Is Your City’s Building Code Hindering Redevelopment? North Miami Beach, Part II

Redevelopment Management Associates – North Miami Beach, Florida was facing a redevelopment dilemma. They wanted to achieve the successful results that their neighboring cities, Aventura and Sunny Isles, were enjoying; however, they were stymied by the City’s building codes. That is when RMA was brought in to help remove the roadblocks to their success.

In the last issue of our newsletter, Natasha Alfonso-Ahmed, RMA’s Director of Urban Design, explored the background issues. Now in part two, she provides the critical insights of how RMA worked with the community and the commissioners to build the consensus needed to change the building codes, ushering in a new era for the city.

“There was ambiguity about the code especially regarding the quality of life and expected outcomes of development,” explained Alfonso-Ahmed.  “The officials and residents were also very concerned that added development would create an even worse traffic situation.”

“We understood their concerns, but realized that growth was coming one way or another. The key was to create a strategy ensuring that the city would not become a victim of aggressive developers and that traffic would be dealt with in an effective manner.”

The process began with a market and economic analysis conducted by Kevin Crowder, RMA’s Director of Economic Development.  The analysis looked at the current demand for residential, office and retail and the potential growth in the City, based on the growth patterns in the surrounding communities and greater market area.  Concurrently, a parcel-by-parcel analysis for each site was conducted, looking at what the code currently allowed for development, and exploring what could be allowed with the creation of mixed use and transit-oriented districts.

“The process is very intensive,” she said. “But in essence we were trying to understand all the factors that were influencing and/or limiting development in this area.”

The reports concluded that the market justified changes to the code. “The analysis showed a clear potential,” stated Alfonso-Ahmed. “With a huge benefit for the tax base.”

One of the key findings of the study also showed that the code did not adequately address the coveted waterfront areas.

“We wanted to find out if the existing regulations encouraged the waterfront to be redeveloped into something special for the community,” she explained.  “But we found it did not address it all. Nor did it affect the public benefits that are so critical when negotiating with developers.”

Armed with extensive studies, RMA then began the critical phase of community relations.

“We conducted three public workshops before we even ventured in front of the commission,” she explained. “While most residents were for progress, one community in a waterfront district was totally against it.”

RMA worked with these residents to better understand their concerns and build a list of improvements that they wanted for their community. This list was then written into the new regulations as conditions for development approval.

“This is what distinguishes RMA,” said Alfonso-Ahmed. “We spent time with these residents, understanding their concerns and creating strategies to alleviate those concerns.”

The community had fears about the limited entrance and exit to the district, which RMA was able to resolve by requiring any new development to provide a second means of access. They also required improvements to the fire rescue station, a new police sub-station and the creation of a neighborhood park and waterfront promenade that would be accessible to the public.   In addition, the new regulations required any new development to pay into a public infrastructure fund that was created specifically for improvements in that district.

“Knowing what a community requires upfront provides us with the leverage needed when working with developers for these projects,” she said.

The next phase in the process is bringing the analysis to the commissioners. The following two key points helped the commissioners realize how important changes to the code would be in realizing their city’s redevelopment goals.

“It was an eye-opener when the officials saw the revenue the city would receive and how those funds would help them support overall improvements to the City,” stated Alfonso-Ahmed.

The city also realized that the traffic issues could be mitigated over time if the proper mix of residential and business were created along with other improvements to their local transit system.

The city commission voted to pass the code changes 7-0.

“It was a year-long process,” said Alfonso-Ahmed. “But every step was critical. And now the City of North Miami Beach can look forward to an exciting new future.”

Click Here to view Mayor Vallejo’s thank you:  please jump to 2 hours and 15 minutes on the bar below the video.

Click Here to view City Manager Ana Garcia’s introduction and thank you:  please jump to 33 minutes on the bar below the video.