Herald on Saturday, August 26th, and the
second one ran on Friday August 25th.
See my comments below the news articles.
For more info on Miami 21:
For more info, see
Can Miami 21 plan replicate Biscayne Boulevard's revival?
There is nothing accidental about the urban rebirth now convincingly altering a formerly desolate 12-block stretch of Biscayne Boulevard north of the Omni.
In a city designed for cars, not people, what you see today on the Boulevard is something completely different: a walkable, workaday neighborhood of shops and apartments, the result of good old-fashioned urban planning by, yes, the city of Miami.
Could the city's ambitious and controversial Miami 21 rezoning plan -- to be considered by the City Commission Thursday after years of delay -- replicate the Boulevard's revival across the city?
That question is central to the debate over the sweeping plan, which would toss out the city's unwieldy, auto-oriented zoning code for a new, and ostensibly simpler, set of rules first tested along this length of the Boulevard.
There is little magical or glamorous along the 12 blocks, from Northeast 18th to 30th streets. It's no South Beach. But the success of city planners' efforts, using principles that underpin Miami 21, seem undeniable: They have fostered commerce and pedestrian traffic by mixing retail and residential uses, while retooling how new buildings meet the street to make them sidewalk-friendly.
Along sidewalks where prostitutes once owned the night, there are people pushing baby strollers -- with babies in them. There are people riding bicycles, jogging, shopping, walking dogs, grabbing lunch or coffee with a friend -- even walking to work.
Never mind Starbucks (although there is a new one anchoring the north end of the reviving stretch, at 30th Street). If dog groomers are any measure, the Boulevard along the old Edgewater neighborhood has truly arrived. It has two.
"You know what's attractive? There are dry cleaners and restaurants and all the little conveniences you need, and there didn't used to be,'' said David Carolan, director of sales for the new City 24 residential and commercial project on 24th Street, whose ground floor is home to a personal training gym, wellness center and the New York Bagels shop.
"There is a new shop every month, and we're in the worst economic downturn in 75 years,'' he said. "That's pretty powerful.''
LIVING AND WORKING
Across the Boulevard, Joe Jacobs moved his medical-billing business into an office in a condo and commercial building at 25th Street that houses the popular Mario the Baker restaurant.
On a side street, Jacobs' office door opens directly to the sidewalk. Next door, a doctor is moving in. Above them is a recording studio. The offices conceal the side of the building's massive garage and have windows looking onto the street.
Jacobs lives upstairs in the condo tower.
"It's very safe,'' he said, stepping outside his office for a smoke on a recent afternoon. "You see people out walking dogs at 1 a.m. I'm impressed with what they've done in this area.''
Still, Miami 21, a cornerstone of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's administration, has proven a contentious approach. Neighborhood activists complain it does too little to tame development, even as architects and developers' lawyers contend it's too restrictive, making commissioners wary of tackling the plan amid election-year politics.
Obscured in the debate over building heights and property rights has been one overarching goal of the plan: reshaping development to help resuscitate aging, depressed districts like the Boulevard.
The key to revival on Biscayne Boulevard has been an influx of residents drawn by reasonable prices and rents at several new buildings lined at street level with commercial space.
New businesses, including a rock memorabilia store and a bicycle shop, have also moved into historic 1920s buildings protected by the city in recent years.
It's not happenstance, city officials say, but a strategy embraced by city planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez and her staff under the tenets of New Urbanism.
The movement has reshaped development around the world, reviving dormant traditions of urban design that put pedestrians first -- mixing retail with residential, lining sidewalks with storefronts to encourage foot traffic, concealing garages and, in some cases, shading sidewalks with arcades.
"It makes a real city, which everyone has been clamoring for,'' Gelabert-Sanchez said.
Those principles, which underpin Miami 21, stand in contrast to the car-is-king, suburban template of parking lots, blank walls, exposed garages, obtrusive driveways and set-back, isolated buildings that under the current code had long dominated -- and deadened -- city streets.
The present code has produced places like the Doubletree Grand condo-hotel in the Omni district, and the residential towers along Brickell: self-contained buildings designed to be entered by car, with expansive driveways and yawning garages that make little accommodation for pedestrians.
"Obviously, there's a return to urban living, and what's succeeding are places with good, 24-hour urban character,'' said land-use lawyer and Miami 21 supporter Neisen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor and vice chairman of Miami's downtown Development Authority, pointing to the success of new pedestrian-friendly districts like Mary Brickell Village.
