public open spaces like plazas and greenways.

The new code would incorporate local plans already passed to protect neighborhoods like Coconut Grove from intrusive development. It would also formalize and extend planning guidelines already in use for large-scale projects that ensure condo and office towers are street-friendly -- hiding parking garages, for instance.

Such measures are now subject to negotiation because the current code doesn't require them.

3,888 Posts
south florida dave said:
what's so different about this code than other zoning codes around the country?
For starters...they are doing it in 2005 using new urbanism and smart growth principals.

6,670 Posts
It will take 2 years to develop the zoning, all projects that developers apply for before that date will not be subject to it. Will there be any developable (I say its a word) parcels remaining in 2 years anyway?

232 Posts
Hey Everybody!!! Good News!!!

A radio show on NPR called 'Smart City Radio' will be discussing this project which is called MIAMI 21 with guest, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

The show comes on every sunday at 7pm on NPR WLRN 91.3FM in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

The MIAMI 21 episodes airs this Sunday April 24, 2005 @ 7PM

SmartCity Radio is a great show out of Memphis(I think) that covers national urban planning and architectural issues. I've been listening for a couple years and every episode has been fascinating. This is only the second or third time a South Florida issue has been covered on the show.

You can listen live or to archived episodes at their website..

The Miami City website for MIAMI 21 is at...


456 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·

City aims to put lid on zoning anarchy

City leaders will overhaul Miami's zoning code because they say it encourages insensitive development. But the planned reforms may be too late to catch the condo boom.


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Why do city leaders plan to scrap Miami's zoning code and start from scratch? What makes it so bad?

For one answer, look no further than the almost finished Baylofts condominium on Northeast 25th Street in Edgewater, an old, low-scale Miami neighborhood on Biscayne Bay north of downtown that has been eviscerated by a troop of impertinent high-rise invaders.

The nine-story building greets its neighbors not with a welcoming entrance, but with an inhospitable garage front. The curling concrete garage ramp is virtually jammed up against the graceful old one-story house next door, which sits in the building's shadow.

Baylofts is but one of many examples of the urban atrocities that city leaders say Miami's antiquated, patchwork code not only permits but encourages.

And as a torrid condo-building boom spreads across the city, from Little Havana to Coral Way and upper Biscayne Boulevard, the results are threatened neighborhoods, disjointed streetscapes, unsightly new buildings and a widespread belief that developers can get away with anything.

''There is nothing like a development boom to expose the flaws in the current system,'' Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton said last week at the launch of Miami 21, as the effort to develop a new growth plan for the city is called.

The code, he said, deserves ``a starring role in the theater of the absurd.''

The response by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's administration is a sweeping plan that over the next two years would replace the old zoning rules with a new ''form-based'' code designed to weave new development into a cohesive and lively urban fabric -- protected neighborhoods, appropriately scaled and sidewalk-friendly buildings, walkable streets, open plazas and green spaces, all with an attractive and consistent look.

That's the vision.

Then there is reality.

Development at unprecedented levels continues, remaking old neighborhoods and streets faster than planners can write new rules.

With the bulk of planned new development yet to come out of the ground -- 69 approved major projects totaling 22,000 residential units have not even begun construction -- some fear that new and unpleasant surprises await city residents.

While some have called for a moratorium or a slowdown on new approvals while Miami 21 is instituted, Diaz, Winton and other city leaders show little desire to slow things down.

''There is hope, but also a lot of skepticism,'' said Joe Wilkins, secretary of Miami Neighborhoods United, a coalition of about 20 city homeowner groups.

``The mistakes of the past that they say they now want to correct have already impacted our neighborhoods. We can't tell yet, but this process may be too little, too late.''

Wilkins said city leaders didn't help their case when they declined to answer questions submitted by residents at last week's four-hour Miami 21 launch, saying the program ran long and that they would respond later online.

''We were disappointed,'' Wilkins said.

``It was strictly a one-sided monologue. We would like to have a dialogue.''

The dialogue will happen, city officials promise. They say Miami 21 will be shaped in a series of public forums.




To speed up enactment of the new code, the city has been divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant's code will be completed and voted on by the commission in successive six-month blocks, starting with the city's northeast neighborhoods.

The new rules, however, would not apply to already approved projects, and could not force developers to make changes to buildings under construction or completed.

Take Baylofts. It's likely to be there for many years to come, a dead spot on the street. The lovely house next door? For sale. For condo development.

How did it happen?

The explanation begins with the fact that parts of the current code date to the early 1900s, city officials say.

Since then, new regulations have been layered atop the old, so that the code has become dauntingly complex, filling several volumes and requiring developers and homeowners to hire lawyers for any significant work. Coconut Grove, for instance, has 22 different zoning designations, according to the planning department.

