Currently viewing the category: "Miami 21"

Last night’s City of Miami bike summit was a great success. Mike Lydon made an excellent presentation about the future of cycling in Miami, and the different facilities we have to look forward to in the future. He spoke to a packed house of cycling advocates and government officials who helped make the plan possible. I’ll let Mike and Felipe talk about the plan and some of the comments made by the audience (most of which related to getting the word out that bikes have a right to share the road), but I want to mention a few words about the underlying conversation related to Miami 21. The opening remarks were made by City Commission Chair Joe Sanchez, a cycling advocate and longtime supporter of Bike Miami and the Bicycle Action Plan. His remarks were noteworthy because he spoke mostly about Miami 21, and his decision to vote against it.

Stressing his support of the plan, he said his ‘no’ vote came from concerns that the height restrictions on Biscayne and Coral Way proffered by Commissioners Regalado and Sarnoff were bad planning (very true) and could open the city up to unnecessary litigation (also true). He went on to say that the plan was not dead and negotiations on these issues were moving forward, and he hoped to reconsider the matter soon. He was vague about when the vote would happen, but I was pleased to hear him hopeful that it would happen in the near future. (My guess is that he will want the vote to happen before the election.) While I still think that he could have procedurally handled the matter in another way, I am glad that he is working on fixing the problem.

It didn’t go unnoticed that once Joe left (about 5 minutes into the presentation) Mayor Manny arrived and also gave a few words on the plan (and Miami 21). He assured us that he is not giving  up on Miami 21, and will continue to be an advocate even once he leaves office. We are all lucky to have had him as Mayor. (PS. He stayed through the entire presentation!)

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Miami City Commissioners take notice: Denver is moving toward approving its own form-based code later this year. The new code will replace  1950′s era Euclidean zoning categories (C1, R1, R2..etc) with transect based zoning categories (like Miami 21′s T-zones).  Denver’s code rewrite has been in the works for a couple of years (sound familiar?), but it enjoys the support of community residents and the Denver AIA, which had this to say:

“I think it will allow for more options for architects and their clients,” says Steven Carr, president of AIA Denver, which has endorsed the proposed code. “And it will make residents happier. They’ll have more choices about what they can do in their neighborhoods, but those choices will be based on specific contexts.”

At least the AIA in Denver is not as useless as the Miami AIA.  Lucky for us, local architect and professor at the Univeristy of Miami, Jose Gelabert-Navia, Principal of Perkins and Will (one of the largest architecture firms in the US) came out in support of Miami 21 in an editorial published in the Herald this morning.  He had this to say regarding the Miami AIA position on Miami 21:

The overwhelming majority of my profession had not endorsed the statement by the AIA board and many spoke that evening in support of the ordinance.

Makes you wonder who the Miami AIA represents?

City of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff sent out a newsletter to his constituents today responding to public outcry over the recent 2-2 vote on Miami 21. He hints that another vote could be held before the election.  Check out what the Commissioner had to say about the future of Miami 21 and his thoughts on potential property rights litigation:

There is a strong possibility Commissioners may get a second chance to make a decision at an upcoming meeting, where hopefully all five Commissioners will be present to vote.  The plan, while not perfect, offers a unique opportunity to redesign Miami into the pedestrian friendly community with wide walkways, and large green spaces that so many of our residents desire….

I do not simply accept what Development lawyers claim the law to be, that any change in the code which lessens their client’s development rights, results in an effective taking of property by the City. This is commonly referred to as a Bert Harris property compensation. The recent 3rd District Court of Appeals decision in Monroe County versus Ambrose, holds: “the mere purchase of land did not create a right (by the owner or developer) to rely upon existing zoning”. Equally, our City Attorney has opined there is no Bert Harris issue for height limitations. I have performed my due diligence. The threat of litigation and being sued is an omni present threat in Miami.  Most importantly I understand that we are no longer in the building craze and land values are depressed. The Bert Harris argument is least effective during these times. We have more lawyers per square foot than anywhere in the United States. I will never govern nor cast my vote because of a threat. I stood my ground when personally sued by the Mercy Developer for my vote against its massive 36 story, 3 tower project in the Grove, despite 2 other Commissioners and the Chairman voting over the District Commissioner.

