A major but long-delayed push by Miami-Dade County to have people living at Metrorail stations along South Dixie Highway is finally bearing fruit. The first apartment tower at Dadeland North opened last week. And Monday, developers hosted a groundbreaking for a massive mixed-use project at Douglas Road. Both are rentals.
Though largely ceremonial, Monday’s groundbreaking at the Link at Douglas, a seven-acre project that will eventually fill the station’s parking lot with five residential and commercial towers, augurs some immediate site work as well as the start of significant construction within 90 days, the developers say. The station’s bus terminal must be redone first to make way for the first two apartment towers.
The developers, Adler Group and 13th Floor Investments, will also start on the revamp of the Douglas metro station, including new elevators and escalators. Construction of the first tower, a 22-story building with 312 units and retail below, is set to begin this summer.
By fall, the developers expect to start construction of the second residential tower, which has provoked some controversy because its height significantly overshadows anything for miles around it. Although the Douglas station is within city of Miami boundaries, Miami-Dade County controls zoning at Metrorail station properties.
The county commission had previously approved a rezoning at the station that significantly increased allowable density, though it received little notice at the time. The new zoning allowed developers to propose a tower 40 stories tall, but Miami city officials and officials at abutting Coral Gables complained they were never notified or asked for input. The blueprint finally approved by county officials, which did not require any public hearings, was slightly scaled back to 36 stories but remains far taller than anything on the surrounding blocks, which include a single-family neighborhood across Bird Road.
The groundbreaking, attended by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, came on the heels of the April 11 opening of Motion at Dadeland, a 25-story tower with 294 rental apartments, also by Adler and 13th Floor. It is located between the Dadeland North station and the adjacent Dadeland Station retail center. Advertised rents range from $1,682 for a studio to $4,000 for a three-bedroom unit.
Both projects are the product of a drive by the county and its transit department to resuscitate long-dormant plans for commercial and residential development at Metrorail stations along the busy commuter corridor. Known as transit-oriented development, the strategy aims to provide residents with car-free commutes to work as well as amenities such as dining and neighborhood services like dry cleaning, groceries and gyms at their doorstep.
By the same token, putting thousands of people within easy reach of transit ensures the system’s viability by providing a sure stream of paying riders.
In remarks during Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony at Douglas station, Gimenez called the project “a cutting-edge look into the future” of Miami-Dade.
The projects at Douglas and Dadeland North stations, Gimenez said, “will enable more residents to live, work and play in Miami-Dade without ever having to worry about traffic jams, fender-benders or finding and paying for parking.”
Working with developers, the county has previously completed apartment towers along the Metrorail line after it turns west, at stations including Brownsville and Santa Clara. It also rezoned the unincorporated area now known as Downtown Dadeland by the Dadeland South station, prompting creation of a high-rise mini-city there.
But several proposals from developers for station properties along the rest of South Dixie bogged down amid financial problems and prolonged litigation. Starting in 2015, the county began putting out new bid requests for the stations after settling legal claims.
Some ground work has already begun for a mixed-use project at the Coconut Grove station that would use solar power. Another mostly residential project is planned for the South Miami station.
The Douglas Road project, though, is the largest announced to date. The Link at Douglas plan, to be built in phases over five years, comprises 1,500 apartments, including “workforce housing,” an office building and 25,000 square feet of retail. The first tower, designed by Corwil Architects, includes 6,000 feet of retail. The second, by Arquitectonica, will include 421 apartments for rent. About 100 apartments spanning both towers will be set aside as workforce housing, usually described as housing affordable to teachers and cops.
The developers must also provide $17 million in public infrastructure improvements, including the Metro station improvements, new bus bays and $1 million toward construction of the portion of the Underline that runs through the property. The Underline is a planned linear park and cycling and pedestrian path that will run below the Metrorail’s elevated tracks from Dadeland to Brickell.