Sometimes, zoning has been rewritten for individual projects. Variances introduce even more unpredictability. Canny land-use lawyers make a living exploiting loopholes, and developers' political pull has often determined the outcome. The result is inconsistent decisions that lead to urban incoherence and embittered residents.

''We have a city that's the result of people being able to build whatever they want,'' said Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the prominent planner and University of Miami architecture dean hired by the city to oversee Miami 21. ``It was never planned, just platted and developed.''

The current code regulates building uses and density, Plater-Zyberk said, but says little to nothing about urbanism -- the art of ensuring that individual buildings blend into a cohesive landscape that respects the human scale. There is nothing in it about how buildings should meet the sidewalk, where parking garages should go, where entrances should be, or requirements for streetfront shops and cafes to spur pedestrian activity.

Her firm has written similar codes for Baton Rouge, La., and other smaller cities, but Miami would be the first major U.S. city to attempt it, she said.

''If we're building a denser city and you don't make it pedestrian-friendly, no one will walk,'' Plater-Zyberk said.




City planners have already instituted some new rules for large-scale developments or for those requiring variances. Those guidelines ask developers to make their towers street-friendly -- hiding parking garages, for instance, lining them with shops or town houses, and keeping auto entrances off main streets like Biscayne Boulevard.

Because nothing in the code requires those changes, however, they are subject to negotiation with developers. That leads to piecemeal, block-by-block planning -- and often leaves developers and residents alike guessing at what is allowed.

''Right now, it is up to the developer and whatever comments they get from the planning people,'' said developer Jorge Perez, who has two large condo projects along Biscayne Boulevard.

``The result is that it is sporadic. It is like a mouth with twenty beautiful teeth and three rotten ones -- it still looks rotten.''

Smaller buildings without variances -- for instance, most condo projects of fewer than 200 units -- escape planning scrutiny altogether because they fall below the large-scale threshold.

Left to their own devices, developers often produce incompatible construction like suburban-style strip malls set behind unappealing asphalt parking lots on Calle Ocho, killing street life, said Miami Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sánchez.

Edgewater is a perfect example.

One of the city's earliest neighborhoods, it fell into disrepair by the 1970s, when many residents decamped for the suburbs. Instead of coming up with a careful redevelopment plan, the city simply upped the zoning sharply, effectively allowing high-rises next to single-family homes. Because no one wanted to build there until now, however, the problem did not arise sooner.

Projects like Baylofts, which fell beneath the large-scale radar, are one result. The city had no authority to tell the developer how to design it.

Another problem is the way allowable floor space and height are calculated.

In its Miami 21 slide-show presentation, available online at, the city's poster child for inappropriate development is an Edgewater project, Onyx 2 -- although the project is not named.




The presentation details how generous calculations allow the tower, on the bayfront site of the demolished historic Bliss House, to grow as though it were fed steroids.

The code permits the developer to count a strip of right-of-way at the end of the street, plus 90 feet of bay water, as open space, adding several floors to the already generous basic zoning.

The street also counts as open space, adding several more floors. So does the plot across the street, which the developer -- BAP Development -- owns and will turn into a park, adding more floors.

Finally, the developer will make a payment into an affordable-housing fund, adding even more floors.

The result: a 50-story tower on a massive parking pedestal looming at the end of a narrow street of low-rise homes, apartments and picturesque bungalows, some dating to the 1910s.

BAP principal Willy Bermello was traveling in Mexico and could not be reached.

Whether such calculations and bonuses should be eliminated or scaled back will be an important part of the Miami 21 process, city leaders and their consultants said -- a move that some developers are likely to oppose. Extra floor space can add millions of dollars in profits to developers' pockets.

To ameliorate the effects of the code on stable, long-standing communities, the city commission has also passed a series of local measures, including limits on development in Coconut Grove as well as guidelines that limit heights of commercial buildings on upper Biscayne Boulevard abutting a strip of historic neighborhoods of single-family homes.

The new code would incorporate those measures and expand similar requirements to the rest of the city.

''For some time, the city planning department has been trying to implement the very principles and legislate some modifications that are consistent with Miami 21,'' said Santiago Echemendia, a Miami land-use attorney. ``The problem is that before, it has been done in a piecemeal fashion. Now it will be comprehensive.''

But planners concede that they must be careful: Any reform that appears to curtail development rights might leave the city vulnerable to ''takings'' lawsuits.

Planners may have a couple of options for addressing the issue of overscaled towers.

The new code could require tall buildings to step back sharply from abutting homes and have, in place of the now commonplace blank walls, ''liners'' consisting of smaller-scale dwellings like town houses.

The code could require buffer zones of low-rise buildings like small apartment houses between high-rises and single-family residential districts, Plater-Zyberk said.

Some developers say that detailed guidelines on everything from street lamps and benches to landscaping and storefronts -- which Miami 21 promises to deliver -- can still come on time.