We hope that he is right and that Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez brings the code back for a vote. The Chairman has a big opportunity to redeem himself with potential voters. He needs to do this soon, or lose any chance of becoming Mayor. I’m sure by now he has realized how big a mistake he made, and what it might cost him. It’s not too late Joe, do the right thing.

Politics won out over reason Thursday night as City of Miami Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez pulled a political kamakazi with his ‘no’ vote on Miami 21. The vote was surprising because only moments before the vote he described the items that would have to be changed before second reading. Most observers have been scratching their head over this bizarre turn of events. The Chairman cited his concerns over potential property rights litigation, but he did not offer an alternative motion to consider the item without including the questionable properties (as chair of the commission we assume that he knows he can do that). I think the Commissioner has to think quick at this point if he is going to salvage any bit of his campaign.

Later he issued the following brief press release (I’ve added my comments in blue):

Office of Chairman Joe Sanchez
3500 Pan American Drive
Miami, Florida 33133

Steve Wright

Telephone: 305.250.5380

Fax: 305.250.5386

For Immediate Release

August 7, 2009

Miami, FL



(Miami, FL) – Chairman Joe Sanchez issued the following statement regarding his no vote on the version of Miami 21 considered by the Miami City Commission on Aug. 6:

  • It was painful to vote against a concept I believe in.

Mr. Chairman, as Mayor you will be faced with a variety of tough decisions. Part of being Mayor is setting priorities and sticking to them. This was one of the initiatives you supported. What happened? Is this the sort of flimsy leadership you will display once elected? I might not agree with Commissioner Regalado, but he sticks to what he says.

  • For more than a decade, I have supported smart growth principals such as pedestrian-friendly development, public transit, bicycle lanes, neighborhood preservation, shade trees, parkland, green space and sustainability.

What good is all that work and leadership if you are going to play politics with one of the most important pieces of legislation you have been confronted with? Should you really be at the helm of organizations such as the DDA and Green Commission considering their strong support for the plan, and your apparent disregard for their opinion?

  • Tragically, the version of Miami 21 that came up for a vote yesterday was tainted by restrictions that placed our residents in harm’s way by exposing us to tens of millions of dollars in lawsuits from loss of property value.

If you were really concerned about the budget then why not defer this meeting from the get go? As Chairman, I’m sure that you know the advertisement alone cost $50,000 (the cost of 2 Bike Miami Days). As with the Miami River properties that were not being included in the vote because they are under litigation, you could have simply removed questionable properties from the vote and moved forward.

  • We are in a budget crisis that threatens to bankrupt the City, so I could not uphold my fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers if I approved that version of Miami 21.

See my previous comment. $50k = 2 Bike Miami Days. I hope you don’t cut Bike Miami Days from the budget now as a result of the money you wasted on advertising this meeting.

  • However, I am extremely hopeful that this is a temporary setback to a common goal that is within our reach. Miami 21 must be revisited immediately after we have cut the bloated salaries and pensions that threaten our current budget.
  • We now have a golden opportunity to resolve key issues and craft a pure version of Miami 21 that truly protects our neighborhoods and our City revenues.
  • With all five Commissioners on the dais, we must reconsider Miami 21. We must adopt a final version of Miami 21 that truly is the people’s plan.

All five Commissioners would have been great, but don’t use that as a copout. You should have voted to approve. You still have time to correct this misstep. Let’s be honest: your campaign is dead as a doornail. Any voting constituency that you were previously courting you lost, and you definitely didn’t pick up any Regalado voters. As soon as Tomasito is elected he is going to put Miami 21 on the agenda (not subsatntially different) and it will get approved. Your ‘no’ vote will have been in vain.  I can’t vouch that it will make a lot of difference for your campaign, but at least you can leave public office knowing that you contributed in a positive way to the future of our city. You have a chance at redeeming yourself, I hope you take it. Don’t delay, put Miami 21 back on the agenda, and vote to approve.

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Miami Mayor Manny Diaz’s statement on Miami 21 vote
I am exceptionally proud of the number of Miamians who embraced Miami 21 and was proud to sit through the debate last night. There can be no doubt that we successfully raised the public discourse in our city. Speaker after speaker stressed the importance of sustainability, climate change, walkability, pedestrian-friendly streets, bicycling, historic preservation, open spaces, health, obesity, etc. Speaker after speaker reflected the new Miami, a different demographic that embraces the urban experience and advocates for a very different Miami.

