Transit Oriented Development & Rapid Transit Zones in Miami-Dade County

Transit-Oriented Development
Lawcast Podcast
May 5, 2021


Stanley Price, Chair of Bilzin Sumberg’s Land Development & Government Relations Group, and Javier Aviñó, Practice Group Leader for Bilzin Sumberg’s Land Development & Government Relations Group, discuss the historic evolution, current state, and future prospects of transit-oriented development in Miami-Dade County. They address the economic, social, and political dimensions of mass transit in the County along with the system’s adjoining real estate developments (“Rapid Transit Zones”). They conclude with laying out what they see as the future of transit-oriented development in Miami-Dade County.


AVIÑÓ: Hello and welcome to Bilzin Sumberg's Lawcast. I'm Javier Aviñó, the Practice Group Leader of Bilzin Sumberg’s Land Development & Government Relations Practice Group. And I have the pleasure of being joined by Stanley Price, the Chair of our group. Today we will be discussing a very important topic around transit oriented developments, specifically the rapid transit zones that Stanley had a large part in developing.

Stan, let's jump right in. Thank you again for joining us. So the rapid transit zone, why don't you walk us through how that came about and a little bit of history behind that.

PRICE: Well in 1977, I was an Assistant County Attorney for Dade County and I was called to a meeting with the mayor.

Several department heads and the County Manager were excited to learn that through the efforts of our congressional delegation, that we were granted a major award by the federal government to develop and to complete a rapid transit system in Dade County. At that time, it was known as Metropolitan Dade County.

The County attorney assigned me the job of working with the outside consultants, and also hired an outside law firm from Chicago to assist in the technical aspects of the system. Probably the most important thing that I gleaned from all of the discussions was they described the rapid transit system as the nerve system of a human body.

The brain controlled all the nerves and what they embedded in me at that initial discussion is that Dade County government had to be and maintain control of the development, the areas around the rapid transit zone, and with that in mind, I drafted the ordinances for Dade County, which gave supreme power, which we had under the home rule charter of the constitution, to take total control of all the land use decisions in the rapid transit stations and the rapid transit zone, which is the area in which the tracks would be a place within the County.

The rapid transit zone now lives within what is multiple jurisdictions. Miami-Dade County currently has over 30 jurisdictions and several of them reside within the rapid transit zone. So as you're indicating those land use decisions are centralized within the County. And to an extent that does among other things, streamline the approval process as well as the permitting process.

But for the last 40 years, that was not the case. What in fact occurred is that the County government specifically after the early 1990s, when we went to a 13 County commission system, basically handed back the land use powers to the various municipalities to control development within their area.

That was an abject total failure. And within the last two years, someone realized that was not the way to develop this system, but to go back and make Dade County, the central governmental entity in charge of making these decisions.

AVIÑÓ: There's been a noticeable sort of push or uptick in transit oriented development. You know, it seems to be something that's quite prevalent, not just here in Miami-Dade County, but really throughout the country. You describe the rapid transit zones as not just where the Metro rail stations are themselves, but sort of the surrounding area, most of which is County owned and has largely served as surface parking. What do you think are some of the factors that are really bringing forth the desire to really redevelop these corridors?

PRICE: Well we have to go back to the original consultant that was brought in by Dade County. They drafted a document called Value Recapture, which was a blueprint on how to develop this system. And the value recapture refers to the major capital improvement necessary to build the system. And how does the government recapture that development cost and what they recommended was density and intensity along the rapid transit system which would hopefully eliminate a lot of the automobile traffic in a congested metropolitan area. Coupled with the fact that it would create opportunities for people to live and work and recreate along the rapid transit system, which would increase ridership.

AVIÑÓ: So going back a little bit you mentioned that the idea behind the rapid transit zone started in the early seventies and then took several years to build. Do you think that there's an opportunity- we've heard the discussion points about rail being extremely expensive- our system is one that's an above ground system. And so there's a number of factors that go into any sort of expansion, including eminent domain. Do you think that there is a path forward for additional expansion opportunities of the system itself?

