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Rapid Transit Zones in Miami-Dade County

Land use and zoning attorneys, Stanley B. Price and Anthony De Yurre, explore the history of rapid transit zones in Miami-Dade County and what challenges developers face in the expansion of rapid transit impact zones today.

Transcript:

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 Welcome to Land Development in the 305, a podcast featuring news, observations, and analysis and the redeveloping and reshaping of Miami’s skyline. My name is Anthony De Yurre. I’m a partner at Bilzin Sumberg, specifically in the Land Development and Government Relations practice group. I spend my day doing a number of mixed-use development projects, transit-oriented development projects. And today, we’re going to talk about one of the most important tools that we have, rapid transit zones here in Miami-Dade County. With me is Stan Price.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 Good morning. My name is Stan Price. I’m the chairman of the Land Development and Government Relations department. I have been practicing land use law for almost 50 years, and I was instrumental in drafting the original ordinances for Dade County in my capacity as the assistant county attorney in charge of zoning back in 1970s.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 So why don’t we go back, Stan, and just jump right into it. Rapid transit zones, it is a topic that we read about regularly in industry publications. We hear about the county expanding it in the recent years and looking to continue to expand rapid transit zones, but talk to us about how it started. You were at the county attorney’s office. You actually drafted the legislation. How did that all come about?

 

STANLEY PRICE

 Anthony, back in the 1970s, the Miami-Dade County, before it was known as Metropolitan Dade County, received a major grant from the federal government to build a state of the art rapid transit system in Dade County. The purpose of the transit system was to address the ever needed relief from the number of cars on the roadway that would hopefully provide a commuter system that would take people off the roads and put them into mass transit. During this period of time, the county used several tools available to it, and one of which to hire a national law firm known as Ross Hardies Babcock out of Chicago to help define what was necessary to carry on a central metropolitan government. The Dade County home rule charter, and Dade County is a home rule charter created by a constitutional amendment, provides in the very first paragraph that the county shall have the power to carry on a central metropolitan government. In order to do that, the county is then given enumerated power such as the power to prepare and enforce comprehensive plans throughout the community and establish, coordinate, and enforce zoning on a county-wide basis. Using these tools provided by the legislature and the constitutional amendment, we drafted a series of ordinances that would give Metropolitan Dade County the supreme power to zone within the rapid transit zone and the rapid transit impact zone. The difference between the two aspects, the rapid transit zone, is actually the fixed system, which includes the guardrails, the stations, and the like, and the rapid transit impact zone are defined areas around the stations where the county felt it was necessary to maintain control. The whole concept was predicated on a paper prepared by David Callies, who was with the Ross Hardies firm that was called Value Recapture. In order for the county to obtain the necessary funding to support the system, it was determined that by controlling the zoning in the stations and around the stations, you would be able to value recapture the investments the county made in putting the system in place. And that is through increased ad valorem taxes and the ability to do, which is very commonplace today, a P3 which is the public private partnership. And in fact, the first public private partnership that occurred using the tools of the ordinance was a project that I worked on once I went into private practice in the Overtown area where a private developer came and built two office buildings. The first office building houses several governmental offices, including the Department of Environmental Resource Management, and build a separate second building, all basically connected to the train system in the Overtown area. That set the stage for future developments, and we can discuss several of the major developments that have taken place through the years.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