However, I am also extremely disappointed with the Commission’s final vote on Miami 21. This disappointment is not for me, but for the thousands of Miamians who participated in designing a new Miami during the course of the last four years. Regrettably, Miami’s residents will continue to be exposed to the monthly victories of the special interests that place their particular projects over the public good. Individual properties will continue to be re-zoned without regard to their neighborhood context or their place in the fabric of the entire city. The status quo will continue to promote a Miami with a little and mostly hostile public realm, uninviting streets, unsightly and exposed parking garages, poor or nonexistent transitions in residential neighborhoods, non-functioning public spaces and ugly commercial corridors.

For the moment, we are unclear as to next steps. However, I am very clear in my deep concern that last night’s Commission action is a sign of things to come, a return to the old Miami of politics as usual.

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Miami 21 has come to an abrupt end as the city commission stalemated in a 2-2 tie.  We cannot stress how big of a setback this is for the City of Miami - one can only wonder what the future of this city will look like.

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Miami 21 will likely be ongoing for hours longer….you may watch it live here.

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Elected Officials of the City of Miami:

The City of Miami is at a crossroads, poised with an opportunity to transpose the status quo from municipal mediocrity into a vibrant, livable community for generations to come. At a time when cities have reemerged at the forefront of urban innovation, Miami’s indolent city commission is struggling with the decision to approve a zoning code that will merely bring us in step with modern planning theory.

Miami 21 is a justified proposition – evidence of its future impact abounds. Our streets are congested and dangerous. Transit is ineffective. Development adheres to suburban zoning codes, promoting unsustainable lifestyles. Our tree canopy is nonexistent. Condominium towers loom high over single family neighborhoods, and our industrial lands are being transformed as jobs are shipped out of Miami. The bottom line is that Miami 21 is not a luxury; it has become a necessity.

Now is the time to act. As Miami recovers from the recent onslaught of development, we must take proactive measures to ensure that any future development in this city heed sound planning principles. The painful recession, caused in part by speculative overdevelopment, should be viewed as our opportunity to regulate market inefficiency through sensible planning for a healthy future.

The truth is Miami 21 isn’t perfect – no plan is. Every planning initiative will face its fair share of detractors; this is the essence of a democratic planning system. Planning is a conciliatory process between community, business, and municipal needs. Grove residents learned this firsthand in the protracted big box saga and are now living with the consequences of a failed zoning and redevelopment policy. To deride Miami 21 for its shortcomings is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Facts

Miami 21 is about establishing urban conformity and regulating development to match community needs. Miami 21 establishes a level of predictability into our zoning code, ensuring that future growth heed constraints set forth by a sound citywide plan. Transect zoning establishes human-scale development, designing spaces around people, not vehicles. It stipulates that future development create safe, healthy, sustainable neighborhoods – oriented to residents – with an added emphasis on green public spaces, multi-modal solutions, and creating a sense of place. Miami 21 also ties together a number of congruent city initiatives namely the Master Plans for Parks and Open Spaces, Coconut Grove, Museum Park, and Virginia Key; the redevelopment of the Orange Bowl site; and transit solutions including the proposed trolleys and streetcar. Together, these initiatives will help reduce traffic, improve livability, and serve as economic engines for future municipal growth.

Contrary to the public misconceptions, proliferated by an ill-informed vocal minority, Miami 21 will change the rules by which developers will abide in our favor. Moreover, the primary source of professional opposition (namely the architects responsible for the most recent slue of dreary edifices dotting the skyline), kindly reminded us that Miami 21 would inhibit innovation and diversity. Not such an appalling proposition when you scrutinize the bland structures that rose when creativity wasn’t “inhibited.” Twenty story parking garages compound our congestion issues, do little to make our streets safer, and promote unsustainable, unhealthy lifestyles.

The Stakes

The City of Miami has spent $2.2 million of taxpayer money directly on Miami 21 and millions more on indirect costs. Millions of hard earned taxpayer dollars – spent in vain if this item is not voted upon by the city commission. There have been over 60 public hearings over the past four years, more than enough time for residents and commissioners to become intimately familiar with the new code. If ever a decision should be made it is today!

Time is of the essence. We cannot sit back and allow such a pivotal proposal wither away because of political differences. Miami residents and businesses will not sit for such costly inaction. The time for more input and clarification has long passed – it is now time to set aside self-interests and enact measures that will help our wonderful community flourish for generations to come. In trying times, successful leaders take action. Only the timid hedge their political futures on inaction.

