Skip to main content

How Florida Zoning Regulations Can Encourage Development and Climate Change Resiliency

Land Development in the 305

Land Development Podcast
April 27, 2020


   

Land Use and Zoning Attorneys, Jennifer Fine and Carly Grimm, discuss resiliency and how zoning can be a cost-effective tool for confronting climate change. 

Transcript:

JENNIFER FINE

Welcome to Land Development in the 305, a podcast featuring news, observations, and analysis on the redeveloping and reshaping of Miami’s skyline.  My name is Jennifer Fine, and I’m a land use, and zoning attorney in the Land Development and Government Relations Group here at Bilzin Sumberg and I’m being joined remotely by Carly Grimm who is also a land use and zoning attorney in the firm’s Land Development and Government Relations Group.  It’s definitely different not being down the hall from you and not recording this in the studio, but we’re happy to adjust to this temporary reality and take advantage of technology to still produce this podcast for our listeners.  Today we will be discussing resiliency and how zoning can be a cost-effective tool for confronting climate change, which is a topic of particular importance here in South Florida.  Carly, can you tell us about a few of the steps taken recently on a local level to confront and address the impact of climate change?

 

CARLY GRIMM

Hi, Jennie.  Sure.  Well, as you know, South Florida is often looked to as sort of the ground-zero for the challenge of sea-level rise.  We have a lot of heavy urban development right along the coastline, only a few feet above sea-level, and that really provides South Florida an opportunity to be a leader in sea-level rise adaptation strategies.  On a regional scale, there are a lot of different programs and efforts going on here in South Florida to address sea-level rise and climate change on a bigger scale.  In 2010, for example, Miami-Dade County came together with Broward, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties to form the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact, and the goal of that program is to help coordinate adaptation and mitigation activities on a larger scale across county lines.  And through that compact, they created the regional climate action plan, which essentially is a set of recommendations, guidelines, best practices; tools to help guide local governments in adopting more effective regulations and strategies dealing with sea-level rise and ensuring that they be compatible with each other, trying to help the region kind of all pull together in the same direction.  On a more local level in 2017, the voters in the City of Miami approved a $400 million general obligation bond.  It’s the Miami Forever Bond.  And about half of that, $192 million, is slated specifically for flood prevention and sea-level rise mitigation.  So Miami really is throwing some real funding at this issue.  There are, of course, countless studies going on at both the county and municipal level.  Just a few examples, a year or two ago, the City of Miami and the Miami Downtown Development Authority engaged the Urban Land Institute, ULI, to survey the urban core’s waterfront area and provide some recommendations on how to create a more resilient Miami.  Miami-Dade County has also engaged a private consulting team to create a report to provide some guidance on possible impacts of sea-level rise, what strategies will work best in what neighborhood, and also taking a look at quantifying the economic cost of inaction.  What are our trade-offs?  The City of Miami also recently reconfigured some of its committees.  It combined the former Sea-level Rise Committee with the Waterfront Advisory Board to form the new Climate Resilience Committee, and that makes recommendations to the City Commission about changes to the city code or public policy that could help address climate change impacts.  And finally, Miami Beach, I mean, has been addressing these issues for years.  It has its rising above resiliency strategy, has invested heavily in flood mitigation infrastructure, energy conservation, eliminating single-use plastics, and the city has been installing major pump stations, drainage improvements, and raising roads throughout the city.   

 

JENNIFER FINE

Thank you.  That’s pretty extensive.  So while efforts like these are vital, creating truly resilient cities along Florida’s coast will also require the integration with sea-level rise adaptation principles into comprehensive local land use planning and zoning policies; can you speak to that and give us some examples and kind of explain how those policies would be implemented?  

 