It’s something that started in the 1970s, it’s still around today. We’re still using it as a tool to try to alleviate traffic congestion and at the same time, the fact that the county’s home rule powers allowed it to create this overlapping regulatory scheme over the different municipalities, trickles its way through on projects still to this day, whether it’s RTZ or otherwise. I just want to highlight that point because one of the best parts about working here in the office is we have about 16 different members of our Land Development group, even projects that are within the City of Miami, Coral Gables, any different municipality, they have to deal with the overarching regulatory mechanisms that exist within the county. And so for those of us that practice in the county, we get to work together and share and leverage that expertise because each project really involves both the municipal law of the particular jurisdiction and also the overarching regulatory issues that are laid upon them also by the county. I can tell you  that specific -- even this week, this issue of RTZ came up. We have a project in the City of Miami, and we’re building adjacent to the what we call the fixed guideway system, which is just a fancy way from the regulatory speak of talking about either the Metrorail or the Metromover system which is the smaller automated unmanned free system that loops throughout Brickell and Downtown Miami. And so every time you go even build adjacent to one of these fixed guideway systems or one of the stations, there are specific manuals on how to build around them, space requirements, spotter requirements, drip line requirements. So this is not just something that deals with the specific rapid transit zones, but also any development that’s happening within a stone’s throw of any of the stations or their fixed guideway systems. You have to look to the county, you can’t just go get your municipal approvals at the City of Miami or at the City of Coral Gables. You gotta go to the county right away and talk about the fixed guideway systems and how that’s going to impact you, because imagine in this particular instance before we got involved in it, the developer got all their approvals within the municipality.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 And then they said oh wait, we have to look at the fact that we’re building next to the guideway system in the county and then we were able to find a solution, but the repercussions could be tremendous if you had to repackage your entire product.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 Well, the safety measure the county placed into the ordinance was the creation of the Developmental Impact Committee Rapid Transit Zone Group, which is a group of county officials from the various regulatory departments of building and zoning, public works and the like and that creates a system. When a project is built within a municipality’s boundary, that municipality is afforded membership on the developmental impact committee, so the county assured that the local government being impacted by the development would have a seat at the table and be able to constructively make suggestions on how a project would best compatible with the individual municipality.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 And also that -- it doesn’t -- it’s not just the municipality. It’s station by station because in the City of Miami they have multiple stations. But each station has its own rules and regulations on how the development impact committees are structured and what say, for example, the City of Miami has in that project. But let’s be black and white about it, you know, it's a seat at the table, it’s a right to comment. But ultimately, this is an administrative process that is governed by the county and the county zoning law.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 That is correct, and as a matter of fact, we have seen instances where …

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 And irrespective of the fact that it is within the boundaries of another municipality.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 That is correct and what has occurred is the county has now permitted an entire series of developments along the rapid transit zone, and what has occurred is that a developer, or if they’re doing a P3, a developer will come in with a plan; that plan will be reviewed. We’ve eliminated Euclidean zoning. We do not have specific setbacks from other structures and the like. We have a …

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

  Or use restrictions.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 That’s -- well we do have certain use restrictions, but those are not necessarily enforced if the county developmental impact committee --

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 Correct.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 -- determines that the plan is a good plan and compatible. And once a plan is deemed approved, that plan becomes the zoning code for that specific station. We’ve had that in Dadeland North, which is a commercial development which also created additional parking for the station. We’ve also had in Coconut Grove; we’re going to see a very interesting mix-use project occur. And …

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

Just to be more specific, that’s the Coconut Grove station is on 27th Avenue and U.S. 1, and that is going to be a fantastic project with probably every use you can think of, shopping, retail, office, residential. And the beauty is you can do all of that in the same location, hop on the train station right next door and get -- if you work in Brickell, you can get to Brickell. If you want to go to Dadeland Mall further on south down the road, you can go to Dadeland Mall. You really don’t need a car if you live in one of these rapid transit zone developments, which is obviously the intent that you had several decades ago.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 That’s the value recapture. We’re trying to get automobiles off the street, and we’re trying to get people to use mass transit which is a far better alternative for our environment, our traffic, and the anxiety level people have who spend a great deal of time in an automobile going and coming to work.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 And one of the biggest challenges we have our projects is actually parking and parking structures. How do we figure out -- and ultimately, unfortunately, it drives design, it drives what you can and cannot develop on the site. Rapid transit zones allow you the flexibility to decide because you’re adjacent to the -- you’re right on top of the stations, it allows you to decide how much parking you want. It really becomes a market-driven decision at that point, and that also creates affordability, because if you have a multi-family unit or a condo unit, let’s say your construction costs, just throw a round number out there, $200,000.00, but a structured parking space with a requirement of two spaces per unit could add $60,000.00 or $70,000.00 to that space. So it also adds to the affordability ultimately to the end-user that lives next to the station. The units are less expensive because you don’t have a minimum parking requirement, and on top of that, the, you know, data shows that the second-largest expense after -- in South Florida for the workforce housing, basically non-luxury market, the second-largest expense is transportation and the vehicle. And so when you take that out of the equation, it creates this great solution for affordability as well.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 Affordable housing is an important element that has not yet come into play with the rapid transit zone, but there have been certain suggestions made that the government should utilize the areas specifically along the northwest corridor of the rapid transit system to build affordable housing.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 And let me just interject a second. When I say -- I mean I’m not talking about affordability of housing, not necessarily the big A, affordable, you know, tax incentive type of housing. It’s really just creating housing that’s more affordable for the citizens in the area.

