Hundreds of activists, students, politicians, lawyers, developers, architects and planners swarmed Miami's City Hall on Thursday for the City Commission's first reading of Miami 21. By some estimates, nearly 80% of the the 100-plus testimonials were spoken in favor of Miami 21, with Miami Mayor Manny Diaz kicking off the event with an 11-minute pro-Miami 21 paean. It was certainly one of the most eloquent, if not most passionate speech I have heard him deliver during his tenure. Strangely, Commissioner Angel Gonzalez was missing from the dais for what might have been the most important vote of the year. Apparently, the two week notice was delivered in time for him to reschedule surgery. Often thought of as an opponent to the sweeping form-based code, Miami 21 proponents were feeling good that three of the four city commissioners would move to bring Miami 21 forward for a second reading, as I predicted earlier this week.
When it came time to cast their votes, however, Commission Chair Joe Sanchez shocked the crowd by voting 'no' on Miami 21. The vote, the final one of the evening, deadlocked the commission's opinion at 2-2, thereby derailing the citywide form-based code from its path to implementation.
So what happened?
There are two scenarios. Commissioner Sanchez may have decided to play politics. He is, after all, one of two city commissioners caught up in a race for a mayoral seat being vacated in November. Thus, some believe Sanchez likely saw the vote as an opportunity to differentiate himself politically from Diaz and his legacy project, the Miami 21 Code. It's no coincidence that the only other 'no' vote was cast by Commissioner Tomas Regalado, who is the other mayoral candidate and a harsh and consistent critic of Mayor Diaz and the Miami 21 initiative. Thus, while Sanchez has long sang the praises of Miami 21, and most of the Mayor's other political initiatives, he may have found the time ripe for stealing votes from Regalado's ant-Diaz platform.The othe theory is that Sanchez had no idea that his 'no' vote would actually preclude Miami 21 from advancing--perhaps thinking that such a vote meant that the Code wouldn't be adopted that night, but that it could proceed to a second reading. His facial remarks and the praise he lofted towards the code earlier in the night indicate that this may have been the case, or more realistically, a combination of the two.
Most of the Code's proponents left City Hall feeling crushed, angry, and betrayed. It was fully expected after all, that the Code would receive a final tweak and proceed to a second and final Commission reading this fall. Yet, with a single syllable, Sanchez put the kibosh on that possibility, and ironically likely alienated himself from the more progressive supporters he will need on his side to defeat Regalado in the upcoming election.
So what now?
Miami 21 is not dead. . .yet. However, the recent turn of events has set the nationa's largest municipal smart growth initiative back significantly. How and when the code will make it back to the commission's eyes is anyone's guess. Indeed, the upcoming election season, current city budget crisis, and the potential (now likely) sea-change in political leanings at city hall could stop the code's implementation indefinitely.
One thing does remains certain, and even Miami 21's most fervent opponents would agree, the current city zoning code is a disaster, one that has wreaked havoc on the form and function of many a Miami neighborhood.
Niesen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor, land use attorney, and a current Miami Downtown Development Authority board member said the code was "one of the most impressive I've ever seen of any major city in this country."Unfortunately, it looks like Miami, and the country at large, will have to wait.
For information on the play-by-play, and the political fall-out following the code's current rejection can be found by following these links: Surprising vote kills Miami 21 zoning overhaul, Political fallout follows defeat of Miami 21 makeover, Zoning vote may give mayoral candidate edge,and Zoning Overhaul Miami 21 defeated.