Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade passes plan to let developers build more near Metrorail, transit routes

Passengers board the new Metrorail trains at the Miami International Airport terminal, the end point of a three-mile extension that is the only new segment of a county rail system that launched in the 1980s. Miami-Dade wants to loosen development rules along transit corridors to boost ridership and funding for transit.
Passengers board the new Metrorail trains at the Miami International Airport terminal, the end point of a three-mile extension that is the only new segment of a county rail system that launched in the 1980s. Miami-Dade wants to loosen development rules along transit corridors to boost ridership and funding for transit. cmguerrero@miamiherald.com

Miami-Dade is moving closer to allowing larger buildings along current and future transit routes, part of a plan to get more people to live closer to bus and rail service.

County commissioners on Wednesday revised Miami-Dade’s development rules to allow for more density in the six corridors that make up the Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit Plan — best known as the SMART Plan. Launched in 2016, it is funding consultant studies to recommend new transit plans for some of the county’s busiest commuting routes.

Last year, the commission approved a massive tax zone enveloping the 55 miles of SMART corridors and existing 25 miles of Metrorail tracks. The zone stretched out half a mile on either side of the most of the corridors. When a property’s value inside the zone rises more than 4.5 percent in any given year, that money gets diverted to build future transit projects.

The new land-use rules apply to land within the zone, but only in areas outside of city limits. It would let developers build up to 60 units per acre in land closest to transit corridors, an upgrade from current zoning rules that limit apartment complexes to between 35 and 50 units per acre.

Miami-Dade still needs to adopt zoning rules that would lay out specific development limitations for the area. “This is kind of aspirational,” said Commissioner Xavier Suarez, the lone No vote against the plan. “It has a lot of steps that will be taken later.”

The changes approved Wednesday alter the county’s Comprehensive Master Development Plan, the blueprint that lays out limits on how many residential units can go onto a property.

“This is a first step,” said Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who sponsored the new land-use rules.

A map of the affected areas showed the largest impact would be in the western suburban area that follows State Road 836, a toll road that is part of a SMART corridor. While the tax zone extends half a mile from the five SMART corridors, the east-west route that includes the 836 extends out a mile in either direction. The allowances for higher density would extend the same distance under the new rules.

Bovo also sponsored the legislation that created the transit tax zone. The tax zone is forecast to generate $1.8 billion over 30 years under existing zoning rules.

He described the new development strategy as a way to pursue the millions of federal dollars needed to build major new transit projects along the corridor, including the elevated rail that county leaders last month endorsed for the North corridor along 27th Avenue. Bovo said for the county to compete for federal dollars, it needs more people living along transit routes and using the system.

“We know we ultimately can’t develop these corridors to a level we want without any kind of federal help,” he said. “We’re not going to get there unless we can show the ridership. We’re not going to have the ridership without the density.”

Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava said it was important that the future zoning rules focus building near actual transit stations, and not just allow more construction on land that happens to be near a rapid-transit bus route or railway track.

“Not everything along the corridor is equal,” she said. “Clearly a transit hub can handle transit-oriented development.”

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