FEBRUARY 13, 2012

I first became interested in city planning back in the mid-eighties, when I owned a houseboat on the Miami River. 

The City of Miami passed a new Master Planning and Zoning ordinance that outlawed all the houseboats docked within the city limits, and I ended up being elected the Chairman of the Houseboat Association that was created to fight our being outlawed.

I, along with several other houseboat owners ended up spending 6 months having meetings with city officials, looking for public records, producing a video that we showed to the City Commission, and generally being a pain in the ass at Commission meetings until we managed to get all of the houseboats already in the city limits grandfathered into the ordinance.

Unfortunately, after Hurricane Andrew, many of my fellow houseboat owners became homeless when their boats sunk during the storm.

Since then, I’ve always appreciated the impact that these Master Plans can have on a city and it’s residents, even if I haven’t - except for my comments about the 35 foot height restrictions imposed on the northern portion of the Boulevard - been actively involved.

Therefore, I was intrigued when I was forwarded a link to the above story in The Architect’s Newspaper about the success of Miami 21, the City of Miami’s latest Master Plan.

What equally intrigued me was a letter in rebuttal by written by  Richard Strell, a local real estate broker with a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning, who had been involved in the process that led to the acceptance of Miami 21.

Now, normally I appreciate that folks don’t like to read long, often content heavy stuff, but as a little bit of a palette cleanser from my usual fare, I would encourage you - even if you have to take it in steps - to read both of these pieces.

You need to read the story in the Architect’s newspaper first, to appreciate the arguments that Richard Strell makes.

Why is this so important? 

First, I understand that almost $7 million dollars of taxpayer money went into the creation of Miami 21.  That’s a lot of money.

Secondly, even though there was a spirited effort by many to try and balance out the needs of citizens against the demands of developers, the fact is that for the foreseeable future those who care about the future of Miami the urban planning framework of Mimi 21 is how that future will evolve, and it’s important to know as much as you can, because as in all things government related, a lot of folks whose business it is to influence government decisions in order to benefit from those decisions, already took their best shot at making sure they cash in when they start taking advantage of the fine print in Miami 21.




In response to your article, the link of which is on the bottom of this page,I have to assume you were not involved with the process leading up to the passage of Miami 21 and perhaps were not familiar with the code which Miami 21 replaced? There are a number of significant factual errors in your piece.

Regarding transit, there is ample documentation that the code was sold to the public on the promise that a new , "comprehensive" mass transit plan, was integral to the new code, necessary for new urbanism to work here, and so would be part of it. It took several years of local concerned citizens demanding to see this invisible plan regarding transit, before DPZ eventually conceded that they would provide none.  (While such a plan may have been beyond DPZ or the city's scope, the public was erroneously misled as to what to expect in this regard. We were accurately informed that greater density and enhanced mixed use, only works well, with effective mass transit

Of course, it did not stop DPZ and the city from rezoning as though they had a plan in place for a new mass transit system  Miami 21 allows much higher, and larger buildings, and therefore ones which can more closely meet our very already very liberal density limits, in place with the old code. By doing away with the FAR formula, one can more closely meet the high density already allowed, but unachievable before.

Most developers who understood Miami 21, knew it provided up-zoning for most parcels. Only a few lots, percentage-wise, (those which benefited by far the most, from our, then existing, FAR formula), suffered. For skeptics on whether or not Miami 21 really up-zones, in most cases in the high rise area, look at current commercial real estate listings. Many show approved plans, grandfathered in, based on the old code; and they show what is allowed with Miami 21, on the same parcel. They advertise the huge benefits afforded builders in the newer code). DPZ repeatedly denied they were up-zoning in the high rise areas, throughout charettes, throughout Miami.  
You blame planners for "not being aggressive enough" in pushing for mass transit. This is true. But, the planners were primarily DPZ and they let the developers call the shots - greater density in real terms, less parking, no solution to the car problem. DPZ appears in your article to have stayed high above the fray; this is far from the case. In fact, each new draft of Miami 21 showed increases in size and height, over time. What was proposed, for the high rise areas, nearly doubled in many areas -- between the first to last drafts! (The city cleverly removed earlier drafts from the online site as the discrepancies between them became increasingly pronounced over time, but some of us fortunately downloaded those early drafts.)

You are inaccurate in your description of the "new parks" we can look forward to. You mention Museum Park. It was Bicentennial Park (a park the city kept barren of trees and in spite of the park having a at one end of it a metro-mover station, the city kept the station doors locked and thus the station unusable for the entire time they lobbied for the museums. The park had no parking and never was easy to get to by car. Of course, once the city decided to pave over a third of the park for museums, they opened the Metro-mover Station, designed underground parking, and renamed the park. It will be a different public space, maybe a better one, but one with much less green space. It is not a new park though.

