Mysterious Miami upzone proposal crushed — for now

Rezoning would allow for larger scale development

Jul.July 02, 2015 11:15 AM

The City of Miami’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals board unanimously rejected upzoning 3.8 acres of land east of Coral Gables during its Wednesday evening meeting.

But the board’s vote is merely a recommendation for the Miami City Commission, which will decide on the proposed zoning change on July 9.

Currently, the land between Southwest 37th Avenue, Southwest 39th Avenue, Southwest 29th Street, and Bird Road is zoned T3-0, or duplex residential, where buildings are limited to two floors and 18 units per acre. Places of worship, primary and secondary schools, child day care, adult day care are also allowed in T3-O zoned land “in suitable locations,” according to a Planning and Zoning Board report. Professional offices, guest homes, museums, lodges, and private clubs are only allowed in T3-O zoned places that are designated historic.

Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso and the Department of Planning and Zoning officially want the area rezoned T4-O, enabling three-story buildings and 150 units per acre. Various commercial uses are also allowed on T4-O land such as restaurants, saloons, private clubs, offices, hotels, offices, clinics, laboratories, libraries, and convention facilities.

Miami planner Jacqueline Ellis told the board that the city is suggesting the zoning change for the 3.8-acres because it creates a “transition” between the duplex-dominated residential area to the north and Bird Road’s commercial sector to the south.

Future development in the area was cited as another reason for the zoning change.

“As development and redevelopment continues around the Douglas Road Metrorail station and along Bird Road, there will be a higher demand for housing in proximity to the jobs created in this area,” according to a memo written by Christopher Brimo, the city’s chief of land development. “The proposed amendment would allow for the development of a well-designed mixed-use neighborhood situated along two major corridors and in very close proximity to mass transit.”

Planning and zoning board member Juvenal Pina didn’t buy it. “The developers are, in my mind, triggering this,” he said. “The city didn’t pick out this area [to be rezoned].”

About a half-dozen people opposed the rezoning at Wednesday’s meeting. Roland Sanchez-Medina Sr. feared the re-zoning was the city government’s first step toward forcing him to sell his duplexes where some of his family members call home. “I came from Cuba and they took my property against my desire,” the 79-year-old land owner said. “I don’t want this pain … in this country as well. This is mine.”

“My father is passionate,” his son, attorney Roland Sanchez-Medina, Jr., told the board. However, Sanchez-Medina Jr., a partner in the Coral Gables-based SMGQ law firm, agreed that the zoning proposal from the city was “a little bizarre.”

“To pick this community out of the blue … that basically doesn’t happen,” the son said.

Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the zoning. Nathan Vedrani, director of acquisitions for the Miami-based CFH Group, and his partners own some of the lots in the 3.8-acre zone. “The area is in tremendous need of development,” said Vedrani’s lawyer, Ryan Bailine of Greenberg Traurig. “The introduction of a zoning buffer makes sense from our perspective.”

But increasing what can be built near Bird Road didn’t make sense to planning board chairman Charles Garavaglia. “It looks like more development in an area where the development is wrong to begin with,” Garavaglia said. “I don’t see how this really benefits the area.”

And while city officials insisted there was no plot to force property owners to sell land to developers, there was some confusion about how land in an upzoned area will be taxed.

Rafael Suarez-Rivas of Miami’s Office of the City Attorney said property taxes are based on “actual use” and not what can be built in the future.

Planning board member Betty Gutierrez, a former legislative aide for Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, disagreed. The county’s property appraiser bases taxes on “highest and best use,” she insisted. “And you, as a property owner, have to appeal it,” Gutierrez continued. “If you’re lucky, you win, If not, you pay a higher tax. That’s been my experience for many years.”

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