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  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

Do you really want to get your plans permitted by City of Miami Zoning quickly?

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Then, pay attention to what I have to say below to avoid the pitfalls. It will make your plans get permitted by the City of Miami quickly.

Downtown Streetscape
Streetscape of a downtown area by Aaina Sharma from Unsplash

Coral Gables used to have the reputation of being the most difficult building department, but now that claim belongs exclusively to the City of Miami. As a residential Miami architect, with experience with the Miami Zoning Code, Miami 12, as I can tell you that no other building department can match the maze that a person must go through to get a permit in the city.


Let’s start with the fact that the Zoning Department is not under the domain of the building official. It is not part of the Building Department. They are their own fiefdom which makes things more difficult. And the fact that they keep changing zoning directors does not help any.


But let’s talk about the things which will hinder your progress in getting a permit and how you can avoid the pitfalls that will delay your permit. As a Miami commercial architect as well a residential architect, I have crossed through these obstacles now several times in the last couple of years.


1. If you are on a state road like Flagler Street, SW 7th, or 8th Streets, any modification to the drainage, or the street trees (that Zoning will require) will have to be reviewed and approved by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Once they have approved any street trees, they will require an MMOA (Memorandum of Agreement) from the city. This is a maintenance agreement where the city becomes responsible for the maintenance. In reality, the city requires one of the property owners, so the responsibility is really that of the property owners, but the paperwork is between the city and FDOT. This process will take months. Get this lined up from the beginning of the design. Think about it so it will not delay your permit.


2. If you cut down a tree without a permit, prepare to pay a fine and be ready to mitigate in addition to going to a committee meeting to get approval for your mitigation plan. This in actuality was not so bad. It may have cost the owner less than doing it legally because legally, a person must hire an arborist to evaluate the tree and write a report, even if the intent is to tear it down.


3. If you are doing a commercial or residential project that includes an addition, no matter how small, plan on having to plant street trees, if you don’t have them now. You may also have to plant other trees on your property, but the street trees are actually on the sidewalk in the property of the city.


4. Again, if you are doing a commercial or residential project that includes an addition, you will likely have to pay for modifications to the sidewalk or even replace it altogether. Public Works is the department in charge of sidewalks. It’s a good idea to determine any sidewalk modifications at the beginning of the design project so you don’t have to do a lot of redrawing at the end.


5. Any dedications that the city requires that you give to the city, will require an attorney. Once the attorney prepares the dedication and turns it over to the city, it may take months for it to be approved. So again, start this process early. A dedication is when the city requires that you give them a piece of your land for their purposes. In one case, the dedication was required so that the city could widen the street to create additional parking. This is a gift to the city without compensation. I don’t understand why they are not required to pay for it.


6. A unity of title is required when a building is going to straddle two separate lots. A building is not allowed to be built on two separate lots, so a unity of title must be prepared by an attorney, recorded with the clerk of the courts, and submitted to the city for approval. Again, this process will take months. Start on this early.


7. Even on residential additions, the city may require drainage calculations so that they know you are not throwing off water from your property to the street or to your neighbor’s property. This should not be a hard process, but it will require a civil engineer when most residential projects do not require a civil engineer.


8. Light posts are a confusing issue. When you must move a light post on the street because it is at the entrance to or the exit from your parking lot, you must get permission from FPL. The city requires that you get light readings for your whole street, not just your side of the street. And the new lights must comply with the light requirements according to the new codes.


9. Another confusing issue is the zoning layering system. There are items that cannot be placed in the first layer which are the front setback, and the side setback, if the project is on a corner lot. It doesn't matter how short an item is. For example, a backflow preventer is about 1'-0" tall and can be easily hidden within the landscaping. However, this is one of those items that cannot be in the front setback or the side setback on a corner lot.


Another example is how much concrete or any other impervious material can be installed in the first layer. This material is limited to 30% in the first layer.


Many of these things should really be done with the impact fees that all people building must pay, however, they are not, and as part of the permitting requirements, the owner is expected to pay for these in addition to paying the impact fees.


I'm sure you have questions. There are more issues to discuss. Why not call me? I've been in the business for over 30 years and have answers to your many questions. A phone consultation costs you nothing. So call me, Maria Luisa Castellanos, principal architect of United Architects, at 305-439-7898 or email me at MLC@UnitedArchs.com to discuss your vision for your project.

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