Gabriel J. Lopez-Bernal

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The Miami Chapter of the AIA is coming out in opposition to the proposed code. Too bad. They have been sliding out of relevance for a while, and this this latest decision reflects their diminshed voice, and backwards thinking. Keep in mind that Mayor Manny Diaz recently won a keystone award from the American Architectural Foundation for his leadership in advancing smart growth and walkability through Miami 21. In his letter to members, AIA President Bernard Horovitz claims that the code creates a, “new language not familiar to AIA Miami or the public.” Jeez Bernie, do you live in a bubble? Are all members of AIA Miami really that out of touch with contemporary urban planning that they are not familiar with what has become commonplace across the country?? It seems to me that part of your job is making sure local professionals know what is going on in their profession, regardless of your personal view.

For those architects out there who are unsure about what to believe, here are some other major American cities that are discarding existing car based zoning language in favor of walkable regulations.






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Anti-Miami 21 Activist Richard Strell has penned an ill-informed screed citing that Miami 21 is anti-bicycling. This is a clear attempt to rouse confusion and anger amongst an interest group that has gained a considerable voice in the past two years. As a professional urban planner who specializes in bicycle planning, I must weigh in.

The crux of Strell’s argument seems to fall upon the issue of street width and pedestrian accommodation, claiming that the provision of narrower streets and wider sidewalks is inherently bicycle-unfriendly. This is not true, and a crude simplification of how street design happens in Miami.

First, Miami 21 is a zoning code that primarily regulates land use and the form and relationships of buildings. It is not a street design manual. It is not a pedestrian master plan. It is not a bicycle master plan. Rather, Miami 21 sets out to ensure that those buildings, and the land uses housed within them, relate better to each other. In doing so, Miami 21 is concerned with creating and supporting a better public realm,  one that is more conducive to walking and bicycling. The current zoning code does this miserably and does nothing to support the needs and interests of bicyclists and pedestrians.  All one has to do is try to walk or bicycle through the city to witness this.

Because Miami 21  does not set forth street design provisions,  the City decided instead to pursue its own Complete Streets legislation, which was adopted earlier this year. The Public Works and Planning department are currently writing these standards so that all future roadway projects include the interests of bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and yes, motor vehicles. Balancing all of these needs is not easy, but the policy will be in place  so that Miami’s street design matches up with the proposed improvements to land use regulation under Miami 21. The two,  are therefore intended to maximize the mobility and accessibility for all Miami’s residents and to be mutually supportive. You can’t have great streets without good land use, and vice-versa.

Furthermore, the City of Miami  does not have jurisdiction over a large percentage of the streets appropriate for bicycle facilities. Indeed, the major streets and avenues within the city are regulated, designed, and maintained by FDOT and the County. What the above Complete Streets legislation does do is give the city an official policy to use when working with FDOT and the County to ensure that wider sidewalks and bicycle facilities get included in projects where they previously were not.

So what about the claim that pedestrians needs will taken into account before bicyclists?

Well, they should be! Every trip starts off by walking, and the vast majority of people in this city are able to walk with their own two feet. If we don’t allow that to happen safely, then we certainly shouldn’t expect to get transit or bicycling to work either. And since the city has control over the neighborhood streets, I think its wise to keep those streets narrow, add adequate sidewalks (so many still don’t have them!) and let proper, contextually sensitive bicycle facilities work within the framework of a walkable city. Indeed, in most of the residential neighborhoods, widening the streets to accommodate bicycle lanes would mean either taking sidewalks away, or taking property from private land owners. I am guessing that Mr. Strell would not want either, especially in his own Edgewater neighborhood.

Finally, the city is taking great strides to improve bicycle conditions within the city limits. If anything, I have chronicled those efforts extensively on this blog. The current master plan, which was actually recommended in Miami 21, is part of that effort and will work well, and in parrallel with Miami 21 as both are implemented.  Bicycle parking is expanding, safety signs are being placed around the city in cooperation with the County (Anyone been on 14th Street in Park West lately?!), and new bicycle facilities are either being planned or are under construction. I have full confidence that the City will continue to support bicycling after Miami 21 is adopted. Both go hand in hand, and both will help Miami become a healthier and more sustainable city.

