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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

'Ask City Commissioners to repeal this horrible law'

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Miami’s zoning code (named Miami 21) includes a horrible law: the “Special Area Plan”, or SAP.  (Section 3.9 and 3.9.1).  

Briefly, that law allows the owners of a property greater than 9 acres to get special treatment.  Very special treatment.  

As one City of Miami staffer told me, off the record, “An SAP pretty much lets the developer do whatever they want.”  That might be an exaggeration, but only slightly. 

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One of the City of Miami’s favorite tricks is to pass laws that include words like “flexibility”, “flexible”, or “appropriate”.   The SAP law contains all three.  

How can a law possibly be “flexible”?  

And who decides what is “appropriate”? (The city itself, of course.)  

It’s a giant loophole, with enormous potential for selective enforcement, favoritism and arbitrary decisions.

When it was first proposed, I and other civic activists objected to the SAP law, saying it was too vague and a Pandora’s box.  But at the time we thought it would only apply to properties that were a minimum of 9 acres in size, and there are very few of those in Miami.

Little did we know that the 9 acres could be assembled after-the-fact, and that the city’s definition of “abutting” properties meant an SAP could jump across streets and gerrymander across many city blocks like a crossword puzzle.

Our only hope for protection from overdevelopment was one passage, in Section 3.9.1 h 10:   “ long as the capacity or Height distribution does not result in development that is out of Scale or character with the surrounding area, and provides for appropriate transitions.”

That passage reads nicely, but the reality is that Miami 21 does not have a mathematical definition of “out of Scale or character”.  Nor does it define an “appropriate transition”.    

And the City of Miami Planning Department likes it that way.  They want to interpret the zoning law they way they want to interpret it. ***

Or sometimes the city simply ignores the law.

That’s what happened with the Wynwood Special Area Plan, when 45 properties that had been recently up-zoned to five to eight stories were up-zoned again, to as high as 24 stories, even though Wynwood’s scale and character is overwhelmingly one or two stories.  The city ignored its own law. ***

In granting that SAP the city gave the developer permission for an additional 2.5 million square feet of buildable floor area!

(To put that in perspective, 2.5 million square feet is about the same size as 25 Home Depot stores.   Or 43 football fields, including the end zones.) 

How can they get away with that?  Easily.  How many of us are paying attention and speaking up to keep the city honest?

I’m hoping you’ll help change things around here.

The SAP law is an insidious monster that concerned Miamians across the city should demand be repealed.  

The Upper Eastside is threatened with four separate SAPs!  One proposed at Design Place (along 54th Street, just west of the railroad tracks) could rise as high as 403 feet! 

The city recently allowed a developer to count a City of Miami park (Jose Marti) as part of its 9 acres.  

Now another developer wants to do the same thing, using Legion Park’s acreage to allow high rises just south of it, in what is currently zoned for 5 stories. (That 5 story zoning is already too high; it should have been three story zoning, to create an appropriate transition for the park.)

Please wake up, concerned citizens of Miami.   

Please email our city commissioners and ask them to repeal this horrible law!

You can simply copy and paste the below block of email addresses into the “To” field of your own email, or feel free to forward this email to them

Keon Hardemon <>, Francis Suarez <>, Wifredo Gort <>, Frank Carollo <>, Ken Russell <>, "Regalado, Tomas (Mayor)" <>

Please do it today!  It’s best to not wait until traffic gets even worse or until your neighborhood is directly threatened.

Coconut Grove should not wait until the 32nd Avenue Home Depot / Milam’s property is proposed to be replaced with 20 story high-rises.

Coral Gate should not wait until the Sears property on Coral Way is proposed to be replaced with 20 story high-rises.

Please feel encouraged to forward this email to anyone who wants to preserve and protect our quality of life.

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*** On page 9 of the City of Miami Planning Department’s analysis of the Wynwood Special Area Plan,  this is what it concluded regarding up-zoning 45 properties to as high as 24 stories, even though the scale and character of the surrounding area is overwhelmingly 1 and 2 story buildings:

“ The proposed development capacity and Height distribution is found not to be out of Scale or character with the surrounding area, and provides for appropriate transitions. ”

See how it works?  

They don’t offer any objective criteria to support that assertion.  The Planning Department would have us believe it’s in scale and character simply because they say it is.  

The City of Miami Planning Department has a long history of deciding in advance what it wants to recommend approval of, and then interpreting the zoning code and comprehensive plan to match its pre-determined conclusion.

I’m looking forward to sending out some examples of that in the near future.

Elvis Cruz
Miami, FL

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