The Miami Beach City Commission has a slate of important issue facing it as it assembles in June and throughout its limited summer in-session. In addition to ongoing issues and decisions to be made in regard to the redevelopment of the Miami Beach Convention Center under the specter of a deal some have called into question, there is a tax equity ordinance to be approved benefitting unmarried couples (same-sex or not), the proposed new zoning overlay along Alton Road and a parking measure that is routinely referred to as a companion ordinance to the zoning consideration.
However, in the case of the latter two items, identifying the zoning and parking issues as companion issues does not mean that the two are legally linked or that they need both be approved. The result is that concern has been raised that the parking ordinance – perceived as being beneficial to development on Alton Road – could end up being approved while its “companion” in the form of the zoning change is held up in the legislative process.
“The two are not connected,” Commissioner Jonah Wolfson told SunPost. “They are distinct. I think helping revitalize the South Shore hospital site is a priority. I was instrumental in stopping their 5- block mega plan and we now have a project that is within the development rights. We need to facilitate it happening.”
According to published reports, the parking ordinance has been embraced by Crescent Heights, the developer of the proposed mixed-use development envisioned to revitalize the long-blighted former hospital site. Representatives of Crescent Heights did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Some residents have expressed concern that the parking ordinance could pass and somehow prompt broad concessions to development interests.
“So, the City could decide against [the proposed zoning overlay] but then vote to reduce parking requirements for development? That wouldn’t be good,” said resident Rick Ramirez.
One source close to the process, commenting on conditions of anonymity, hesitantly mocked the idea that some in the city might want to see the parking ordinance result in a boon to development, separate of the zoning issue despite both being intended to help rope in development on Alton Road to be more compatible with the neighborhood.
However, according to Richard Lorber, acting City of Miami Beach planning director, the ordinance is well-targeted and has built-in safeguards to prevent abuse.
“Essentially the City is creating a parking district – the city’s sixth – on both sides of Alton from 5th Street to the canal,” Lorber said.
Lorber said the bulk of the ordinance is designed to encourage the development of small businesses and neighborhood commercial shops, although he said the same regulations could be applied to residential development. “There hasn’t been a lot of development on Alton Road in decades and what commercial is there is mixed, with a lot of auto repair shops and businesses like that.”
The proposed ordinance, which is awaiting final approval in June, would waive parking requirements for establishments of 2,500 square feet or less for individual establishments or 10,000 square feet or less in aggregate.
“Anything above those numbers remains the same as it is now in terms of requirements,” Lorber said. “There are safeguard to make sure someone doesn’t ‘fix’ the process.”
Restaurant parking requirements will also be eased by the plan – if they meet certain requirements fostering a “neighborhood” environment. The change would affect restaurants of 60 seats maximum and a maximum of 1,500 square feet individually; or 5,000 square feet in total between more than one restaurant on the property.
“We want to avoid destination restaurants, because those are places people get in their car and drive to,” Lorber said. “Local/neighborhood restaurants are places people in the area don’t have any need to drive to so there is no real need for parking.”
Mixed-use developments will also benefit from the proposed ordinance. “If you have a development with apartments and with retail on the ground floor, we will figure parking requirements based on need at certain times of the day,” Lorber said.
Additionally, mixed use developments in proximity to public parking garage will see a reduction in parking requirements of 30 percent, 20 percent or 10 percent depending on distance from the garage. Lorber said that the proposed redevelopment of the South Shore Hospital site would benefit from this aspect of the potential change.
Lorber said he believes the strict requirements and definitions will prevent the ordinance from being abused or being perceived as a give-away to developers. The most obvious impact of the proposed ordinance would be on the Crescent Heights development, a mixed-use project that is generally considered to be appropriate for the site and which is also awaiting approval next month.
But while the generally positive impressions of the proposed development and the safeguards built into the parking measure appear to have prevented any major controversy over the proposed changes – some feel politics is the real reason the parking ordinance would be benign in practice. This year, voters will have the chance to express any ire that might develop.
“It is an election year,” the city hall source said.