So, the question remains, if Richard is so concerned about bicycling, why have I never seen him at a single bicycle event, meeting, or rally? Why aren’t all of the bicycle activists who forwarded his email on to me familiar with him? Don’t be fooled, Richard does not care about bicyclists so much as he cares about derailing Miami 21.

Desperation is a stinky cologne and Richard Strell’s anti-Miami 21 screed is as odoriferous as it gets.


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Earlier this week, Urban Environment League member Blanca Mesa posted an comment on Transit Miami regarding Virginia Key and its zoning category under Miami 21. The proposed Miami 21 atlas calls for the northern portion of the site to be classified T-6, which would allow higher development of the site (as reflected in the currently stalled Virginia Key Masterplan). I contacted the city to voice my conern over this inappropriate designation. Planning Director Ana Gelabert-Sanchez sent me this reply:


The existing Zoning Atlas (under 11000 ZO) designates the North Point as C-1 Restricted Commercial.

The Virginia Key Master Plan proposes parks related facilities, enhancing existing natural areas and site buffers within the North Point.

At tomorrow’s City Commission hearing we will be proposing the change from C-1 restricted Commercial to CS Parks designation.

Hope it helps to clarify the issue.

Thanks Ana. This is the right move for Virginia Key and for Miami 21.

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Our local historic preservation hero and guru Ellen Uguccioni has this to say about Miami 21:

Dear friends of historic preservation (a vital part of our quality of life,) and a fundamental principal in the MIAMI 21 (ZONING) CODE:

After years of meetings, public input through hundreds of hours of public meetings, a dedicated staff of the Miami Planning Department and its consultant Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, will present a new, form-based code based on the best of urban design and respect for the environment ( both natural and built,) this Thursday, August 6th.

As we pass the 113th year of the City of Miami’s incorporation, this holistic approach to years of “band-aid” zoning will be the first major  overhaul of the city’s land use process.  I know how many hours you all have spent in “crusades” and I would greatly appreciate your support of Miami 21.

As it relates to historic preservation, Miami 21 will:

Create a viable process for Transfer of Development Rights only for historic buildings with the “Receiving “ areas in the denser urban zones where public benefits can increase a building’s height.

Provide a transition from residential to commercial areas,  eliminating the incompatibility of low rise residential  and mid to high-rise commercial use

Create a “view corridor” for Vizcaya, permanently removing the threat of looming high-rise adjacent new construction

Create an “Exemption” for  “bed and breakfasts” in certain residential areas.

The list of Miami 21’s insightful aspects is too long to discuss here, and I would urge you to go to the Miami 21 website at for more information. As a respected member of the community, your input ( by letter or personal appearance) will help the city make history—

Please address any correspondence to the Honorable Members of the Miami City Commission; c/o Ms.  Priscilla Thompson, CMC, City Clerk, City of Miami , City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive, Miami Florida 33130 or

Ellen Uguccioni

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Steve Mouzon, a prolific writer, architect and progenitor of the Original Green movement, has weighed in on Miami 21.  Steve says:

Miami 21 is not without controversy. Chief amongst the detractors are architects, who deride Miami 21 because they think it will take away their design freedom. Apparently, they want to be able to zig, zag, and wiggle any way they choose without regard to the fabric of the city their buildings are helping to create. But we’ve seen nearly a century of this approach, and the results have been disastrous. Buildings that shout “look at me” as they twist and writhe with no concern for the street might provide notoriety for their architect, but they normally do nothing for the neighborhood.

By now many of you readers have probably seen the latest Herald article published online last night. Journalist Andres Viglucci does a solid job covering the result of the ongoing  Biscayne Boulevard corridor, which is redeveloping using Miami 21′s core tenets. To those who know and understand the power and importance of form-based codes, the results come as now surprise.

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.’

Particularly important are the images attached to the online article. These show the stark differences in what the old zoning code 11,000 is known to produce, and what Miami 21 can replicate along the city’s commercial corridors.  To be perfectly clear, however, buildings need not be 8-35 stories high to create this type of livability. Rather, redeveloping or building new buildings at 2-4 stories that conform to Miami 21 will also do much to alter Miami’s urban pattern. As Tony mentioned yesterday, Miami 21 makes this possible. At present the current zoning code does not allow for any development in this nice urban, but human-scale middle ground.

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