In a fight for the soul of Little Haiti, the cracks are beginning to show in the City of Miami’s Special Area Plan Process.
Magic City Innovation District is a 17 Acre Real Estate Development project at 6001 NE 2nd Ave. The proposal includes 2,630 residential units (with 20% designated mid-low income), 432 Hotel Rooms, 2 million sqft of office space, 340,000 sqft of retail, and 4 acres of open space for special events. In order to accomplish this, the developers of Magic City Innovation District (MCID) are using a provision in the City of Miami called the Special Area Plan (SAP), approved with the Miami 21 Zoning code in 2009.
According to the SAP application,
The purpose of a Special Area Plan (SAP) is to encourage the assembly and master planning of parcels greater than nine (9) abutting acres to provide greater integration of public and private improvements and infrastructure; to enable thoroughfare connectivity; to encourage a variety of building heights; massing and streetscape design; and to provide high-quality design elements.”
The application has a few layers of approval through the City Commission, but the use of this provision has been steadily increasing and in the last few years there are 10 projects currently in consideration or construction. The application begins with obtaining approvals from the Zoning and Planning Boards. The application then goes to public hearings, where the City Commission hears support and/or opposition, and gives an initial OK. After that, the plan is fully drawn and that set is presented again to ensure that it meets the proposed plan before heading to obtain a building permit.
The process is robust and can add 2 years to a project start date, but it relies too little on expert opinion and the new urbanist principles with which the Miami 21 was written. Without the SAP, MCID could only apply for contiguous zoning of T5-O, allowing for 5 stories max and about 1,100 residential units across the entire 17 acres. MCID’s proposal includes a tower of 25 stories and over 2,300 units plus millions of other sqft of leasable space.
If approved, this project is a massive increase in land valuation, and worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This requires thorough review from experts in urban planning, environmental impact, and cultural preservation that go beyond the expertise of standard city departments. The city stands to profit $42 million in impact and permit fees from this project alone. Perhaps some of that money should go to hiring an independent consulting team to work with each SAP proposal to broker the best deal for each community before going to the city commission with their recommendations.
The SAP is a useful provision for creating contiguous neighborhoods and improving public infrastructure if done correctly. However, it is not a get out of Zoning free card for developers who simply assemble the Magic No. 9 Acres, and want to build an ordinary development. This is for extraordinary development to better our city, and that is only what it should be used for.