Winton said the Downtown Development Authority will prepare, in conjunction with Miami 21, specific downtown streetscape guidelines within six to 12 months. Of the new buildings in the downtown core, only developer Perez's two-tower One Miami condo at the mouth of the Miami River should be completed before that.

Savior of Gondor
1,505 Posts
You know, maybe Miami should use an urban boundry approach to Highrises. Draw a line and say you have to fill this up before you can build a 700 footer next to a house. Would have a hell of an urban core, people would build taller because they would have too, there would also be some really expensive land in the core.

904 Posts
I just hope the City doesn't give in to vocal residents in neighborhoods with single-family homes that SHOULD be demolished and replaced by taller buildings. A tall building in the middle of a neighborhood with expensive single-family homes that are likely to remain is inappropriate... a tall building in the middle of a neighborhood with rundown shacks is the first step towards redevelopment.

One safeguard might be for the City to only allow property OWNERS in a "single-family" area to formally oppose proposed taller buildings. More often than not, the owners of run-down single family homes who rent them out are utterly DELIGHTED to find out that someone's building a luxury building down the street or next door, because it makes it easier for THEM to do the exact same thing. Without buying too much into a stereotype, poor welfare recipients have plenty of time to get whipped into action by some NIMBY or activist with an axe to grind and make lots of noise downtown.

Just to highlight one prime NIMBY example, look at the Habitat homes built around Culmer Metrorail Station. The homes' owners all turned out in force to bitch about Seybold Pointe for dwarfing their single-family homes and were furious that the developer was able to build it as a matter of right. The fact that single-family homes have no business getting built across the street from a Metrorail station, on land zoned "R-4" no less, didn't quite faze them. I don't think anyone who builds a less-intense use than the existing zoning allows should be allowed to turn around and bitch when someone who owns the lot next door decides to build a larger building than THEY chose to build.

New York
11,657 Posts
I almost cried....this is exactly what evryone wants so badly....this must....MUST happen in my lifetime!!!

Posted on Tue, Apr. 26, 2005


`This is the Miami of the 21st century'


There are many shining moments in the history of all good cities. Indeed, over our short history Miami has had many. The rare moments are the defining ones. Those exceptional events when people stepped back for the sake of their future to plan their own path and their legacy for future generations. These moments are seen in the history of the world's greatest cities.

In 1811, the Commissioners' Plan for New York developed the grid plan for Manhattan. Envisioned prior to the advent of automobiles or skyscrapers, that plan has shaped New York for nearly two centuries.

In 1853, Napoleon the Third commissioned Georges Haussmann to transform Paris, converting it from an overgrown medieval city into a modern capital, and without question one of the most beautiful in the world.

In 1906, David Burnham created the Plan for Chicago. A burgeoning city of more than two million residents adopted it to temper urban growth with order and beauty. Today's Chicago is a testament to Burnham's brilliance a century ago.

Miami itself is going through a dramatic transformation. Since 2001, our population has grown by more than 10 percent. By the end of this decade it could grow by another 30 percent. We are on the cusp of fulfilling our long-awaited destiny as a leading urban center.

The Miami 21 plan launched on April 16 is one of those rare moments that will impel us further. It will give order and predictability to our growth. It does away with ad hoc planning that is built on an outdated and outmoded code. It operates under the premise that Miami, graced with natural beauty, should also have great civic spaces, parks, promenades, museums and historic buildings.

Places that generate economic activity are pedestrian friendly and accessible by convenient public transportation. Places of pride that are owned by all people equally, irrespective of economic or social circumstance. Great cities are those that have embraced the beautiful and generous public realm. Vibrant places where the human spirit guides the energy of the city.

Miami 21 will touch every neighborhood in our city and craft them in a way that befits our people -- because any city is, in the final analysis, defined by its neighborhoods. No master plan has even been attempted at this scale. Yet, we look to the past for inspiration. Burnham, Chicago's treasured architect, once said:

``Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.''

Miami 21 will be remembered as the time we took pause and planned our future; when Miami ceased being a city of potential and began to shape itself into one of the world's greatest -- a landmark in Miami's chronicles that will impact the lives of our people for generations to come. Imagine the possibilities.

A woman wakes up and pulls back her curtains, revealing the beautiful vista of Biscayne Bay. She will soon head off to her job in Allapattah at the University of Miami Biotechnology Center -- America's top biomedical research institute.

But first, she takes a jog on Miami's Baywalk, from Margaret Pace Park through the Miami River. She wonders whether she should spend the evening at Museum Park, or accept an invitation for La Boheme at the Ziff Ballet Opera House.

In Wynwood a family starts the day. The father takes a streetcar from Midtown to Downtown, where he drops his son off at the early learning center in his office building. He then grabs an espresso at a sidewalk café across from Bayfront Park.