Another you mention, "Grand Central Park" is designated only as a temporary one, on land which can be developed in three (or is it two?) years. I don't even know what the other parks you mention are, but Miami 21 included no new parks, although the initial Miami 21 proposals promised their plan would include many.

The city has bought a few parcels, for a few small arks. But we should have much new parkland since impact fees from the building boom, was earmarked for parks. no one seems to know where much of this money went, or even if most of it was collected. Considering especially that we are one of the few American cities with a tropical climate, one might think we wouldn't be one of the cities with the least amount of park land per capita nationally! We were. We are, and Miami 21 has no component in it to rectify this sad state of affairs. In fact, their plan allows paving over much more of the existing green space in existing parks than was allowed in the old code. Miami 21's plan allows for less green space.

DPZ hardly "created" a pedestrian district along Biscayne Boulevard, as you write. Biscayne was a roughly 80 foot wide thoroughfare, with few traffic lights, allowing pedestrian passage across it. (And yes, I realize the FDOT decides on cross street lights and would not allow fewer lanes on Biscayne.) Miami 21 did influence the State in reducing lanes to the minimum allowed, resulting in wider sidewalks. While the wider sidewalks are pedestrian friendly, some think the resulting, much narrower, boulevard lanes, make the already very difficult task of bike riding on Biscayne, now a near "Survivor" challenge. Miami 21 proponents insisted on no shade trees and Royal Palms instead: odd for a city with blistering summers. Mixed use was in place for Biscayne, before Miami 21, as was the requirement that there be open arcade walkways, storefronts with retail on Biscayne, and liners along garages. Clearly these new urbanism features add to the Boulevard, but they were part of the old code so why are you crediting Miami 21 for these features?

Miami 21 did though, add mixed use where it should not have been added -- along the side streets along Biscayne, going east, toward the bay: These are mostly dead-end, narrow streets (reflecting the single family neighborhood this was when the area was laid out in the 1920's).

The high rise designation was there and remained, but the new code allows them to be larger and taller and therefore on average, with far greater occupancy limits. I dread when those 48 to 60 story high rises are built out, lining the roughly twenty foot wide dead-end streets. When the delivery trucks, valets, and shoppers, pull in and out, and double park, while residents come and go to their hi-rise apartments, automobile passage will become a nightmare. Emergency vehicles will not be able to get in and out, when it matters most, when seconds count.

No other city in the country, with a bare-bones-at-best, mass transit system, has such absurdly great allowances for density, and up-zones to mixed use, on narrow, dead end streets. (I am not sure even any city with decent mass transit has this combination of density and mixed use, on similar streets?) We now have row upon row of such streets.

DPZ's answer to the problems their up-zoning in use and size would cause for traffic on these side streets, is that this new plan would encourage residents "to push for more mass transit over time". (So, many realized, DPZ believes that if we suffer enough, for long enough, we will push hard enough and get decent mass transit. Given how long it takes to get, once approved a comprehensive plan in place, DPZ's plan must be a three to four generation-long plan to make this area "livable". in the meantime, those streets will be a mess. Perhaps they could have warned us this is what they mean by a long-range plan, but if so, I suspect, the public would have been less accepting of it.

Finally, the code did not require sound barriers between floors, or buildings, of varying uses. If the high decibels of urban living in NYC is the desired norm for here, than DPZ met their goal. Clearly, again, developers wanted no such cost constraints on building and DPZ, again, complied.

I am not saying Miami 21 did not improve the old code in any way. The theory is great, and some of the execution of the theory into code, for various parts of the city, probably will work well also But the details you mention, as applied to the high rise areas, overlooks that most of what you like, was already in the old code! Your analysis also ignores the degree to which DPZ ignored everyone but developers needs, in the high rise areas, and it ignores the gross inconsistencies of a useful theory, as it was applied to Miami.

Thank you

Richard Strell

P.S. - Finally, many of us do not believe that casinos are inevitable. How what occurs in them, affects the quality of life outside of them, makes their aesthetic form a totally mute point at this time. Great architecture and/or public spaces hardly, by itself, can create great quality of life. Up until this past week, many were convinced that casinos were a done deal, yet the State postponed the matter for a year.

Many of us plan on working to postpone permanently, "casino resorts" or casino "anything", for the inner urban area of Miami. Perhaps you would also like to fight them?


Copy the link below, and it will be a permanent link to this page that you can post on Facebook, or anywhere else.