But the Boulevard's transformation has come only through lengthy negotiation and arm-twisting with developers, and on larger projects only -- the result of expanded review powers for city planners approved by the commission several years ago.
Miami 21 would make pedestrian-friendly urban designs the law, and extend those rules to buildings that now escape review because they are too small.
The new code would also bar the type of buildings that went up during the recent boom on the side streets of Edgewater leading to Biscayne Bay: overscaled towers with stark garages and walls fronting sidewalks in a formerly low-scale neighborhood, the result of generous zoning allowances 20 years ago. Miami 21 would still allow the larger buildings, but require better design.
The Miami 21 changes, city planners say, would apply principally to new construction or extensive renovations along commercial corridors. Most properties, including those in residential neighborhoods, would be largely unaffected.
But some architects and lawyers contend Miami 21, which was meant to simplify the convoluted layers of the current code, is even more complex and extensive, making it harder to figure out how much a developer or homeowner can build on a particular property.
"We want pedestrian cities, we want parks and green space. No one disagrees with that,'' said architect Bernard Zyscovich, a New Urbanism critic. "But it's a wholesale change for the city, like a heart transplant, and the consequences haven't been thought through.''
Zyscovich says Miami 21 unduly restricts building design to the point that the city -- especially in high-density areas like downtown -- would become a monotonous landscape of big, square buildings. Land-use lawyer Carter McDowell, a leading critic of Miami 21, says other changes, including new fees for building super-tall, amount to an illegal restriction of property rights.
Zyscovich says the city can get the urban-friendly design it wants without Miami 21 by requiring that garages be screened or concealed with retail and residential units at ground level.
"If you simply do that, you don't have to change the whole code, and you leave the architect freedom to do a better building,'' he said.
Paradoxically, neighborhood activists say Miami 21 doesn't go far enough, failing to accomplish the goal that gave rise to the effort: limiting the size of tall buildings abutting low-scale residential areas.
In some places, including Southwest 27th Avenue, Miami 21 would allow overscaled buildings next to single-family and duplex neighborhoods, they complain. And although the tall structures would have to step back from their smaller neighbors in a stair shape to lessen their intrusiveness, critics say that doesn't solve the problem.
"There are a whole lot of issues they have not resolved, or they say they resolved and when you read it, they didn't really resolve,'' said Hadley Williams, a leader with Miami Neighborhoods United, a group that opposes Miami 21.
But city planners and their consultants at the Miami firm of Duany Plater-Zyberk insist the new code is far clearer than the old, closing loopholes and substituting diagrams for pages of legal verbiage.
They say they sought to balance property rights with neighborhood protection -- though not always to everyone's satisfaction.
"The negative voices are the loudest,'' said the city's lead consultant, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. "Everyone is pointing to the agenda they didn't get, but they're not seeing the bigger picture.''
Plater-Zyberk and city planning chief Gelabert-Sanchez say architects will have almost complete freedom. The main restriction: tall buildings would have to step back after eight stories to allow light to reach streets.
"Once you learn it, we think it is much simpler,'' Gelabert-Sanchez said. ``And if you want to do something spectacular, a bold statement, or dedicate a space in front to a civic plaza, you can do it.''
The city began imposing its sidewalk-friendly principles on the Boulevard just before the real-estate boom hit full tilt. Building Zero was Cite, a mixed-use project occupying a full block on 19th Street.
Though some later buildings on Biscayne Boulevard would be larger, the template was set at Cite: The garage sits in the interior of the block, surrounded almost entirely by living and retail space, and no driveways interrupt the arcaded Boulevard sidewalk.
On side streets, townhomes hug the sidewalks. One row consists of ``live-work'' units, with office space downstairs and living quarters upstairs, occupied by, among others, a psychologist, interior designer and real-estate broker.
The complex is home to the Boulevard revival's earliest success, The Daily Creative Food Co., 2001 Biscayne Blvd., a deli packed at lunchtime since opening three years ago. Former New Yorker Adam Meltzer, the owner, saw the potential and liked how the building allows streetside dining.
"People told me I was crazy. But on day one we had a line of people out the door,'' he said.
Meltzer plans to expand into a space next door and begin opening for dinner. The best proof of success, he notes, is his new competition -- the salad and smoothie chains that moved in two doors down.
"The more, the merrier. It makes the whole area look better,'' he said. ``Look, this is not Lincoln Road. We're not trendy. We're here for the long haul.''
Leonardo Rodriguez witnessed the transformation first hand. He moved into Edgewater off the Boulevard when he first arrived from Cuba 15 years ago. ``It was really bad. You couldn't walk on the street. I was robbed twice,'' he recalled.
