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Miami Beach Voters Pass Referendums Approving More Density For Some, Less For Others

Residents of Miami Beach approved all six referendum questions on their primary ballot Tuesday, including a handful that will have an impact on development in the city.

The most impactful measure passed allows the developer of the Alton Road Gateway Project to increase the allowable density on its site.

Terra, which is replacing the community health center at 710 Alton Road, will be allowed to build to a 2.6 floor-area ratio, clearing the way for a roughly 15-story tower with about 120 units, office space and retail, Terra’s Russell Galbut told The Real Deal. In exchange for the allowable density — the site previously allowed 2.0 FAR — Terra has agreed to build a new health center and library across the street from its project.

A ballot measure that would force developers who are building in vacated city alleyways and side streets to get voter approval to increase their projects’ floor-area ratio also passed Tuesday night. Developers had previously been able to build denser projects than zoning allows by incorporating former city streets and alleys into their projects — they will now need to get a referendum approved to get that additional FAR.

“I was a bit disappointed, but not surprised,” that the FAR referendum passed, said Neisen Kasdin, a managing partner at law firm Akerman and a former mayor of Miami Beach. “I’ve always held the belief that the U.S. Constitution protects property owners’ rights to not be subject to popular vote.”

Another referendum passed that would allow developers to build denser residential projects if they convert properties zoned as apartment-hotels. The city voted to ban those types of properties last year, and now voters have approved an incentive for developers to convert those buildings to permanent housing.

“There is this idea that transient [developments] are viewed as disruptive,” Kasdin said. “This incentivizes developers from working on transient projects.”

Voters also approved adding a rule that the city’s Board of Adjustments, which hears land use and zoning cases, must have an architect among its seven members.


Source:  Bisnow


Miami 21’s Special Area Plans Have Created Special Problems

In a recent article, Neisen Kasdin, managing partner of Akerman LLP’s Miami office, argued that the opposition to special area plans (SAPs) was “largely driven by community activists who oppose change because they like things the way they are and want to preserve their positions of power in the community. They generate opposition by preying upon people’s fear of progress, often without regard to the true long-term interests of the community.”

Nothing could be further from the truth—the opposition to SAPs has been galvanized across a broad spectrum of opponents who have watched this planning tool turned against our most vulnerable communities by developers. That outrage resulted in the City of Miami Planning Zoning & Appeals Board voting unanimously last year to recommend to city commissioners that SAPs be abolished from the Miami 21 zoning code.

SAPs Are Government Up-Zoning

A “special area plan” is a zoning process in Miami 21 that allows a developer that assembles over nine acres of land to apply for the right to build at much greater height and density than would otherwise be allowed. If that application is approved after going before the PZAB for its recommendation and then obtaining final approval from the city commission, the developer then has greater flexibility (e.g., the Magic City SAP received exemption from certain liquor sales limitations) as well as relief from the Code’s otherwise strict rules regarding “succession.”

Miami 21 is a “form based” code designed for “successional growth.” For example, the T-3 transect governs single family and duplex residences of maximum two stories, and T-4 governs multifamily apartments of three stories maximum. Any up-zonings of more than one transect are generally not allowed. SAPs are a planned exception to successional growth, intended to incentivize developers to cooperate with the city planning staff to create a better development than the developer might otherwise build. Kasdin is correct that this process has worked well in some high density places, such as Brickell City Centre. But not all, and there’s the rub—“one size does not fit all.”

At their root, the projects Kasdin is promoting involve governmental up-zoning, with lobbyists approaching the city of Miami on behalf of developers seeking permission to build more than they are otherwise legally allowed to build.

This type of government led development is neither organic nor the result of natural market forces. Rather, market forces are being manipulated to incentivize acquisition of real property in poorer neighborhoods where private investment has been largely absent, except by slumlords, often for decades.

In theory, this process involves the city agreeing to allow more density and height in exchange for the developer making available to residents certain benefits, such as affordable housing, workforce preferences and living wages. But the “community benefits” are only as good as the negotiating process, and it is often the case that the neighborhood doesn’t get what it deserves in a process controlled by connected people in “special deals for special people” handed out by compromised politicians who don’t have the public interest at heart.


Click here to read this story in its entirety.



Miami Board Votes To Repeal Special Area Plans

Special Area Plans have enabled developers to build massive projects in the city of Miami like Brickell City Centre, River Landing Shops and Residences, Mana Wynwood, the Miami Produce Center (pictured above), and Magic City Innovation District.

SAPs have also antagonized neighborhood activists who fear that such massive developments destroy the character of low-rise neighborhoods and speed up the displacement of individuals and families who can’t afford the skyrocketing rents or property taxes.

Now, the Miami Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board is recommending that no other SAPs be approved.

By a vote of 6 to 3 on Wednesday, the board approved a resolution to repeal the Special Area Plan provision that enables property owners who assemble more than 9 acres of land to seek extensive zoning changes.

Such a repeal still needs to be approved, twice, by the Miami City Commission, which is embarking on its own review of the entire Miami 21 zoning code, including SAPs.

Planning board member Adam Gersten cast one of the dissenting votes, saying he feared that commissioners may simply ignore a recommendation to repeal, and advocated for a moratorium on SAPs instead. As part of that moratorium, the board could recommend reforms, including that the SAP causes no net loss of affordable housing in the surrounding area, Gersten suggested.

Chris Collins, another dissenting voter, agreed. “I think it would be more proactive and go a longer way if we specify what we want to change and how to change it,” Collins said.

