South Miami

Madison Square developer out; South Miami affordable housing project in limbo

After daunting delays, the Madison Square affordable housing project in South Miami slammed to a halt as developer Green Mills, LLC, canceled its contract.

The project at 5978 SW 64th St. has been idle for decades, as issues regarding zoning changes spurred commission disagreement whether the project should be 75 units, 60 units or less than 41 units.

“Green Mills canceled the contract for Madison Square on Nov. 12th, 2015,” said Oscar Sol, Green Mills principal and founder. “The contract was canceled due to delays in obtaining the necessary local government zoning approvals and delays in approving contract modifications which were required in order for Green Mills to respond to upcoming funding opportunities.”

“We wish the city the best of luck in its efforts to develop Madison Square.”

On Oct. 14, the commission asked city staff to rewrite ordinances so that it could possibly come to a unanimous agreement.

“We’re going to be looking for different ways to get that built,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “I hope people have some ideas. If you break it, you own it right?”

“They broke it, they better have some ideas.”

Sol pointed to financing difficulties and disagreement at City Hall when asked about the decision to end the contract.

“I think at the end of the day, we just felt like it’s so difficult to get this type of financing approved and the city not being on the same page and some people in the city not being fully supportive of the project,” Sol said. “We just felt like at the end of the day, if everybody isn’t on the same page, it’s just not something that we felt like we could move forward with. I could get into more details, but I’d rather not.”

Sol added that he thinks “it’s a relatively small project, to entice developers to really want to focus on it.”

“If the city and county can cobble together enough funding to get it done, they may be able to get it done, but it’s going to be difficult to get tax credit financing on that project.”

Stoddard said that Commissioner Gabriel Edmond’s and Vice Mayor Walter Harris’ desire to downsize the project, lead to decreased economic viability for Green Mills.

“Basically the reason is that, all along all of the developers all of the consultants, have said you can’t have an affordable housing project of less than 60 units,” Stoddard said. “So what happened ... Walter said I’m not going to go over 41 and Gabriel said I’m not going above 40. If everybody knows you can’t make money with less than 60 .… I think Green Mills and everybody else had always held out the expectation that they would be able to get enough units in this project to make it economically viable. When they were told they couldn’t, they just felt the difficulties of this project, didn’t commensurate with the rewards.”

Sol previously advised the city and CRA to increase the project’s density to allow for more options while he looked for funding services.

The city’s comprehensive plan has a limit of 24 residential units per acre, but the Florida Housing Finance Corp. established a 75-unit minimum density requirement for its 9 percent tax credit subsidy, which the commission could not agree upon in time to apply for.

But much of the disagreement within the project stems from added density requiring between two and four stories. The majority of the ordinances associated with the project require either a four-of-five or five-of-five commission vote.

At its Dec. 1 meeting, the city commission faced several Madison Square-related ordinances on first reading, as well as a resolution to approve the construction of more than two stories on the site for affordable housing.

The resolution failed 3-2, with Edmond and Harris dissenting. A first reading ordinance amending the land development code’s “other regulations,” including off-street parking requirements and to establish a revised parking requirement for affordable or workforce housing, passed 4-1, with Edmond dissenting. Another ordinance passed 3-2 on first reading, adjusting the density caps in the specialty retail zoning districts for affordable and workforce housing projects north of U.S. 1 and within the Community Redevelopment area boundaries as they existed on Oct. 14.

“I think we were involved for about a year and a half or two years,” Sol said. “The way our contract was set up, we had two opportunities. We had a three-year contract. You could submit two funding applications, If on the second funding application, it wasn’t approved, then the city had an option to review for a third year. We only submitted one funding application because we submitted that when there was no 75-unit zoning requirement. Basically we were able to submit a tax credit application…but it wasn’t approved. We hadn’t had an opportunity to submit a funding application since then because the project didn’t qualify.”

Sol said Green Mills did not “see any way forward.”

“So rather than delay things any further, and tie up the property longer than it needed to be, we decided to just cancel the contract,” Sol said.