PRICE: I believe we are at a point in history where that could occur. And as a result President Biden has announced a major infrastructure plan for the United States and a major component of that plan is mass transit train systems, better efficiency in traffic signalization and the like, so the answer is yes. I did the very first mixed use development on a rapid transit system, Overtown North, in which a private developer approached the County, agreed to build an office building for the County and agreed that he would build an office building for private enterprise. And that has been a model which is now being continued on Dadeland North, Dadeland South, and Coconut Grove, and the Downtown station, which is the mixed use development on steroids, which is going to cause a total redevelopment and a re-emphasis of people taking mass transit.

One of the fallacies of the original design is that the system did not serve major population and employment centers. It went South, which is a major transportation route, but the Northwest leg of the system did not service people who had the socioeconomic ability to maximize the need. We are now expanding the service up US-1.

There's a major plan to develop the system of 27th Avenue to Dolphin Stadium. And all of these will be basically interconnected with tri-rail system. So we will have one major metropolitan area going from Palm Beach down to Miami.

AVIÑÓ: So what you're describing is the interconnectivity of different modes of transportation, whether it be actual rapid transit or bus ways or commuter rail.

PRICE: You need to make it attractive for people to give up their automobile. And the way you make that attractive is you cut down their commuter time. You give them a clean, efficient transportation mode. The days of having archaic buses where the air conditioning worked 50% of the time, that is not an incentive to get people out of their automobiles. I think now we're going to see it occur. And what we've had of recent vintage is the underline, which is now going to create recreational activities and walking areas for the public, which once again, being an incentive to use these rapid transit system, I'm very encouraged. And all one has to do is go up to Atlanta to see what they've done with their beltway system. The old train tracks are now bypass walking paths. Every half mile, you have a major retail restaurant situation. And my children live in Atlanta and they use that all the time on the weekends.

AVIÑÓ: One of the thoughts behind transit oriented developments in the bigger sense and specifically within our rapid transit system, is that the creation of those nodes, those densified nodes of mixed uses, be it residential, and commercial uses, office uses, will bring the folks to live there and give them that connectivity and as you said, take them sort of out of their vehicles. And so, looking forward into the next 10, 15, 20 years of rapid transit as it relates to Miami, what do you envision with respect to the RTZ and changes, modifications from a land use and planning standpoint that can be made to facilitate those changes?

PRICE: I think the County has come to the recognition that by consolidating all the zoning powers into the County, they can create these fabulous mixed use developments. I think what you're going to find in the next several years, if not decades, is the County stopping detailed minutiae on regulations on how to build around the station, give a blank power to a good architect, having to design something, and have that design be encapsulated into the code as the zoning code for that specific node. I think you're going to see it. It's being used throughout the country. They read the architect's design. They review the design for compatibility, but they don't have a strict Euclidean zoning code where you have to have this amount of setback and this amount of setback. Private enterprises are genius on how to design things that work for people and government should still maintain the control of review, but let private enterprise design things. And I think in the long run, it's going to serve the whole public in South Florida.

AVIÑÓ: And driving forward, as we talked about a little bit earlier, many of these Metro rail and Metro mover sites sit on sort of what is surface parking or vastly underutilized property. You talk about the intersection between the public and the private sectors. And certainly there's lots of room for private development along these corridors, especially as they get expanded. But can you drill down a little further on the public- private component or the P3 component of these?

PRICE: Well, the P3 component, which is public-private partnership is that government has the land, government has a major asset, but government is not necessarily the best designer of how to use that property, so let private enterprise create, let the government review and they're going to be paying taxes on this property. That's the incentive. The government is letting private development come in, to develop the property. They want it to be successful because they're going to pay very high taxes on that property. The government is inured the benefit of the tax increment as a result of the development. And I think we have an unlimited potential as we have global warming and as coastal areas of our County and the South Florida area become more prone to flooding, the Metro rail and these stations provide a future way that people will now be able to get from one part of the county to the other without fear of environmental concerns. And I think that's going to be the future of our county.

AVIÑÓ: Well, Stanley, thank you so much for your time today. The future I feel is very bright for this community and for the rapid transit zone. So I want to thank you again for your time. Thank you for joining us at another session of Bilzin Sumberg's Lawcast. And we look forward to seeing you again soon.
Javier F. Aviñó
Practice Group Leader, Land Development & Government Relations
Stanley B. Price
Chair, Land Development & Government Relations Practice Group
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