When Palmetto Bay set out to create a vibrant, desirable downtown in 2013, the city put together a task force and charged it with sketching out a plan and creating a new zoning code to make it happen.
Dozens and dozens of community meetings later, the “downtown urban village” code was born in 2015. Since then, village officials have been on a quest to attract mixed-use developers and small businesses with the hopes of bringing the town to life.
But Palmetto Bay’s zoning code hasn’t exactly gotten the job done, experts say, proposing that city leaders make several changes to the recently adopted plans if they want to see progress.
Focused on a city center mostly populated by car dealerships, vacant land, and unkempt buildings, Palmetto Bay’s current zoning code aims to capitalize on public and alternative transportation, with amenities such as wider sidewalks, bike racks, bike lanes, and a hub that would tie in to the South Dade transit way.
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But Dover, Kohl & Partners, a national architectural and land-planning firm that was hired by the city to review the code and provide suggestions, said in a presentation last week that if the city wants to see results, it will have to eliminate parking, lower maximum building heights by one story, and find a way to better incentivize business owners.
Marcela Camblor, one of the firm’s planners, said the suggestions are “geared towards making the [downtown urban village code] a more predictable tool to ensure that development results in a vibrant downtown that provides services and restaurants to residents and visitors all while preserving a village scale and character.”
“For that, heights need to be adjusted, the bonus programs clarified and calibrated to materialize the community’s needs and some of the elements of the vision need to be more clearly communicated,” Camblor said.
Palmetto Bay’s downtown zoning code is only 2 years old, but a planning consultant says it needs to be updated for the downtown to develop the way the town’s leaders have in mind.
Palmetto Bay’s zoning code currently says the maximum number of stories a building can have is eight, and sets the minimum size of a residential unit at 750 square feet.
In its report, the firm says the city shouldn’t have a minimum square footage for units, should lower the maximum height to seven stories, better explain its incentives within the code, and offer more rewards to those bringing in businesses. It also recommends the town reduce parking spaces in areas close to transit lines, city parking garages as well as bus stops.
“Real estate trends show that appropriately located housing near transit without assigned parking is desirable for residents of all incomes, for rental or ownership,” the report said. “Cars and parking are expensive and drive building mass. Eliminating on-site parking brings down the cost of construction and makes it possible for developers to deliver more attainable housing.”
The report also says the downtown — the area surrounding Palmetto Bay Village Hall — should have the highest density, and that its density should be reduced further from its core. Planners explained that the village needs to decide where exactly it wants retail shops and restaurants and specify how many of them should go on specific streets. The current code is not specific enough, the consultants said.
In an email days after the presentation, Victor Dover, the firm’s lead planner, said that although he and his team provided the city with the suggestions, the firm will not be rewriting the code.
“We have gone over our work schedules considering your request for us to assist the Village” with amending the downtown urban village code, Dover wrote. “We appreciate the opportunity, but we concluded that we are not going to submit a proposal to do this work. As we’ve explained before, right now we are fully booked up with previous commitments for work for other clients.”
On Aug. 22, the city council will instruct its staff members to make the changes themselves, or hire another firm to do it.
“They’ve already given us the blueprint for the changes. It would be logical to have our staff make the modifications since they are the most familiar with the code to begin with,” said vice mayor John DuBois. “It just makes sense.”
Councilman David Singer said he’d rather the firm give the final stamp of approval.
“If I had my druthers, I’d prefer Dover to make the changes, hands down,” Singer said. “Unfortunately they can’t so I’m hoping to discuss whether or not our staff can prepare it and then they can review what the staff did.”