What should you know about commercial zoning in the Miami 21 Code?
Updated: Jun 21
People who are in the industry are very familiar with the term zoning, but for someone who is about to build his first building, it’s very confusing. Commercial zoning in Miami is confusing. For example, Miami has a zoning designation called T6-8. This normally means that you could build 6 to 8 floors, but is this guaranteed?
As a Miami residential architect, with experience in mixed-use buildings, I can tell you that no, not unless a series of conditions are present.
In the city of Miami, Florida, and in many other areas of the county, what will ultimately determine how much you can build is how much parking you can fit on the property.
The zoning code will tell you things like the Floor Lot Ratio (called Floor Area Ratio in other parts of the county) for T6-8 is 5. This means that whatever the size of your lot, you can build 5 times that. So, if your lot is 100 x 100 or 10,000 square feet, you would assume you could build a 50,000-square-foot building. However, 10,000 square feet is not big enough for ramping from one floor to the next for a parking garage. And depending on the uses for the 50,000 square feet and the amount of parking required for those uses, you may not be able to build the entire 50,000 square feet.
One day, I had a visitor to my office who assured me that he could build 8 stories on a 50’ x 100’ lot he was considering purchasing. He failed to understand that since this property was not near a Metrorail or Metromover station, parking would be required. And on a 5,000 square foot lot, there is hardly enough space for building, much less for parking. An 8-story building was out of the question unless he was able to get a waiver from the planning director to allow him a payment in lieu of parking. You can read about parking relaxation here.
But this adds another roadblock to the project.
For several different occupancy types, the parking ratio may be reduced within ½ mile radius of TOD (Transit-oriented Development) or within ¼ mile radius of a Transit Corridor by thirty percent (30%) by process of Exception with City Commission approval, except when the site is within 500 feet of T3. Also, parking may be provided by ownership or lease offsite within 1,000 feet by process of Waiver, except when the site is within 500 feet of T3. T3 is single-family or duplex zoning. So, if you are very near a T3, you cannot reduce the parking requirements.
According to the City of Miami Zoning Administrator, Daniel Goldberg, Esq. small buildings less than 10,000 square feet are entitled to be built without any parking. He says, "They continue to exist by right in the UCBD, DDA, OMNI, and SEOPW CRAs, NCD-2, and in any federal opportunity zone. See the asterisk and the bottom of each table in Article 4, Table 4 for the actual list. Wynwood NRD-1 has it by right for up to 20,000 square feet."
In T6-60 & T6-80, parking for residential uses located within 1,000 feet of a Metrorail or Metromover station shall not be required. But let’s look at this carefully. Just because the zoning code does not require parking, it does not mean you should build without parking. Most people in Miami own cars and they want to be able to park their cars. So, ask yourself how marketable a building without parking would be, even when it is near Metrorail or Metromover.
Large buildings also must have loading areas. And all buildings must provide trash and recycling pickup. And on corner lots, the entrance to the parking lot needs to be from the least important street and the parking must be shielded from the street somewhat. Other areas of Miami-Dade County allow you to place the parking right in front of the building on the site. This is not allowed in Miami 21. Their instructions for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd layers, which no other Miami area code uses, cannot be violated. What you can put in the 1st layer is very limited. Setbacks for a building and parking are often required.
Normally, important trees must be respected, and an arborist must be hired to determine whether a tree can be removed. Miami 21 requires both internal trees as well as street trees. In addition to trees, shrubbery is required.
If you want to read more about the Miami 21 Code, you can access it here.
In addition to the requirements of the city of Miami, if the property is on a major thoroughfare, it could very well be fronting a state road and the state has its own regulations about properties fronting state road. These involve drainage and trees among others. SW 8th Street and Flagler Street are both state roads. You can get a list of Florida state roads here.
Before you invest hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in a property, check it out thoroughly or hire an architect to provide you with a zoning study. It is a good idea to know what you are getting yourself into prior to making the investment.
If you are interested in reading more about the steps to building a commercial building, read the article 11 Steps to Building a Commercial Building in Miami.
Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., the principal of United Architects, Inc., is both an architect and a commercial realtor and can help guide you in buying the right property and then developing it. Call the architect at 305-439-7899 or email MLC@UnitedArchs.com.