Zoning committee of the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID) (J. Albert Diaz)
Property owners in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood are pushing the city to let them significantly stray from Miami 21 zoning standards in a coordinated effort to create a more densely populated hot spot.
Members of the Wynwood Business Improvement District, an organization composed of area landlords that’s also technically an city agency, are engaged with the city’s planning department in a bid to rezone large swaths of their home turf.
As defined by the district, Wynwood covers all properties from Northwest 20th to 29th streets between the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and Northwest Fifth Avenue.
Among the changes being sought by the owners:
• A blanket variance allowing less parking for residential developments
• The creation of a Wynwood-specific design review board to make recommendations on new developments and
• The establishment of a self-contained market that would allow Wynwood builders to buy and sell development rights among themselves.
“Miami 21 is very formulaic,” David Polinksy, co-owner of a high-density residential development under construction on Northwest 24th Street west of Second Avenue. “We’re trying to achieve a more flexible view.”
Polinsky and other developers who spoke with the Daily Business Review during a meeting of the Wynwood BID’s zoning committee Wednesday emphasized the plans were a preliminary “work in progress” and would need to be mulled over by the city planning department. At the very least, the plans would need City Commission approval.
Luciana Gonzalez, assistant director of the city’s planning and zoning department, said BID members were “the drivers of the process” to rezone Wynwood.
Such a process is likely to take at least six months, BID members said during a board meeting last week. Still, transaction prices are being inflated by the idea that the zoning will change in short fashion.
“People are banking on the new zoning,” said Tony Cho, president and CEO of Metro 1 Properties, a BID board member and area property owner. “To me it’s almost, I’m not going to say fait accompli, but it’s certainly looking very positive.”
One proposal would exempt residential developments near parking lots from Miami 21 parking requirements. Generally, high-density residential buildings in Miami are required to provide 1½ parking spaces per dwelling.
Joe Furst, managing director of Goldman Properties and a major landowner in the area who is working with the city’s planning board, said the BID was trying to “make Wynwood a case study of how a neighborhood can actually work without having a space and a half per unit.”
He noted plans might include lobbying for expansion of the city’s trolley system, expansion of county bus routes and community improvements by owners meant to make the area more walkable.
Building less parking would be a financial benefit to developers. Ray Fort, a designer at Coral Gables-based Arquitectonica wrote in a Miami Herald editorial last week that it costs developers $20,000 to construct a single parking space in a residential Miami garage. An exemption to the 1½-spaces rule covers new developments near mass transit stations, something that mainly affects proposals in downtown Miami and the Brickell financial district.
Even though most of the development activity in Wynwood is along Northwest Second Avenue, Furst said the vision for the neighborhood seeks to accommodate higher density along all of the north-south avenues. In those traffic corridors, he said, buildings could rise eight to 12 stories. Elsewhere, development would range from five to eight stories high.
Although most Wynwood zoning allows eight-story live-work buildings, that kind of zoning classification allows only 36 residences per acre and has several other limitations that at the moment make building tall residential structures a money-losing proposition for developers. Most Wynwood buildings are single-story warehouses or homes, and nearly all are four stories or less.
Furst insists those changes are “not really an upzoning at all.”
“What we’re looking to do is have a very comprehensive planning approach to Wynwood that really lets us keep the soul and character of the neighborhood while also allowing more density in the neighborhood,” he said.
Another proposal offered by the BID is a Wynwood-specific design review board with the power to opine on future developments to ensure the neighborhood retains its industrial chic vibe.
A third proposal would allow owners to transfer development rights, allowing industrial landlords happy with their low-rise construction to sell those unbuilt upper stories to other developers wishing to add “bonus” height to their towers.
Such a program would “incentivize people who have various properties to keep them” in the spirit of the neighborhood, Polinsky said. Development rights transfer programs tend to sharply increase real estate values in areas less attractive to development, as future buyers can calculate the value of those rights when making bids on the properties.
One challenge the Wynwood BID might have to overcome is opposition from some Wynwood businesses that might not see dense residential development as compatible with their view of the neighborhood. At last week’s BID board meeting, members groused about plans by Southern Waste Systems to expand a recycling facility at North Miami Avenue and Northwest 20th Street.
Although several members noted Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado had told them that “Wynwood is for art, not trash,” they seemed particularly concerned about convincing City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
Asked about that potential political stumbling block, Furst said it was “very much debatable” whether Southern Waste’s facility should be allowed under Wynwood’s current zoning classification and suggested an updated code would seek to ban the kind of industrial activities Southern Waste engages in.
“Everyone recognizes the current zoning is broken for what this neighborhood has evolved into,” he said.