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  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

Deciding on which area & which zoning is best for buying real estate

View of Miami Beach

It always amazes me when I get a call from a friend of mine who is a contractor who has gotten a call from a client asking what we can do with a particular parcel. Usually, they want to build an apartment building right in the middle of a single-family residential area.

This article should serve as information for anyone interested in buying property in Miami or Realtors who are helping a client look for a property. I know many buyers in Miami are from foreign countries which may have completely different rules regarding land use.

Here in Miami, as in the majority of the United States, property is generally segregated by use. That means that there will be an area of town which will have single-family houses, another area will have apartment buildings, a third area will have industrial uses, such as small shops which make things such as boat tanks, railings, etc.

Normally, these segregated areas are homogeneous or sometimes the transitions are seamless like in parts of Coral Gables, where one area may be single-family, but right next to that is an area of 3-story apartment buildings. What normally never happens is an area of single-family homes with a car dealership in the middle of the neighborhood. The only exceptions to this are usually churches and schools. Churches and schools are often situated in the middle of single-family neighborhoods.

Since the zoning is generally the same, or very similar, for large swatches of land, when a specific parcel is zoned very differently and seems at odds with its surrounding neighborhood, this is called “spot zoning”. PlannersWeb defines spot zoning as, “the process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use classification totally different from that of the surrounding area for the benefit of the owner of such property and to the detriment of other owners." In many instances it is considered illegal. Spot zoning is normally avoided by government agencies. When an owner tries to get a re-zoning which is in conflict with the surrounding area, it will normally not be approved.

There are areas of Miami-Dade County which are not segregated by one use. There are parts of City of Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Palmetto Bay, and even parts of Miami-Dade County which encourage what are called “mixed-use development”. Mixed-use developments are now in vogue. The county has even rezoned certain areas to encourage more mixed-use development. Mixed-use developments are normally more pedestrian-friendly because the streets are made more attractive by a couple of characteristics.

The first characteristic of this type of development is that the bottom floor of most mixed-use developments are usually dedicated to retail. This gives the pedestrian something to look at while walking. The second characteristic of mixed-use development is that the parking is tucked away and not readily visible from the street. This is done in one of two ways – by requiring that the parking garage start on the second floor of the building, or that the parking is hidden behind the building. Parking lots are generally not attractive for pedestrians, so meeting either of these requirements will go a long way to making the street more walkable for people.

In Miami what is often seen are buildings with retail on the bottom and then multi-family residences above. I think this is the most common mixed-use configuration. The other one which also happens, but not as common, are areas with retails on the bottom and then office space above. In El Ensanche in Barcelona, Spain, what is very common is retail on the bottom, office space above that, and then residences above the offices. We may have a building or two with this combination here in Miami, but it is much rarer.

In order to determine the best parcel for developing a new building, it is important to analyze the needs of the potential owner in depth. Sometimes a homogeneous zoned area is better and sometimes a mixed-use area is better. Understanding zoning codes in depth is a prerequisite for successfully selling commercial real estate, and particularly raw land.

Should you prefer to work with a licensed architect and commercial realtor who can add value and insight to your project, feel free to email me at or call me on my cell at 305-439-7898. I am both a licensed architect and Realtor with Hudson Capital Realty.


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