But board member Alex Dominguez said that while the city tries to “workshop this thing to death,” more people are being displaced by legislation that encourages land speculation.

“If you do a moratorium… it’s like putting lipstick on a pig, and at the end of the day, it’s still a pig,” Dominguez said.

He also argued that many real estate developers “don’t even want to touch SAPs” because of the community opposition they tend to attract.

“It’s not a big deal to repeal SAPs from Miami 21,” Dominguez said, adding that “keeping it alive and tweaking it is affecting a hell of a lot more people negatively rather than positively.”

Neisen Kasdin, a land use attorney affiliated with Akerman, rose in defense of SAPS, arguing that the legislation has enabled “good” projects like the expansion of Ransom Everglades private school in Coconut Grove and the ongoing construction of an EmpathiCare Village for Alzheimer’s patients at Miami Jewish Health Systems in Buena Vista. SAP developers must also offer “community benefit agreements” in exchange for approval, Kasdin added.

“If you pass this legislation, you are not just throwing the baby out with the bath water, you are throwing out the baby,” Kasdin said.

But Marleine Bastien, executive director of Family Action Network Movement (FANM), said one of Kasdin’s clients, Magic City Innovation District, is an example of a “bad SAP” that has already indirectly led to the displacement of several residents and small businesses. That project, which was approved by the city commission last June, is being challenged in court by Warren Perry, a Little Haiti resident affiliated with FANM. One of the project’s initial investors, Robert Zangrillo, is also fighting charges from the U.S. Attorney’s Office related to the college admission fraud scandal, as well as charges from the Federal Trade Commission that he co-owned fraudulent websites.

Leonie Hermantin, a board member of Concerned Leaders of Little Haiti, said that although her organization supported the Magic City Innovation District, the group is also in favor of repealing the SAP provision.

“We know that the impact of multiple SAPs in our community will be detrimental,” Hermantin told the board. “I agree with Mr. Kasdin. There are good SAPs and there are bad SAPs. The problem is, unfortunately, that bad SAPs have been allowed to go through.”

The board has kept one controversial SAP in limbo: Eastside Ridge, a proposed 5.4 million-square-foot project that will be built less than a mile from the 8.2-million-square foot Magic City Innovation District and across the street from Miami Jewish Health. The planning board has continued the project five times, with members demanding improvements. In response, SPV Realty, Eastside Ridge’s developers, filed a lawsuit demanding that the board make a decision on the project — either recommending for or against it — so that it can be heard by the Miami City Commission.

Board member Anthony Parrish said Eastside Ridge helped make up his mind on whether or not to support repealing SAPs.

“One attorney of a major project said, ‘Just deny us. We just want to get to the commission,’” Parrish said. “That is what provided, at least for this member of the board, a need to repeal this.”


Source:  The Real Deal

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Miami May Be Closer To Banning Special Area Plans

In Miami, property owners who control more than 9 acres of land can apply for a wide array of zoning changes. They’re called Special Area Plans, or SAPs, and the legislation has allowed for massive, planned projects like Brickell City Centre, River Landing Shops & Residences, the redevelopment of the Miami Design District, and the expansion of the Miami Jewish Home. It has also allowed for future mega-projects like the Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti, Miami Produce Center in Allapattah, and Mana Wynwood.

On Jan. 15, the city of Miami’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board will discuss proposed legislation that could do away with SAPs altogether.

The board voted Wednesday to discuss a rule at its Jan. 15 meeting that would recommend that the city remove SAPs from the Miami 21 zoning code. In the 8 to 1 vote, board member Chris Collins was the lone dissenter.

The ultimate decision on whether to keep SAPs rests with the Miami City Commission. But even if the resolution isn’t approved, board members hope that it will tell elected leaders that SAPs are not beneficial to Miami’s existing neighborhoods and residents.

“I don’t want to send them a weak message,” said the resolution’s proposer, board member Alex Dominguez. “Either get rid of the damn thing … or let us move on.”

Several residents and community activists said SAPs are threatening neighborhoods, clogging roads with additional traffic, and speeding up gentrification. At the very least, community activists want a moratorium on future SAPs until regulations are put in place that govern development and require that affordable housing be offered in exchange for zoning.

“When I sell my home, I will have to leave because I will not be able to afford to live here,” said Jordan Levin, who lives in a house in Buena Vista East that she bought 20 years ago. “Please put a moratorium on these things. They’re the Godzillas of development. Development should not just be for the developers. Development should be for the city.”

Sue Trone, the city’s chief of community planning, argued that SAPs can help parts of Miami move away from the “segregated” uses advocated in the city’s 1959 comprehensive plan into a more mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly environment. And while reforms are needed, Trone argued that SAPs can “do a lot of good for the city.” Land use attorney Neisen Kasdin also begged the board not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” and to instead pursue reforms.

Dominguez, though, said it was best if the city rid itself of SAPs as soon as possible.

“Time is our biggest enemy. The more time we spend kicking things down the road and having meetings, the more developers are going to develop [SAPs] and we’ll have more traffic and we’ll see more people getting displaced,” he said.

Board member Melody Torrens said stopping future SAPs is “starting to make a lot of sense.” Still, she said the commission might not accept the idea, and while reforms are being debated, developers will continue to push SAPs. “If we’re not going to stop them completely, then we definitely need a moratorium while we go through [the legislation],” Torrens said.

Board chairman Charles Garavaglia agreed with Dominguez that passing a rule ending SAPs would make a stronger impact with politicians.

“I just think we should stop SAPs and send that message,” Garavaglia said, “and, ultimately, the commission will do what they want.”


Source:  The Real Deal

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