Bernard Zysovich's Testimony - Midtown Walmart Amendment Denied 9-0

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Midtown Miami master plan author, Architect Bernard Zyscovich testifies to the Miami Planning and Zoning Board about the requirements of Midtown Miami's special zoning requirements
  p.1 Midtown Walmart Amendment Denied 9 - 0 [music 0:00-0:36] Bernard Zyscovich : Hello. I'm Bernard Zyscovich. I want to give you a little bit of history, if you don't mind, because I think it's relevant in this particular matter. My initialinvolvement with Midtown was before it was Midtown. We were actually hired by the cityof Miami to do the urban design code, as part of the Florida east coast study that resultedin what became Midtown. During the course of that study, we came up with certainfundamental ideas that have, I'm very happy to say, proven to work out.First of all, even though there is 56 acres totally fenced in, for those of you who rememberit, the initial thought was to make it more like a gated community. Thankfully, that didn'thappen and our method prevailed, which is that all of the streets actually line up with thegrid of the community and the neighborhood. They line up both to the west, withWynwood. They line up to the north with the design district.It was laid out specifically to enhance the catalyst and redevelopment opportunities of theoverall neighborhood. This is very important, because what's before you today is actuallya text amendment which has very, very broad and very powerful implications. Theimplications are, in effect, so strong that if this text amendment were in place beforeMidtown actually had a chance to develop, my sense of it is that Midtown would not havedeveloped.If you really imagine Miami Avenue when there was a fence across the street, andMidtown was encircled by a fence which was the rail-yard, you would know that therewas nothing particularly valuable there. The site was completely disconnected from everyother thing.What I wanted to show you was to potentially...I don't know if you can see this, but this isthe plan in terms of the street hierarchy that is the subject of tonight's meeting. The streethierarchy is developed in a very particular way.You have three different colors. You have the purple. You have the blue. You have thegreen. But more importantly, every single thing in the code is specific to the blocks. It'strue that there is a service connection off of Miami Avenue, but if you read the codecarefully, it says North of 34th Street, you're allowed to have a service connection.The reason that it was allowed when we wrote the code was, in order to allow an accesspoint into what became this mega-block that is contained by Thousand-Plus Cars, Target,et cetera, as a way of bringing the truck into the building, having it circulate in thebuilding, have it service everything within the building. That was a better tradeoff thantrying to prevent it from being able to access.The code also very specifically says that service entries south of 34th Street are not  p.2 permitted. It's a very important distinction, because part of what's happening today is thatthere's text amendment that would allow it to happen.The other thing that's very important to understand is that as you go east-west with thesestreets, the streets are intended to be the place where vehicles actually service and enterthe buildings, so that we maintain the integrity of Miami Avenue as a pedestrian street,and the integrity of Midtown Boulevard as a pedestrian street.If you go to these side streets today, you'll see that that's why the garage is placed acrossfrom this parcel. That's why the loading docks happen on the east-west streets, not on thenorth-south streets.What does it really mean when you begin to look at why the zoning change?Fundamentally, you can answer that in one simple question. This text amendment, if approved, will allow for a project to be approved without a public hearing.To answer the question you asked the attorney, the entire SD-27 piece of the code isspecific and important for one really important reason. If you abide by all the rules andregulations of this code, you can get a class two permit, which is administrative, no publicmeeting. If you ask for a variance to this code, it says very clearly that you need to gothrough the process called major use special permit, which requires a public hearing.What might seem like an innocuous change to a street actually is an enabling of allowingfor a project to move forward without any public hearing, when the fundamental intentionof this code in all of its specificity is to ensure that projects that don't meet all the lettersand requirements of this code have to go through a public hearing, because it means byintention they were not anticipated.The reason I showed up here tonight is because I heard through the grapevine, becauseI'm not being paid by anyone, I heard through the grapevine that my name had come up invarious public meetings. That people were saying that we didn't really think through thesouthern edge of this property, that it was kind of a leftover, that it wasn't reallyconsidered.I want to tell you one thing. Every aspect of this code was considered. I would bebragging if we still had an empty piece of dirt, but I feel validated by virtue of the factthat Midtown has become such an important and vibrant community. I think a big part of that is the code.Let me take you through specifically what's in the amendment. The first thing is buildingfunctionality. 