The Biscayne Times

Apr 01st
Repeal of Special Area Plans Heads to City Commission PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
March 2020

Zoning provision may finally enter the twilight zone

WEastside_1ith two megaprojects in or near Little Haiti in limbo, a proposed ordinance that recommends banning future special area plans (SAPs) may be discussed by the Miami City Commission as early as this month.

Erica Lee, the city’s hearing boards coordinator, confirms that a discussion on the repeal of special area plans is tentatively scheduled on the March 26 commission agenda.

SAPs are a provision in the city’s Miami 21 zoning code that allows property owners with nine acres of land to apply for new zoning and design guidelines for the property they control. That legislation has enabled developers to seek inflated future development rights in exchange for “community benefits” like parkland, new roads, and even money to build affordable housing.

Some developers, land use attorneys, and urban planners hail SAPs as a means of creating well-designed, walkable, mixed-use projects.

However, many community activists complain that SAPs allow for projects that are out of scale with surrounding areas, and are likely to generate even more traffic on Miami’s already clogged roads.

Eastside_2And then there is the gentrification factor. Groups like Family Action Movement Network (FAMN) and the Community Justice Project point out that large SAPs encourage neighboring landlords to raise their rents and even tear down older, affordable apartments in anticipation of future deals.

In response to those concerns, and to send a message, on January 15 the city’s Planning Zoning and Appeals Board approved a resolution recommending that the SAP provision be stricken from the Miami 21 code. About a month later, Jeremy Calleros Gauger, deputy director of planning, suggested some clarifications prior to sending the repeal recommendation to the commission, including on what to do with SAPs already approved, or already applied for but not yet granted.

But PZAB chairman Charles Garavaglia opined that the recommendation to repeal should move forward as is, in order to get “feedback” from commissioners and the public.

“My two cents is that it should go forward as soon as it can,” Garavaglia said during the February 13 PZAB meeting, adding that all board members should attend the next commission meeting. “I doubt the commission is going to make a big decision,” he added.

Eastside_3Miami city commissioners are already assembling advisory boards to examine ways to reform the Miami 21 zoning code, as well as create affordable housing within a municipality that is one of the nation’s most expensive places to live.

Those pending reforms could affect two proposed SAPs totaling 13.5 million square feet and are within a mile of each other. Both projects are essentially frozen after facing challenges from FANM, the Community Justice Project, and nearby residents.

One of those projects is Eastside Ridge, a 5.4-million-square-foot project that is envisioned to include 3370 residential units, 400 hotel rooms, and 390,000 square feet of commercial space that SPV Realty wants to build after demolishing its 22-acre, 400-unit Design Place apartment complex adjacent to the Little Haiti neighborhood.

Without those zoning changes, SPV Realty, a company controlled by the controversial Podolsky family, is only entitled to build 1691 residential units and 380,000 square feet of commercial at Design Place. (For more on the Podolsky family, which owns boutique hotels and for-profit homeless shelters in New York, see “Little Haiti’s Big No,” October 2017.)

The other SAP is the 8.2-million-square foot Magic City Innovation District, pushed by a team of investors that includes Plaza Equities, Metro 1 Properties CEO Tony Cho, Lune Rouge CEO Guy Laliberte, and Dragon Global CEO Bob Zangrillo. (Zangrillo, who is no longer a managing partner, is contesting federal fraud charges related to the infamous college admission scandal and alleged misleading websites.) Their SAP would comprise of 2600 residential units, 432 hotel rooms, 335,000 square feet of retail, and 1.9 million square feet of office space over an 18-acre territory in the heart of Little Haiti. Without new zoning, the developers are only entitled to build 381 residential units and some commercial and light-industrial on that site.

Of those two SAPs, only Magic City Innovation District received approval from the city commission, thanks to a surprise deal hatched between the developers and the area’s District 5 commissioner, Keon Hardemon.

Under that agreement, Magic City’s developers won’t have to reserve 21 percent of its units for workforce and affordable housing, as previously promised, but instead will contribute $31 million to a fund over 15 years that’s administered by the Little Haiti Revitalization Trust, a five-member board tasked with constructing affordable housing elsewhere in Little Haiti. (Four members of that board will be appointed by the District 5 commissioner, and one-member is named by the city manager.) The developers also promised to create a $250,000 college fund for students living in Little Haiti, a 3.8-acre park, and preferred hiring for Little Haiti residents.

Although the commission did approve Magic City last June (at 1:00 a.m. by a vote of 3-0), the project is on hold after FANM member and Little Haiti resident William Perry filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s approval. David Winker, an attorney representing Perry, tells the BT that he doesn’t expect a ruling on that case until later this year.

Eastside Ridge, which was first proposed four years ago, has been unable to come before the city commission. That’s because under the city charter, requested zoning changes must first be made to the PZAB, and a decision on Eastside Ridge has been postponed six times -- once by the developer and five times by the board. The reason often given: a demand that the developer meet with the community over its proposed benefits package. That package includes $10 million to the Little Haiti Revitalization Trust, reserving 314 units for workforce housing, reserving 25 percent of the construction jobs for City of Miami residents (with a preference for Little Haiti residents), 10 percent of the permanent jobs offered by the property owner reserved for Little Haiti residents, and 2.7 acres of improved parkland as well as public plazas.

After being delayed for a fifth time, SPV Realty filed suit against the City of Miami last November, demanding that the PZAB make a decision recommending approval or rejection.

Nevertheless, during its February 13 meeting, the board delayed making a decision on Eastside Ridge for a sixth time, by a vote of 6-1 (Garavaglia dissenting), until May 5. In the meantime, the PZAB ordered an updated traffic study (the last study submitted to the city was done in 2016), a publicly advertised community meeting, and a discussion, to take place during the May meeting, on the project’s impact on affordable housing in the surrounding area.

Eastside Ridge’s attorney, Bilzin Sumberg partner Vicky Leiva, insisted there was no point in meeting since both sides are at an impasse. Leiva claimed that FANM and the Community Justice Project wanted $22 million set aside for housing and other conditions that would make the project unviable. “I have to object in the highest way,” Leiva said after the deferral.

Neither Leiva nor attorney Stephen Hunter Johnson of Lydecker Diaz, who represents SPV Realty in the 11th Circuit Court, returned e-mails for comment by deadline. A conference between the City of Miami and SPV Realty has been scheduled for March 5.

Marleine Bastien, executive director of FANM, thinks SPV Realty is “emboldened” by the deal Magic City got from Hardemon, and is aiming for a similar arrangement.

“They’re trying to bypass the planning and zoning board and go straight to the city commission,” she tells the BT.

That’s why Jean-Luc Adrien, staff attorney for the Community Justice Project, is glad that the zoning board postponed the matter. “The PZAB made the right choice and took appropriate action, based on facts, and not fear,” Adrien states in e-mail to the BT. “The reality of an affordable housing crisis cannot be ignored, and changing conditions must be addressed. A Special Area Plan is not a right -- it is a democratic process that not only involves the recommendation from PZAB and approval by the commission, but should also substantially involve the community in which it is being proposed.”


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