Miami 21: New zoning code could boost real estate values

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Marina Khoury, a project director for Miami 21

Proponents of the ambitious Miami 21 plan to rezone the city to a more pedestrian-friendly, less car-dependent metropolis now have a few thousand more reasons to make their case.

Walkability, it seems, pays. That might bode well for the plan, which last month was passed by the Miami City Commission. A study of 15 cities around the country concluded that homes located in neighborhoods that consist of a mix of common daily shopping and social destinations within a short distance command price premiums of $4,000 to $34,000 more than similar homes in areas less friendly to folks on foot. The study, titled “Walking the Walk,” was conducted by CEOs for Cities, a national bipartisan alliance of mayors, corporate executives, university presidents and non-profit executives dedicated to guiding urban development in sustainable directions.

The vision of Miami 21 evokes side-street driveways, skylines that transition from tall towers to smaller homes and hide condo garages with storefront facades. These and other elements in the redrawn zoning code aim to localize neighborhood designs that get people out of cars and onto sidewalks. Its concepts are similar to those seen in Mary Brickell Village, a development south of the Miami River.

“In the long-term it will increase the value of your property and the demand for it,” said Tony Garcia, owner of Grove Street Partnership, a planning and consulting firm specializing in planning, land-use codes, and transportation, and an editor of the Transit Miami blog. “We’re going to be attracting the young, professional middle class.”

Not everyone embraces Miami 21’s New Urbanism philosophy, which critics call elitist. Ned Murray, director of the Metropolitan Center at Florida International University, said the new code doesn’t do anything to improve the problems facing the urban areas of South Florida.

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“We need housing in the downtown area for the people who work and live in Miami,” he said. “We haven’t met that demand and I don’t see how Miami 21 does that. Who are we marketing to, the workforce in Miami or the European investors that come one month out of the year?”

Marina Khoury, a partner at the planning firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and project director for Miami 21 said the new code is better than business as usual. “Is it perfect? No,” she said. “But it’s significantly better than the old code and much better for the city of Miami any way you look at it.”

The CEOs for Cities study said it will create value, based on a positive correlation between walkability and housing prices in 13 of the 15 markets it surveyed, including Austin, Texas; Bakersfield, Calif.; Dallas; Fresno, Calif.; Las Vegas; Phoenix, Ariz.; Sacramento; Seattle, Wash. and Washington, D.C.

Jaap Vos, associate professor and director of the School of Urban & Regional Planning at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, doesn’t think Miami 21 answers the city’s most urgent development problems.

“Does this provide people with more and better choices with regard to housing, jobs and transportation? Sure the pictures all look beautiful, but will a form-based code really lead to better redevelopment practices?” he said in an e-mailed response to questions from The Real Deal. “Maybe Miami 21 is better than the old zoning ordinance, but I am not convinced that it is and I am certainly not convinced that it will be able to address the real planning issues that Miami is facing.”

Khoury insisted that her group looked at every individual neighborhood during the four years it took to draw up Miami 21.

“Some have to remember this is a zoning code, not a master plan,” she said. “It’s about striking a balance. Commercial developers are only concerned about their corridors. Residents are only concerned about their neighborhoods. Everyone seems a little dissatisfied, but that’s a good thing.”

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