 

STANLEY PRICE

 And if that segment of the population wishes to take public transportation which we would encourage, they can get to their jobs, they can go downtown, they can go to the airport area without ever having to get into an automobile. And I think we’re going to see in the next couple of years that the rapid transit areas along the northwest corridor are going to be utilized for affordable housing projects. I would be remiss if I did not mention another aspect of rapid transit zone is the Underline which has recently been funded, thank god, and they will now be able to create a population mass along the system. Hopefully, that will cause additional retail facilities and restaurants to grow up around that area, all going back to the original envision concept of value recapture. For those who are familiar with the Atlanta system, the Atlanta system has been the most successful urban development that has occurred in many, many years. And the walking paths along their old abandoned railroad tracks have grown into industrial restaurants and commercial areas. I believe that is what the Underline is going to spur here in Dade County.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

 Now besides the Underline, I wanted to talk about -- cause the Underline really runs the expanse of almost the entire RTZ. I want to talk about two things; one is -- are some recent expansions of the RTZ, how they’ve been successful …

ANTHONY DE YURRE

…and then I want to talk about potential future expansion and where you think future development can go from here. So in 2018, in late 2018, the county expanded the rapid transit zone and actually created the government center subzone. If you’re not familiar with this area, this is immediately surrounding several properties that the county-owned around Government Center, which is on Flagler and Downtown Miami; so they expanded it; they created a Government Center subzone. And, Stan, you assisted also in drafting that. I mean look, the importance of your role in this has -- is still -- you’re part of the fiber of it, you drafted the original legislation. County comes back, you actually assist in drafting the 2018 expansion. Tell us a little bit about that particular one.

 

STANLEY PRICE

Well, it was perfectly suited for the type of development. We call it our little Grand Central Station, and it’ll be the hub of which Brightline will operate out of South Florida, extending into Broward and Palm Beach County. There’s going to be an office component, a hotel component. That has also created the need for restaurants and other service industries around the station, and we’re going to be -- we have created something that is very, very unique and will serve the needs of the people of South Florida and the visitors of South Florida for the next 100 years. We are very proud of our input into that system, and it is just example that it’s the tip of the iceberg of what we can do to further extend our rapid transit system down to the Homestead area and perhaps out to West Kendall.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

I’d like to highlight that in particular because, you know, let’s be honest about Miami-Dade County; their biggest challenge on the development side is to find land many times. And so we’re a seven-mile strip stuck on the east between sharks and the west between alligators, and so we only have a couple of directions to go; we go up, we can, you know, development north has matured and filled out significantly. The South Dade communities, the South Miami-Dade communities, seem to be the natural expansion. You have the connection in here with RTZ. It gets you right into the South Dade station. Tell me about how you can envision RTZ working with the South Dade communities to help with that population growth.

 

STANLEY PRICE

We have to eliminate the Nimby Concept that exists in many jurisdictions. Growth along the rapid transit system is the surest way to ensure that we’re not going to build out into the East Everglades. We have an urban boundary line which has been respected by the county commission for many, many years. And as you point out, if we want growth to occur, we want growth to occur that’s smart.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

Absolutely.