CARLY GRIMM

Sure.  So, to back up and look at this from more of a 10,000-foot view, comprehensive planning and zoning codes are not just complicated regulations for urban planners and lawyers.  I mean, on a very fundamental level, planning and zoning codes are the basic tools that shape our cities.  They determine what a community will look like as it grows.  So determining where buildings are allowed to be built, how close can they be to each other, how tall are they allowed to be, how many people can live inside them, what are you allowed to do with them, like what uses are able to be in what parts of the city.  So planning and zoning regulation is an extremely powerful tool in shaping human development patterns and so, of course, has a tremendous role to play in helping cities respond to the realities of sea-level rise and our physical environment.  Every city and county in Florida is required by law to have what’s called a comprehensive plan.  It can be thought of as basically a constitution or a guiding document that determines how the land can be used, and the zoning code fills in the details of development on that land with much more specific regulations.  The zoning code can be analogized to statutes filling in the details of our constitution.  On the state level, Florida has already begun to use comprehensive planning as a tool to address the effects of climate change.  In 2011, the state legislature passed a law creating a voluntary process for local governments to plan for sea-level rise through a land designation of adaptation action areas within their jurisdiction.  Essentially, it’s a device to help prioritize funding for infrastructure and adaptation planning in those particularly vulnerable areas.  And then in 2015, a little more recently, the legislature adopted a bill that required all local governments to update their comprehensive plan to incorporate coastal management and strategies to reduce flood risk in coastal areas.

 

JENNIFER FINE

Great.  Can you also give us some specific examples of cities that have taken steps to promote more sustainable development patterns through zoning regulation like you were just mentioning now?

 

CARLY GRIMM

Sure.  Norfolk, Virginia, is actually a pretty interesting example.  They were a member of Rockefeller’s Foundation 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, which actually ended this past summer.  But Norfolk adopted a new zoning code in 2018 to enhance flood resiliency and encourage development on land that has a higher elevation.  Specifically, the new code created what’s called a coastal resiliency overlay district, and within that district, there are now new requirements for higher finished floor elevations and the use of permeable surfaces, allowing the water to soak-in in areas.  For properties not within flood hazard zones, they also created an upland resiliency overlay district, and that includes regulations that encourage, you know, transit-oriented, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods on higher ground.  The thing I find most interesting is that the zoning code created a resiliency quotient system, so all developers earn points for adopting resilient measures into their projects that promote flood risk reduction, stormwater management, and energy efficiency.  Developers have to meet a certain point value, a certain minimum, depending on the type of their development and the size of their projects.  Points can also be earned towards developments in the uplands overlay district through extinguishing development rights within the coastal resiliency overlay district.  For example, recording an open space conservation easement over a coastal property or restricting density, recording a covenant to restrict density in more vulnerable areas. It’s sort of like a transfer of development rights program, but it’s based around resiliency rather than something like historical preservation which is more common.

 

JENNIFER FINE

That resiliency quotient system definitely sounds interesting.  Are there any similar requirements or programs here in the Miami area?

 

CARLY GRIMM

Well, there are, you know, 34 to 35 different municipalities within Miami-Dade County.  Most of them have their own zoning code and set of regulations but just to speak to a few by way of example, the City of Miami’s current zoning code, which is known as Miami 21, and also the City of Miami Beach’s zoning code, their land regulations, they both have requirements for new buildings over a certain size to meet LEED certification standards for sustainable building.  Both of those cities have also adopted a freeboard ordinance.  That permits a higher finished floor elevation or additional height in the first story without counting against the height maximum on the building.  So that allows the property to better respond to changes in public infrastructure.  So, in other words, you can add say an additional, you know, three to five feet of height on your ground floor level and when and if the city raises the road you’re located on, you can then raise your finished floor elevation to meet the new street elevation.  It’s essentially building in flexibility into the project on the front end in anticipation of that kind of adaptation event.  The City of Miami also has some detailed roof specifications designed to reduce heat island effects, and the City of Miami Beach has actually designated the entire city as an adaptation action area, which is the voluntary comprehensive plan designation that I mentioned earlier.

 

JENNIFER FINE

That’s actually really cool.  I didn’t know that so since more -- probably there are a lot of people who don’t know that the City of Miami Beach designated the entire city as an adaptation action area.  So thank you for sharing that.  I was wondering what other types of policies can cities incorporate into their zoning codes to promote residential density in areas with high elevations.  I know you mentioned some of those policies earlier between Norfolk and City of Miami Beach, but what are some other ways that cities can encourage development at higher elevations in order to respond to sea-level rise?

 

CARLY GRIMM

Well, one thing a city like Miami can do, for example, is encouraging more dense development along the limestone ridge that runs parallel to the coast and is actually one of the highest points in Miami-Dade County.  We already have our Metrorail train system built along that ridge, and soon we’re going to have The Underline project underneath the Metrorail, which is a ten-mile linear park and urban trail that’s going to provide additional safe transportation options for cyclists and pedestrians and more community-oriented recreation opportunities.  But that elevated transit corridor is already an ideal location for more intense development.  Planning and zoning regulations can drive more infill projects along that corridor through height and density bonuses, through floor area bonuses, allowing parking reductions, that kind of thing for projects that are within a certain distance of the Metrorail.