Back home his wife is online, buying tickets for a jazz concert in Overtown's historic Lyric Theater. She walks across the street to the shops on North Miami Avenue before heading off to work in the Design District.

A mega yacht from Dubai docks at Watson Island -- crew members come ashore, take a water taxi up the river and grab a bite along the River Walk. They talk about the soccer match they will watch later at the refurbished Orange Bowl.

A man strolls down an oak-lined paseo in Little Havana on his way to meet friends in Domino Park. Elsewhere, children enjoy a walk to African Square Park's splash pool along a bustling Martin Luther King Boulevard. That evening men and women gather at the secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Coconut Grove for a reception with the hemisphere's trade ministers.

This is the Miami of the 21st century. Today we dream big dreams, and we aim high in hope and in work. We do this because we owe a lasting legacy to those who will call Miami home long after we've gone.

Manny Diaz is the mayor of Miami.

Savior of Gondor
1,505 Posts
Street that does sound great. Hell folks it could happen, it takes planning and leadership and Miami has that leadership right now (Miami Dade isnt doing so bad either). Miami has grown 10% in the last few years? And is going to grow another 30% by 2010? That would put the cities population over 500,000. That is massive growth folks and the only way it could happen is more highrises. Lets hope Mannys dream becomes a reality, and he shouldnt run for gov he should stay where he is.

1 Posts

Strange...considering all the development already underway and approved projects doesn't this come a little TOO late? I think Miami will end up with a beautiful skyline in a few years, but it will never live up to it's true potential or our expectations; great cities are not just defined by how they look from afar but by how vibrant they are to live in.

Photos of our city might one day lure more tourists but let's be honest, who will really want to live here or better yet, afford to? Our great civic leaders keep promising a 24/7 city, but I suspect that they really have a 24/7 tax base in mind! Please don't misunderstand me, I love all the new development in our city, but we should not fool ourselves into believing that it's all that great; for example, what have we seen from the approved 1 penny transportation sales tax from a couple of years ago? I personally have not seen any improvements in the MAGIC CITY'S traffic nightmare! Have you?

92 Posts
yea but the city and the county are 2 different things,your blaming the city for the counties problems

140 Posts
Also, this transportation thing isn't going to be fixed overnight. It will take years, decades, for any real progress to be made.

1,285 Posts
and as a frequent user of mass transit, since that was approved, yes... i have seen improvements... i waiting for the bus that comes alot more often than it used to in one of those comfortable, shaded, shnaz bus stops with the palm tree glass... and i have noticed that the buses are a little bit fuller than they used to be

with the better service... more people will take it, and then, only then, will we start seeing emptier streets

u gotta give it time man

1,740 Posts
urbantruth said:
for example, what have we seen from the approved 1 penny transportation sales tax from a couple of years ago? I personally have not seen any improvements in the MAGIC CITY'S traffic nightmare! Have you?
There's been several new bus routes added. Fancy (overpriced if you ask me) bus stops installed all over Kendall. Oddly enough mostly in unused locations. There's at least a dozen new ones within a mile of my place. I've seen more broken glass than I have people waiting.

I'm also starting to see cleaner trains. I think they're replacing the seat cushions.

Is it worth it? Not without the metrorail expansion, but it's a start.

3,888 Posts
urbantruth said:
doesn't this come a little TOO late? I think Miami will end up with a beautiful skyline in a few years
No. It is never TOO late to begin imporvement. "in a few years" ??? Miami has a beautiful skyline now, and you are will have a beautiful skyline in a few years.
urbantruth said:
but it will never live up to it's true potential or our expectations
you lost me there Truth.
urbantruth said:
Photos of our city might one day lure more tourists but let's be honest, who will really want to live here or better yet, afford to?
Great question. For starters, who will want to live here...ME. My friends and my business associates, and people from all around the world that have a big picture view and understand the value of a high quality of life.
urbantruth said:
what have we seen from the approved 1 penny transportation sales tax from a couple of years ago? I personally have not seen any improvements in the MAGIC CITY'S traffic nightmare! Have you?
Yes. As a matter of fact, I just took the FREE Metromover from my office to a networking party at the City Club (55th floor of Wachovia Tower) a few hours ago. Then from there, back to a birthday party at the Jade. No hassles.
You asked for a personal account...there you have it. Miami is very well positioned now...and definitely for the future. Miami 21 is agreat idea. I'm glad to see leadership at our wonderful city. The good people deserve it.

199 Posts
I took the bus and Metromover to the Heat playoff game on Wednesday. Did not have to wait in traffic or lok for parking. All in less than 20 minutes from SoBe. All for $1.25. Had great seats BTW. Awesome game.
Roark i was going to go to the Miami City club also, but ended up at the Mandarin Oriental. Such a beautiful setting, beach sand under the stars with the skyline surrounding us. Maybe next time my friends and I will make it there. How was it?
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