 

STANLEY PRICE

That would rely on the automobile to get people from point A to point B, but in fact, build urban centers along the rapid transit system to ensure that there will be no pressure to expand out to the urban boundary line. With global warming as a serious threat, the county has to be innovative and find new areas in which development could and should occur.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

In particular, we have a great case of Dadeland. So Dadeland was really just a mall, was a retail center, and then the station got built around it. You had the adjacent development really created by the fact that there are two stations, two Metrorail stations RTZ areas there. That has created its own downtown, its own gravity in and of itself, and it’s one of the top five urban areas within Miami-Dade County, obviously Downtown Miami being the largest, then Brickell, Downtown Coral Gables. But Downtown Dadeland has really grown and has been the result of this legislation that you created of the RTZ piggybacked to move what was one of the southernmost communities and get them to Downtown.

 

STANLEY PRICE

One of the obligations the county will have over the next couple of decades is to transition existing uses into new uses. Retail markets are suffering, and we have seen a major trend that the shopping malls are now going to be converted into additional housing, recreation centers, and the like. And we have to be smart. We have to plan properly, and I believe we have in place the tools to accomplish that.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

And I’d like to highlight another recent expansion. The also retail, which is Aventura Mall, we have a project where Virgin’s going to put a new station adjacent to the mall, and now everybody’s buying and wants to get in that pocket. Why? Because of the transit-oriented development nature of it, you don’t need the car, you’re right next to retail, all the amenities are there. It seems like that’s really positioned well to turn into another Dadeland community node scenario. And I would very much look forward to doing that and alleviating the vehicular traffic on the roads.

 

STANLEY PRICE

That is desperately needed in Northeast Dade. I live there; I’ve been praying for a rapid transit system for many years, and it’s finally coming to fruition.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

The best part of this at the end of the day is that we’re able to leverage the combination of the knowledge on the county side and the municipal side. Clients come to us from all over the United States, all over the world that want to develop in Miami and but they want to do it in a way where they’re able to move forward, especially in their first projects and the rapid transit zone and the county regulatory process that’s involved which is administrative allows you to be creative, allows you to think outside the box, really is a market-driven approach as opposed to the Euclidean zoning world that makes development very difficult. I think it’s been a great recipe for success. You’ve seen it in Dadeland. You’ve seen it with Brightline. You’ve seen it all over Downtown. The county recognizes it. The county expanded it recently in 2018, they expanded it to encompass Brightline. We’re looking at South Dade, it’s working in Northeast Dade. So I gotta say, Stan, congratulations to you. It might have come a couple of decades after the fact, but I hope that you enjoy to see the success and the fruits of your labor from the seventies in creating the original RTZ legislation.

 

STANLEY PRICE

Thank you.

 

ANTHONY DE YURRE

Well, in conclusion, I’d like to thank you all for joining us today on this topic of rapid transit zones and really an overall discussion of transit-oriented development here in Miami-Dade County. Thank you for listening to our podcast. Again, I’m Anthony De Yurre with Stanley Price. 

© 2020 Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLPNational Law Review, Volume X, Number 29

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About this Author

Stanley Price, Governmental Services Attorney, Bilzin Sumberg Law Firm
Partner

Since his early career as an Assistant County Attorney for Miami-Dade County, Stanley B. Price has worked in the forefront of Florida land use law, and was the principal draftsman of important land use legislation. He is frequently consulted on the subjects of owners' and developers' rights and complex zoning and permitting issues. He chairs the firm's Land Use & Government Relations Group.

In addition to representing clients in land use, Stan works extensively with government and regulatory agencies, developers and landowners to examine,...

305-350-2374
Anthony De Yurre, Bilzin, Real Estate Development Lawyer, Investment Strategies Attorney
Partner

Anthony De Yurre is a Partner in Bilzin Sumberg's Land Development & Government Relations Group. His practice focuses on the representation of real estate developers and investors in complex land use and zoning matters with a focus on transit-oriented development, large scale mixed-use development and public-private partnerships.

Anthony is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami Law School Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Real Property Development where he teaches “Problem Solving Large Scale, Mixed-Use Development”.  Upon graduating from Duke University and Vanderbilt Law, Anthony returned home to Miami and became one of only 400 attorneys to also earn a Master of Laws in Real Property Development from the University of Miami.  Anthony is also fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.

 

305-350-2404