Architects denounce Miami 21 as pay-to-play scheme

Miami /
Jan.January 06, 2009 11:42 AM

For the third time in three months, Miami’s Planning Advisory Board is
scheduled to hear the latest revisions to a new form-based zoning code,
Miami 21, which includes language that asks developers to pay fees for
additional height and density. The latest round will come at a meeting tomorrow.

After extensive wrangling, the Miami chapter of the American Institute
of Architects still has “major issues” with the proposed changes.

“We are being asked to implement a code without going first through a
planning and vision exercise,” said Kricket Snow, president-elect of
AIA Miami and an architect with the firm Zycovich and Associates. “And
we are being asked to greatly restrict and lower the bar for design

Proposed by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz back in 2005 and designed by urban
planner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Miami 21 is supposed to replace the
city’s current zoning system, called Miami 110000. Diaz and
Plater-Zyberk said the current code is confusing, outdated and
encourages massive high-rises in low-zoned areas. The new system, advocates say, will help Miami become a well-planned,
economically viable city. The code was also rewritten several times
over the years as Plater-Zyberk and city planners tried to address the
fears and needs of residents, developers and architects.

A diverse chorus of critics, ranging from developers and landowners to
homeowner associations and resident activists, opposes Miami 21. The
unease has caused the Planning Advisory Board to twice delay a vote
on Miami 21. At a November 17 hearing, residents complained they needed more
time to absorb hundreds of changes. On December 18, discussions and debates
stretched past midnight.

Snow complains that instead of first asking Miami citizens and industry
figures what they needed, the city went about creating a code and then
sought comment and approval.

The result: a code that discourages creative designs in new buildings, Snow said.

“It basically reduces everything to a common denominator,” she said.
“The only [new buildings] out of the ordinary are those [built by
developers] willing to pay extra.”

Under Miami 21, builders can achieve greater density and height for
their buildings if they pay the city of Miami for design bonuses that
range between $15 and $20 a square foot, said Miami architect Dean
Lewis of DB Lewis Architecture. This means a developer in an area zoned
for only 36 stories can build as tall as 60 stories if they purchase
design bonuses, Lewis said.

“I can get a 100 percent bonus in height in a majority of transects
[zoning categories in the Miami 21 code] as long as I pay for it,” he
said. “If you don t pay to play, take a hike.”

“It has been referred to as a code for sale,” said Snow.

Plater-Zyberk insists much of the opposition to Miami 21 comes from
property owners and developers who want to build as massively as they
want without consequences. “They just want up-zoning as part of the
process,” she said.

Judith Sandoval of Miami Neighborhoods United doesn’t buy it. She
fears that the zoning bonuses in Miami 21 will allow residential
neighborhoods to be “preyed upon by developers and destroyed.”

In spite of the unease, Miami officials are still hopeful that the
Planning Advisory Board will vote on Miami 21 and pass the zoning code
on to the Miami City Commission in the next few months.

“A date has not yet been determined, but it is likely that Miami 21 will
be presented to the City Commission in the first quarter of 2009,” said
Luciana Gonzalez, assistant to the city of Miami’s planning director. 

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