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.

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