Changing the rules of the development game is not to be taken lightly, perhaps especially in a place like Miami, where towers can rise hard by single-family homes. But the experience of the ambitious Miami 21 initiative -- a complete overhaul of the zoning code and process, based on smart growth and New Urbanism principles -- shows that key stakeholders can actually welcome change. Or at least not put up too much resistance. Both citizens and developers like the clarity and predictability of the new rules, says Ana Gelabert-Sanchez AICP, planning director for the City of Miami from 1998 to 2010 and this year a Loeb Fellow at Harvard's Graduate School of Design. The key was consistent political leadership and public participation, she said at the kickoff of the spring lecture series February 16 at Lincoln House, but also the fact that the new form-based and transect-based code is both firm and flexible at the same time -- what senior Armando Carbonell called a kind of "planning Spandex."
It took five years and 500 meetings for the guidelines and regulations to be adopted. Miami has fully embraced the form-based code approach -- the emphasis on the relationship and scale of buildings in a district or neighborhood, rather than on uses, and specifically the separation of uses, a legacy of Euclidian zoning. The old approach gave Miami lots of surface parking lots, a patchwork of multi-layered special districts and nearly two-dozen zoning designations that only lawyers could understand. Mixed-use and context-sensitive are the mantras now, with simple rules like parking structures must be lined, and ground-floor retail should embrace the street. "The architects are happier. They are in control, not the land use attorneys," Gelabert-Sanchez said.
Height and density are now governed by a clear formula for floor area ratio (FAR). Density bonuses -- previously awarded with nothing in return -- are secured through the provision of affordable housing or open space and public realm improvements. Parking requirements have been relaxed -- although not completely, thanks to a commissioner who threatened to walk out if the standard 1.5-spaces-per-unit minimum was altered. The transect -- a series of six categories from lesser to greater density -- was modified to marble into existing residential neighborhoods. In transitional industrial area already seeing changes such as housing or artists lofts, owners have some leeway. "It was a change of mindset," Gelabert-Sanchez said, "but we found that people wanted that change."