 

JENNIFER FINE

Well, I know I speak for many of us when I say I can’t wait for The Underline to be open and ready.  I know that construction is being somewhat delayed due to the ongoing pandemic that we’re facing.  But I can’t wait until that’s open and we’re able to enjoy it.  So while some of those changes that you discussed would certainly lead to more sustainable development, what are some of the issues that are associated with these regulations?

 

CARLY GRIMM

So as the population gets bigger and at the same time rising sea-levels are reducing the amount of land that’s actually suitable for development, there are growing concerns about what’s being called climate gentrification throughout Miami.  And there have been -- you know there’s been discussion on this and articles.  Developers have begun to set their sites on higher grounds and in many areas that is home to low-income residents.  I mean, we’re talking about neighborhoods like Liberty City, Overtown, Little Haiti, Allapattah.  Those are all located at slightly higher elevations than many areas of the city, and that could end up driving up land costs and housing prices in those areas.

 

JENNIFER FINE

So what are some of the possible solutions to address that issue of housing availability and affordability?

 

CARLY GRIMM

So there are a lot of steps that local governments can take with their zoning code to encourage certain types of developments or to lower development costs overall, which can, in turn, help lower the costs on the consumer side of things.  The elimination of lot size minimums, for example.  It’s common in zoning codes to require that your lot be, you know, a minimum of x square feet in order to legally develop it.  But doing away with something like that would allow developers to build on smaller parcels and create more infill developments.  Eliminating parking minimums would also be very helpful.  I mean parking just physically takes up a lot of room on a site, and it’s very expensive.  Parking adds a lot of cost to a development, and that cost is then passed on to the residents or tenants of that project.  In fact, a lot of cities are actually around the country have started toying with the idea of instituting parking maximums in their zoning codes.  Also, doing away with arbitrary or maybe density maximums that are set too low in certain zoning districts that limit the number of units you’re allowed to have per acre.  So increasing density on a single site can help fit more residents onto that particular piece of land, and it also helps spread the development costs among more people.  So all of those changes can help remove barriers in zoning codes that currently prevent the development of smaller-scale infill and what, you know, a lot of people in the field are calling “missing middle” housing options like townhomes and duplexes.  You don’t really see a lot of that in Miami.  Finally, allowances for less traditional residential projects such as co-living, which consists of individually leased bedrooms and shared communal spaces.  So that could help reduce construction costs per unit, and that makes it more economically feasible for developers to offer lower rents to residents in areas that are a little more centralized.

 

JENNIFER FINE

Thank you.  I know a lot of developers that would like the sound of parking maximums, so we’ll see if we can get that going down here.  Do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share with us before we wrap up here today?

 

CARLY GRIMM

Sure.  Cities throughout South Florida are certainly in a unique position to integrate more progressive climate adaptation principles into their planning and zoning regulations.  Those types of regulations combined with some of the policies we just discussed that may help stabilize the cost of housing can really put Greater Miami on the map in terms of being a leader and showing other cities how to create a more resilient and equitable future for all residents.

 

JENNIFER FINE

Well, here’s to hoping.  Thank you for listening to our podcast, and thank you, Carly, for sharing your insights.  If you want more on this and other land development related topics, visit us on Bilzin.com and subscribe to our New Miami Blog and www.newmiamiblog.com.

 
Related Practices
RELATED PEOPLE
Jennifer E. Fine

Jennifer E. Fine

Associate
Carly S. Grimm

Carly S. Grimm

Associate
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Land Development Podcast March 5, 2020
Land use and zoning attorney, Stanley Price and Vicky Leiva, talk about homeless assistance centers in the City of Miami and how to deal with neighborhood opposition.
Press Release June 25, 2019
Bilzin Sumberg is pleased to announce that several of the firm's partners were named in Florida Trend's Florida Legal Elite 2019 edition. The publication recognizes highly regarded lawyers who have exemplified excellence in their practice, as determined by endorsements from their peers. The list rep...
Press Release August 15, 2016
Bilzin Sumberg announces that 60% of the Firm's Partners were recognized in the 2017 edition of The Best Lawyers in America. This is the sixth consecutive year more than half of the Firm's Partners made the Best Lawyers in America list.
VIEW MORE