The Real Deal Miami

Tax increment financing could fund sea level rise mitigation projects: David Martin

Another idea: create atolls along Miami's shoreline
By Francisco Alvarado | April 12, 2018 01:30PM

The panel on development in a sea level rise environment: Architect Lisa Anne Couture, Harvard professor Jesse M. Keenan, developer David Martin, U.S. Congressman Patrick Murphy and Adler Group executive Jonathan Raiffe

To entice developers into combating sea level rise, local governments should consider leveraging property tax revenues from a designated area to finance infrastructure projects that prevent major flooding and reduce catastrophic storm surge damage, according to a prominent Miami developer.

“New residential developments is one of those ideas to start funding a lot of these projects,” Terra President David Martin said during an panel Wednesday on sea-level rise. “How can we get city and county revenues to start bonding for those infrastructure dollars.”

Martin, a member of the City of Miami Sea Level Rise Committee, offered his take alongside Adler Group Chief Investment Officer and EVP Jonathan Raiffe; Asymptote Architecture Principal Lise Anne Couture; Harvard University professor Jesse M. Keenan; and U.S. Congressman and Coastal Construction SVP Patrick Murphy. Their discussion was part of the Second Annual Hinshaw/FIU Climate Change Conference at the Four Seasons Hotel Miami.

Tax increment financing districts allow city and county governments to subsidize economic development projects by borrowing against future real estate tax increases from every property in a designated area. Using that mechanism, local communities would be able to fund infrastructure projects that would minimize the impact of sea level rise and help restore natural barriers that reduce flooding, Martin explained. Tax increment financing is typically used for redevelopment projects in blighted areas.

Couture said addressing the threat of sea level rise also requires changing people’s perceptions about the luxuries of living on or near Biscayne Bay. For instance, she noted that part of the appeal of Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood are public baywalks where streets end. “Baywalks are ingrained in the psyche of people in Miami,” Couture said. “Being able to stand on a street corner from the coastline and having open views doesn’t seem consistent with developing a resilient edge” to address rising seas.

Prioritizing accessibility over figuring out how to alleviate storm water surge is short-sighted, she said. “At a certain point we have to question decisions conceived at a different point in time,” Couture said. “It is important to engage the city and the county to look at these problems more holistically.”

Murphy agreed. “You can’t simply build a six-foot seawall and stop this,” he said. “Yes, we can improve a building here and a house here and a road here. But the local, state and federal governments have to come together to solve these problems.”

Among the solutions that the city’s Sea Level Rise Committee is researching is creating atolls along Miami’s shoreline, Martin said. “Part of the role of these mitigation systems is to pump stormwater into the bay,” he said. “How do we create living shorelines that help solve these flooding issues? These atolls can manage the water. At the same time, we would be creating half-acre parks along the shoreline.”

He also noted that streets and sidewalks can be designed to collect and drain stormwater more effectively, pointing to the Giralda Avenue Streetscape project as an example. “On Giralda Avenue, the porous stone that was laid out and the planted trees are part of the stormwater management system,” Martin said. “And they pitched all the pavers so the water would flow into these trees and mitigate and manage the water better.”

But first, cities and the county need to invest in hydrology maps that will measure the water tables from Florida City to Aventura and everywhere in between, he said. “We need to create laser-focused maps of all our neighborhoods to figure what the right infrastructure solutions are for those neighborhoods,” Martin said.