627.2.11, the words North Miami Avenue south of Northeast 34th Street are struck. What that means is, it permits loading on North Miami Avenue. By strikingout the words, you're now permitting loading on Miami Avenue without any conversationabout the impact that that might have.Secondary streets, it says diagrams and illustrations. The typical diagram and illustration  p.3 shown for this roadway may be modified with the approval of the planning director inconjunction with the issuance of a class two permit. Parentheses, class two permit meansno public meeting, no visible illustration that gives anyone access to having any commentabout it.Affecting the height, the bulk, the location, the exterior configuration of any existingbuilding or any new building. You might as well take this last lot and everything thataffects it, and you might as well throw the code in the garbage. Man : I'm going to try to make it simple for me. What you're saying is if we approve thiswithout any type of plan, without any type of diagrams, they could put a Taj Mahal thereand we would have really no say in it? Bernard : That's what I'm saying. Woman : No, not necessarily. Just to clarify the record, Madam Chair, we need to wrapthis up on the presentation portion. Basically, a class two special permit, based on 11,000criteria, goes through the planning department and all the different referrals, and you can'tbuild Taj Mahal. If anyone, and there's plenty of people here, is not satisfied with that,they can appeal it. Because those types of decisions are sent to all homeowner'sassociations in the area, and they're posted on the website. There's plenty of notice onthat. I just wanted to clarify that for the record. Bernard : Yes, but there's no public meeting, and a class two allows -- this is what this issaying -- that the planning director can make that decision. That's my point. Next one,31st and 32nd Streets, minimum 60 foot right of way. They're inserting the wordminimum. What that means is you can make the street any size you want, which meansthat the character of the street could be changed by the planning director.Guidelines. Where actual parking is provided, one-foot-wide gutter should where parallelparking is provided. That means you can remove the parallel parking. That means that thecars that are parked on the street can now become more roadway.Now you have roadway next to sidewalk, which is not the character of Midtown. Thewhole point is that it's a pedestrian friendly environment. That gives this individual or thecity the ability to do that just because they want to.Travel lanes have a minimum width of 10 feet. That's inserted. Why did they insert aminimum width of 10 feet? Because they want to add more travel lanes. 31st Street is notdesigned for four lanes. It's designed for two lanes.Medians. Stone or concrete medians may be placed within the right of way whereappropriate to provide a pedestrian refuge for street crossings and optimize vehiculartravel. They're going to need a refuge, because that's what the street will become.In closing, I write these codes. I write them all over the country, just like others do.  p.4 Typically, a text amendment is to correct text that has some kind of incidental impactwhere the language of the code might be confused, or possibly needs some amendment.I think you have to ask yourself this question. Why are you changing the code throughtext amendment without seeing a project, without seeing a drawing? The impact of it isnot that it's a text amendment. The impact of it is that the way the code was written,which is why Midtown is there so fast, is that if you abide by the rules, you get to buildyour project without a public hearing.When you change the text amendment, what you're really doing is you're eliminating anypublic hearing process other than an appeal after it's done, and that's why I'm alarmed.This is a very big project. I have nothing against Walmart personally. That's not my issue.My issue is that the impact of these text amendments, and giving all the authority to asingle person within the city without public hearing that affects so many people, whetherpro or con, seems to fly in the face of the intention of why we wrote the code.We wrote the code to say one thing. If you abide by the rules, this is what you get. If youdon't want to abide by the rules, make your project public, let it be vetted, and then if youwin, you win. Thank you. Man : I have one question, Mr. Zyscovich. The developer handed out a copy of theZyscovich NFIU May 2002 FEC quarter strategic development plan. The developerhighlighted the last sentence on page 35. You probably don't remember it. It's 2002. Youcan have my copy, but I'll read to you the portion they highlighted. It said, talking aboutthis area, The remaining 20 acres within the southern portion of the site wouldaccommodate an urban design treatment of big box retail development. Is this theportion that we're talking about here now? Bernard : No, I'm really glad you raised that. That document, if I'm rememberingcorrectly, was done while we were engaged by the city of Miami in the FEC master plan,when we were looking at evaluating the economy of trying to make an inner cityneighbor. What businesses could we bring in there that would make it work? That isbefore Midtown, before the property was purchased. It was still under the ownership of the railroad, and it was a hypothetical situation saying, Put all the stuff on the north end.Put all these big boxes on the south end. When we actually had a client with a real project and we actually put in streets and madea neighborhood, the only thing that counts is the code. That precedes any dream that whatwe were dreaming about back then would actually occur. That's a completely irrelevantthing. Man : You answered my question. Thank you. Bernard : Thank you.
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