Eventually he moved to Miami Beach. But then he saw what was happening on the Boulevard, and chose a generous, affordable space on the ground floor of a new building on 18th Street to open his pet-grooming and boarding business, Pet Place.
"It's like New York, you see the same people all the time. They shop in the neighborhood, they walk their dogs,'' he said. "It looks like a brand new city.''
Give Miami 21 a try
And still, still, the plan arouses passionate opposition from respected professionals, in particular architects and urban designers, and some developers and homeowners groups.
Some developers dislike the plan's higher fees for building taller. Homeowners groups say the plan doesn't do enough to protect neighborhoods from encroaching high-rises and their view-limiting walls.
The architects like the plan's green and pedestrian components. But they say Miami 21's rules will force cookie-cutter, boxy building designs, especially in dense residential areas. They prefer tweaking the current code to achieve some of Miami 21's goals to bring more people and fewer cars onto city streets.
But tweaking the mish-mash of current building codes, which were developed in an anything-goes era allowing high-rises next to homes, won't cut it.
Miami 21 has many good features. It would make Miami more walkable with inviting street-level attractions, driveways hidden on side streets and condo garages tucked behind storefront facades. The plan would require high-rises to step up gradually, like stairs. Condo developers would be encouraged to install plazas or green spaces in front of buildings.
Miami 21 emphasizes more density in commercial sections away from single-family home sections. Its concepts are working between 18th and 36th streets along Biscayne Boulevard -- similar to Brickell Village, a people-oriented development south of the Miami River. The plan would streamline most permitting, known now as the ``90 days from hell'' ordeal.
Further fueling the controversy is Mayor Diaz's decision to put the plan to a City Commission vote Thursday during a month when commissioners rarely meet and when many stakeholders are on vacation.
The term-limited mayor surely wants Miami 21 to be part of his legacy, so timing is important. In September, the annual budget will consume the commission. After that, the race between Commissioners Tomás Regalado and Joe Sanchez to replace Mr. Diaz will be in full swing, and Miami 21 could become a political football.
To solve the impasse, consider a compromise that's worked in other cities undergoing zoning overhauls. The commission should adopt Miami 21 as an overlay to the current zoning code. Set a trial period -- two years, say -- during which developers can use Miami 21's rules, guaranteeing a quicker permitting process, or go by the current code.
After two years the results of each Miami 21 project can be evaluated. If the plan lives up to its promises, it should be adopted permanently. It may need some tweaking. Or if it turns out to be a dud, the current code is still in place and could be changed with the parts of Miami 21 that did succeed.
The commission has a clear choice here, one that all sides should be able to live with. A four-year gestation period (involving 500 meetings) is long enough. Give Miami 21 a chance. We'll never know if it can work unless we try it.
Miami Herald Letter to the Editor http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/letters/story/1173529.html
Create unified vision for Miami's future
The reason the code may be easier to use and more predictable is that it has reduced design elements to a set of defined regulations. It defines where a building must be placed on its site, the building's orientation and its form. This makes it easy to get plans approved, but at what cost? Block after block of the same building form with no room for creative or innovative design solutions.
Given this dictate of building form, it seems odd that there is such inconsistency on the topic of height in Miami 21. It restricts height for most districts, but allows up to a 100-percent increase in height if the property owner pays for it.
If the Biscayne corridor district allows 24 stories by right, or 48 stories with a payment, what is the appropriate height? If it is 24 stories, why entertain 48? If 48 is acceptable, why charge for making a taller, more slender building? Not only does this question the planning principles that were utilized to determine height restrictions, but it is inherently unpredictable.
These issues and others, which we have voiced publicly, could have been alleviated if the proper visioning and planning had been done prior to writing a zoning code. What we should be voting on today is a unified vision or master plan that takes Miami into the future while building on its well-established character. Only then should the regulations that form the code be written.
KRICKET SNOW, president elect, American Institute of Architects, Miami
Miami Herald http://www.miamiherald.com/460/story/1175161.html
Surprising vote kills Miami 21 zoning overhaul
After almost eight hours of public input and discussion, the comprehensive zoning plan died with an unexpected no vote from Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez -- the last vote on the dais.
Sanchez voted no, he said, because of a series of amendments offered by the city administration and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff that he feared would bring lawsuits. Only moments earlier he said they were issues he could deal with before the ordinance's second reading.
"It puts the city at risk,'' Sanchez said.
