Code Changes and the Battle for the Grove

Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD), and the battles between density and preservation in Coconut Grove get to the heart of Miami’s growth problems.

From 2010-2016, about half of a million people moved to South Florida, bringing the overall population up to 6 million. This migration, primarily from outside the country, has exacerbated the affordable housing problem and the rapid rise in residential costs. These factors have triggered some of the more historic and vulnerable neighborhoods to use provisions of the NCD Zoning code to protect the characters of their densifying neighborhoods. These include Coconut Grove, Coral Gate, and Charles Ave.

An NCD is a special zoning district that redefines existing zoning definitions, usually making them stricter, in order to preserve the quality of a particular neighborhood. While helpful in preservation, these can sometimes stand in the way of affordability, smart development, and helpful densification.

For example, in Coconut Grove, neighborhood associations are fighting legal densification in the building of new townhomes. While they say they are fighting their contemporary style and disregard for greenery, these homes create 2 where there was only 1 before, helping to split rising land costs. For example, this would take what would theoretically be a $1.5 million renovated home, and create 2 new $1 million homes. This moderate drop, multiplied throughout the neighborhood can have real effects on the ability to afford to buy or rent in the area.


Many new homes in the Grove have adapted a simple “white box” look

Local officials see the issue and are working to use the NCD provisions to both preserve older homes, while also allowing for select density to keep prices affordable. The full proposed changes to the NCD can be found here. The changes keep the stricter provisions made on single-family homes, trees, and lot coverage. However, for duplex units, the changes allow for a reduction in the amount of green space from 50% to 35%, creating more opportunity for onsite parking and outdoor terraces. The changes also lower the required parking amounts on major transects, freeing up lot space for more units.

Furthermore, the proposal tests out a density bonus for affordable housing, similar to the one being considered by the City Commission. This bonus will allow for 5x the number of units in medium density zones if 50% of the units are for affordable housing. This keeps the volume and height restrictions imposed, but allows for more units within them. This will help to make affordable housing feasible while keeping the existing character of the neighborhood.


Leafy Way Street, South Coconut Grove

Finally, the changes allow for a larger footprint on the second story in the Single Family and Duplex zones if a mature tree is planted in the front of the house. This is an attempt to incentivize tree planting in the right of way, honoring the Grove’s history as a dense canopy, and providing shade to pedestrians. Second story space does not hurt the green space or permeable surface ratio, so this tactic is a smart one.

Coconut Grove is beginning to accept that its neighborhoods have many different sides with this proposed rewrite of the NCD ordinance. Whether it be the string of high rises along the marina, the blocks of apartments down Grand Avenue, the grandiose homes along the bay, or the pockets of dense single-family historic homes in the East Grove, its neighborhoods have always co-existed in harmony. To pretend the Grove is homogeneous is to ignore it completely, and the code must reflect this diversity if it is to remain a vibrant Miami community.

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