ULI trustee weighs in on South Florida land use challenges

In the 1990s, Neisen Kasdin first served as city commissioner and later as mayor of Miami Beach. There he made a name for himself for drafting land development regulations, creating and expanding Miami Beach’s historic districts and revitalizing South Beach.

Now, he’s serving as a trustee of the Urban Land Institute (ULI). He was appointed to the position in May. As one of the ULI’s newest trustees, he says he’ll continue his work for land use that respects the environment and addresses the practical needs for housing and jobs.

Indeed, Kasdin, who also heads law firm Akerman Senterfitt’s national land use practice group, has made it a mission to encourage redevelopment of urban cores, among other initiatives. Beyond his work in Miami Beach, he has recently worked on the Midtown Miami, Gulfstream Village and Eden Roc projects.

The Real Deal caught up with Kasdin to discuss his views on South Florida’s land use opportunities and challenges.

TRD: What are the biggest challenges to appropriate land use in South Florida today?

Kasdin: Ironically, after years of out of control development, the biggest challenge to appropriate land use in Florida today may be the over-democratization of planning – that everything is decided based on popular choice, not sound planning principles. Hometown Democracy is the primary example of this.

In the City of Miami Beach, Mount Sinai Hospital was looking to sell for redevelopment a property they own called the Miami Heart Institute. It is a large hospital in the middle of a single family and low-rise multi-family neighborhood. The facilities are completely out of character and scale with respect to the surrounding neighborhood.

As debate ensued in the community on the future of that site, the City Commission placed an item on the ballot that mandated if the facility was ever to cease operating as a hospital it would revert to the surrounding zoning. This measure passed. It is now unlikely that the old, ugly and out of character hospital will be replaced by a less intense and more compatible use, because it is not feasible to develop at such a low intensity.

TRD: If we could do anything over again, what should it be?

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Kasdin: Build great public transportation and create incentives to develop where transit is located. The best example is Portland, Oregon. They have established an urban growth boundary – which has been expanded several times – built an extensive light rail system and encouraged greater density along the light rail line.

Neighborhood planning emphasizes accommodating pedestrians and cyclists. After 20 years, Portland has one of the highest rates of transit usage of major metropolitan areas, one of the lowest rates of gas consumption, and many lively neighborhoods. Many people in Portland who have cars don’t even use them to get to work or for daily chores.

TRD: What about economic development incentives in South Florida?

Kasdin: I believe well-tailored incentives are critical to spur redevelopment of the urban core.

The best example of this is the Midtown Miami project in the City of Miami. This was an abandoned and polluted rail yard north of downtown in a declining neighborhood. The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County teamed up with the developers to create a Community Redevelopment Area for the site and pledged the tax increment received from the developers to build a 3,000-plus space public parking garage to support the retail center built by Developers Diversified Realty.

This shopping center, when completed, will have 645,000 square feet of retail – 470,000 square feet are already completed. The residential developer, Midtown Equities, has already completed two 400-unit condo towers and a mixed-use building. This project has created over 1,500 jobs for inner city residents, the major retail district for the City and has helped to revitalize the entire neighborhood. I represent DDR on the land use for the shopping center- and developer-created Community Development District on the public incentives.

TRD: What area of South Florida do you see as ripe for revitalization in the next few years?

Kasdin: I believe all of the historic downtowns in South Florida have the potential for revitalization and some, like West Palm Beach, Delray Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, have transformed into great urban places. However, the greatest opportunity of all, long term, is the redevelopment of downtown Miami. it is truly becoming an important global city.

The key to revitalization of downtown is threefold: increased residential population, major public projects, as well as transportation, street and public space improvements. All this is happening right now.