Reconsidering the 'Special Area Plans' of Miami 21

Insider knowledge on one of the most controversial components of a groundbreaking plan.

Read Time: 2 minutes

January 5, 2021, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Palm Court

The Fly's Eye Dome by Buckminster Fuller is located at the Palm Court luxury retail center in the Miami Design Center. | lazyllama / Shutterstock

Erika Morphy and Neisen Kasdin, the latter the former mayor of Miami Beach and current managing partner of Akerman LLP's Miami office, sit down for a question and answer session on the subject of the Special Area Plans in the Miami 21 plan—a groundbreaking plan adopted in 2009 as the largest form-based code to date.

"Special Area Plans (SAPs) permit new uses, such as housing and retail, on land that was previously zoned for industrial or other bygone uses," explains Morphy before commencing the Q&A. "The SAP designation sparked some of the city’s most successful developments, but has lately been the target of vigorous opposition, culminating in a January [2020] vote by the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board to recommend its repeal."

Kasdin, who clearly supports SAPs as catalysts for large, acclaimed investments in the city of Miami, including the Miami Design District and Brickell City Centre, explains how SAPs work:

SAPs are a wonderful planning tool. They allow for the master planning of parcels greater than nine abutting acres and promote flexibility and creativity in urban design, including creating public spaces and improvements and accommodating a variety of architectural styles. They also enable unique land uses – such as large retail centers, hospitals, schools and technology districts – that can’t be accommodated under existing zoning regulations. 

Kasdin and Morphy discuss the opposition from community activists that led to the repeal of SAPs in 2020, and some of the ways that SAPs can be adjusted to prevent some of the abuses that Kasdin also acknowledges in addition to the praise offered above. The city of Miami announced the formation of a task force to reform Miami 21 and Special Area Plans earlier this year.

Monday, January 4, 2021 in Globe St.

Chicago Commute

The Right to Mobility

As we consider how to decarbonize transportation, preserving mobility, especially for lower- and middle-income people, must be a priority.

January 26, 2023 - Angie Schmitt

Green bike lane with flexible delineators and textures paint in Hoboken, New Jersey

America’s Best New Bike Lanes

PeopleForBikes highlights some of the most exciting new bike infrastructure projects completed in 2022.

January 31, 2023 - PeopleforBikes

Sharrow bike markings on black asphalt two-lane road with snowy trees

Early Sharrow Booster: ‘I Was Wrong’

The lane marking was meant to raise awareness and instill shared respect among drivers and cyclists. But their inefficiency has led supporters to denounce sharrows, pushing instead for more robust bike infrastructure that truly protects riders.

January 26, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

A tent covered in blue and black tarps sits on a downtown Los Angeles sidewalk with the white ziggurat-topped L.A. City Hall looming in the background

L.A. County Towns Clash Over Homelessness Policies

Local governments often come to different conclusions about how to address homelessness within their respective borders, but varying approaches only exacerbate the problem.

February 3 - Shelterforce Magazine

Rendering of mixed-use development with parks and stormwater retention on former Houston landfill site

A Mixed-Use Vision for Houston Landfill Site

A local nonprofit is urging the city to consider adding mixed-use development to the site, which city officials plan to turn into a stormwater detention facility.

February 3 - Urban Edge

Aerial view of downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin at sunset

Milwaukee County Makes Substantial Progress on Homelessness

In 2022, the county’s point-in-time count of unhoused people reflected just 18 individuals, the lowest in the country.

February 3 - Urban Milwaukee