Voting along with Sanchez was Commissioner Tomás Regalado, a constant critic of the administration.
The two are in a heated battle for Diaz's mayoral post. Sanchez has been in lock-step with Diaz on many key issues over the years, but recently has drawn criticism in some quarters for being too close to the mayor.
Commissioners Sarnoff and Michelle Spence-Jones voted in favor of the ordinance. Commissioner Angel Gonzalez was absent, leaving the measure one vote shy of approval.
Diaz, who abruptly left the chamber just after 9:30 p.m., said there was still a chance to revisit his vision to create wider walkways and more pedestrian-friendly corridors in Miami.
"I don't know. I'll think about it,'' he said before stepping upstairs to his office.
After the vote, the shocked commission was even uncertain what to do. There was no need to vote on two other items, one involving historic preservation and the other amending the city's comprehensive plan. So the commission adjourned.
GRAND PLAN FALTERS
It was a stunning defeat for Diaz, even more so because it came on the vote of a previous ally. Though he had won battles to build a new Florida Marlins ballpark and a tunnel to the Port of Miami, the mayor considered Miami 21 the most important blueprint he wanted to bring to fruition.
"We owe a lasting legacy to those who will call Miami home long after we're gone,'' Diaz said earlier in the day, saying the plan could help Miami draw comparison to New York and Chicago in coming decades.
The lengthy meeting at scenic City Hall began with an 11-minute sales pitch by Diaz, followed by a lengthy presentation by the administration, then six hours of testimony from public speakers.
Diaz outlined some of the zoning overhaul's prime goals: Zoning decisions would be based on neighborhoods instead of single properties; the code would prevent out-of-scale buildings, big-box stores and McMansions; and require active ground-floor uses.
"We must plan our city -- not around cars, but around people,'' Diaz said.
Backers cited a pedestrian-friendly environment with wide walkways, ample green spaces, and storefronts and restaurants on the ground level of condominiums.
Critics of the controversial zoning ordinance are concerned about the costs of getting high-rises approved. Some neighborhood groups worried about property rights.
Arguments for the movement included climate change and fighting obesity; those out of favor with the effort focused on lowering densities.
The discussion got so thick that lawyers representing developers took to the podium to present mapping changes on particular properties where density would be decreased.
VOICES ON BOTH SIDES
Attorney Carter McDowell argued that Miami 21 was unconstitutional because it was taking away property rights from owners. He cited a client who, under Miami 21, would lose 100,000 in square feet of space because of height restrictions.
"You don't need Miami 21 to have great development -- but it goes too far,'' said McDowell, whose firm focuses on land-use issues.
Also arguing against the zoning overhaul was Ashley Bosch, president of the Builders Association of South Florida. He said the plan would likely create unnecessary litigation ``without analyzing the impact it will have on a city our size, population and existing development.''
Builder Albert Gomez said Miami 21 would hurt him, too -- but he couldn't turn his back on a plan that ``has to happen.''
"The children need to have community in their neighborhood,'' Gomez said. ``I don't think there's another choice.''
Miami Beach land-use attorney Andrew Frey supported the plan, pointing out that blogger Eye on Miami -- a constant critic on development issues -- had recently supported the idea. "I look forward to the day when you don't need a land-use attorney to say what's allowed beside you,'' said Fray.
Land-use attorney Niesen Kasdin called the city's approach to Miami 21 "one of the most impressive I've ever seen of any major city in this country.''
Commissioner Sarnoff spoke of how Miami is a youthful city -- with pimples. "This is a chance for this city to start growing up,'' Sarnoff said.
Commissioner Regalado said it was a great plan -- but asked for a deferment until all of the issues could be ironed out.
"You just want to approve this today to get a headline,'' Regalado said. "I cannot support this with so many questions.''
Miami 21 proposal to get second chance
August 25, 2009
Miami 21 is back.
As promised, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz has called a special Sept. 4 City Commission meeting to revive his signature rezoning plan, which seemed dead after a surprise 2-2 commission deadlock this month.
The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. in the commission chambers at City Hall. Also on the agenda: Miami 21-related amendments to the city's historic-preservation law and its comprehensive development plan.
Commissioner Angel González, who missed the first vote because of illness, has said he is leaning in favor of it and could provide the third yes vote.
Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, a Diaz ally who surprised the mayor by voting no, has said he is willing to change his vote as long as 35-foot height restrictions along upper Biscayne Boulevard, which Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has sought, are not adopted as part of Miami 21.
