MIAMI CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
Miami-Dade County and the municipalities
Miami-Dade County is divided into many municipalities. All of them are within the boundaries of the county. Many of these areas have their own building departments. This is true for Coral Gables, the Village of Key Biscayne, the City of Miami, the City of Hialeah, and the Village of Pinecrest, the City of North Miami, the City of South Miami, City of Miami Beach, Doral, and the City of Miami Gardens. There are a few more but I have not worked with them.
City of Coral Gables
Some of the building departments have reputations for being particularly difficult in their dealings. The one that comes to mind most quickly is the City of Coral Gables. They have the reputation because of the structural reviewer there who is a very conservative designer and wants extremely thorough structural plans and calculations. In addition, they have a Board of Architects who review any plans which will alter the look of any existing structure in the city and for any new construction. Getting zoning information can also be difficult. Unless you can find it on their website (which is, to their credit, quite extensive) it is almost impossible to get accurate zoning information, either in person or on the phone, without getting an appointment first. You can also try emailing them. I have gotten good results by emailing one of the reviewers.
The other departments of the City of Coral Gables, however, are very easy to work with. It is the architectural review board and the structural review which makes the process with the City of Coral Gables difficult and lengthy.
Another problem that makes the permitting process cumbersome is the lack of sewer lines in vast areas of the city. Septic tank permits can be hard to come by. The Florida Health Department regulates septic tanks and their regulations are posted online. But for an addition to an existing house on a small lot, it can be very difficult to meet the requirements for an additional septic tank permit or a new septic tank permit. The requirement for the drainfield is quite onerous for a small lot. It is essential that prior to going forward with a complete set of construction documents, this issue be researched carefully for any project. Sometimes a variance can be obtained, but it is not guaranteed.
City of Miami
The City of Miami can be extremely difficult to work with as well. I think this is due to the volume of work more than the difficulty of their process.
They have a few departments that are very demanding. Sometimes they require things that are outside the property lines such as redesigning the sidewalks or providing street trees. If the projects in on a street that is governed by FDOT, the process becomes even more onerous because of the approvals that FDOT needs to provide. Now, the Dept. of Environmental Resources is asking for drainage plans with calculations and landscape plans, including maintenance plans, for even small projects.
The Miami-Dade Building Department can be fairly easy to navigate, except when they get attached to a particular idea where they do not want to see it the way the licensed professional sees it. They have been working on the process for years and they seem to be making progress in making it easier.
Other Building Departments
I think the only way to get through the City of Miami Beach Building Department is to talk to the supervisors. I have found some of the departments to have ridiculous comments. However, once a rapport is established with them, the process seems easier. The head of the building department, Ana M. Salguiero, P.E., is a lovely woman. Sometimes it’s better to email or call the reviewers. Here is the contact list: https://www.miamibeachfl.gov/city-hall/building/contact-us/
Doral was not particularly difficult or easy. Eventually, when I spoke to the building official, everything was resolved.
The last project I did in the City of Hialeah was over 20 years ago, so I can’t really have an opinion on their building department. However, all the other building departments are newer and smaller. Because of this, they don’t seem to be as difficult as the older departments.
All the municipalities that are incorporated have their own zoning regulations. Some of the newer municipalities follow the county regulations until they can get their own together. This process can take a while.
I believe most of the county is zoned for single-family residential, but they have upgraded the zoning for certain corridors and created some nodes with higher density allowed. If someone wants to change the zoning, he needs to apply for a zoning variance or a complete change of zoning through a process that the county has established. Some variances are handed out through what are called “administrative” variances which mean that no public hearing would be required. These are usually small variances in setbacks or lot coverage. In addition, proof of the consent of all the neighbors is usually required.
The process for changing zoning in any municipality or in unincorporated Miami-Dade can be expensive, cumbersome, and extensive. Many exhibits are required for the proposed changes, such as site plans, floor plans, elevations, sections through the site, etc. Basically, the whole project has to be designed through a design development stage, as though the client were going to build the project. In some municipalities, especially if there is any opposition to the project, a zoning lawyer is recommended. The process can take months, even years to resolve.
A zoning change in the county that cannot be handled as an administrative variance must go through the approval of the local community council.
The infrastructure in this county and throughout the older municipalities is not going to be adequate for any substantial project. Most of the county lacks sewer lines. This means that any substantial project will require the upgrading of these lines, or even worse, bring the sewer lines to the site from blocks away. This is an expensive proposition. The same is true for water lines. Although most of the county has water these lines would need to be enlarged for any substantial project. The county bond program promised to improve the sewer lines, but it is an on-going project that will take years to complete. The location of water and sewer lines needs to be determined prior to contemplating any substantial improvement to an existing facility or any new construction. The south side of the county is served by the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department. They have extensive information on their infrastructure and it is fairly accessible.
For any commercial project, DERM (Department of Environmental Resource Management) will get to make demands if they think that there could be concerns of environmental pollution. Today septic tanks are only allowed for residential work. And this may soon be changing as well.
Restaurants, other eating establishments, and daycare facilities must be approved by the Florida Health Department.
Roadways are often above capacity and many times the government requires certain improvements to the surrounding roads and sidewalks before granting approval to a new facility.
Any new construction in unincorporated Miami-Dade must comply with Miami-Dade County Landscape Code. This means that in addition to trees and landscaping inside the property lines, trees are required along the right-of-ways, as part of any new project.
Architects and Engineers
There is an ample supply of licensed and qualified architects and engineers. As can be expected, some are better than others.
There is an ample supply of general contractors as well. Again, some are better than others. Good residential contractors that price their projects reasonably are hard to come by. I have one with whom I like to work.
The Construction Trades
The licensed trades, such as electricians and plumbers are easy to obtain. There is a dearth of good carpenters, both rough and finish. Except for a few well-organized drywall companies, the drywall trade is in the hands of immigrants, probably illegal. But if it weren’t for them, we probably wouldn’t have any at all. Because Florida is a right-to-work state, there are few unions. This causes a continuous lack of qualified tradesmen.
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