After everything that's been said, written,
published and blogged on about this particular
issue, pro and con, true and false, whether
intentionally misleading or thru sheer carelessness,
and after having been on the receiving end of
years worth of official Miami 21 mailings from
the City of Miami, I just want this to be over.
I'm literally exhausted from the debacle
this issue has become.
To wit, me duele la cabeza.
I'm exhausted from the sheer apathy of many of
the plan's opponents, who never found the time,
energy or inclination to discover the true facts,
and who'd never publicly acknowledge that some
of the elements that some have said they were
afraid would disappear if this was approved,
were neither quaint nor memorable.
No, more often than not they were merely more
sad reminders of the mediocre and generally
uninspired South Florida incompetency in public
and private planning/design that's plagued this
area since before my family moved down here
in 1968, when I was seven-years old.
No doubt there were a fair number of civic activists
at the time in the community who even then were
lamenting the sheer myopia of that era's South
Florida's elected leaders -without the benefit
of blogs- saying, more or less,
"They can get a man to the Moon, but they
can't get rental luggage carts for passengers
And they were right for over 30 years, too.
There's your reality check on pretensions
to urban sophistication!!!
Nonetheless, some of the Miami 21 opponents
raised very reasonable questions about certain
aspects of the the plan that were never sufficiently
answered publicly to their -or my- satisfaction.
One critic in particular, Bernard Zyscovich, is
someone whom I've seen and heard a lot from
in person a lot the past two years in Hollywood,
at City Commission and CRA meetings, where
he's described the vision he and his firm had for
bringing the city's zoning, design and development
fully into the 21st century, while also making it
more functional, attractive and dynamic.
It's precisely because I've heard him talk for hours
and explain and show examples of what he likes
and doesn't like, that his criticisms of Miami 21
resonate with me.
Zyscovich says Miami 21 unduly restricts building design to the point that the city -- especially in high-density areas like downtown -- would become a monotonous landscape of big, square buildings.Or Soviet-style architecture if you will.
Frankly, I'm also exhausted and vexed by the
sheer volume and vituperativeness of some of
the know-it-alls who are among Miami 21's
most fervent supporters.
(I even know a few of them, so we never
talk about "the Plan.")
Some are people who, for all their supposed
education and claims to sophistication, and
years of experience in the ways of public
administration and public policy, were awfully
quick to adopt an antagonistic "my way or
the highway" stance as soon as it was clear
there wouldn't be smooth sailing with Miami 21.
The very same tactic with which they've so often
taken a certain former president to task for for in
their blogs and personal conversations for years.
Here as in most places, pomposity, condescension
and pretensiousness are not a real substitute for
an effective public awareness campaign that
If that wasn't clear beforehand, it ought to be
crystal clear by now
And seriously, when has there ever been smooth
sailing in an area so historically lacking in credible
decision-makers with both integrity and an eye
towards the future?
That some supporters of the plan, let's call them
Urbanists Gone Wild, have taken to labeling
opponents of it as un-enlightened tools of one
group or industry, while pathetic, is not surprising.
It should hardly be surprising that people who
are champions of other people living in large
towers, sometimes live in ivory towers themself,
After all, in many cases, they're used to people
in a group deferring to them because they're the
most-experienced or best-educated in a particular
But here, that counts for nothing, if not very little,
and they seem upset with the messiness of a real
democracy, where citizens, even semi-apathetic
ones who don't know more than they do, still get
to say, "No" and reject their expert opinion.
(Examples of the elites bad attitude and
genuine anger about public sentiment being
against Obamacare has been very noticeable
to me, and mirrors this local issue, even
though few reporters seem to ever notice it,
much less mention the similarity on TV or
Well, now it's been said.)
And really, challenging the credibility of the
Miami chapter of the AIA and its members?
That's part of your winning strategy to win
hearts and minds?
Hm-m-m... so that's different from Bush 43's
much-derided "You're either with us or
against us," in what way precisely?
For the record, I was actually at the meeting in
Hollywood 14 months ago of the South Florida
Regional Planning Council where they put
the kibosh on the city's plans to figuratively and
literally take the word "Port" from the title of the
Miami River's comprehensive plan.
Also see: http://www.miamirivercommission.org/HomeIntro.htm
I was sitting in the back of the room taking notes,
snapping photos and asking people around me
who some of the cast of characters who looked
like lobbyists or civic activists were, so I could
get my bearings, since many of the people in the
room were not the 'usual suspects' who get
interviewed or quoted by Miami's media.
Well, I hardly need tell you now that the City
of Miami's over-confident attorneys never knew
what hit them.