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A site plan drawing by United Architects

Many times, prior to buying a property, a potential buyer needs to find out the zoning classification and probable buildable area which a site can develop legally.   Often, the buyer needs to know the setbacks, the maximum height, the landscape area required, and many other issues which are defined in the zoning of a particular parcel of land.

Miami-Dade County is very confusing in that there are so many municipalities within the county.  Each one has its own zoning code with its own regulations.  How do you make sense of it all?

Let’s start by defining what is “zoning”?

According to Wikipedia, “Zoning is a method of urban planning in which a municipality or other tier of government divides land into areas called zones, each of which has a set of regulations for new development that differs from other zones. Zones may be defined for a single-use (e.g. residential, industrial), they may combine several compatible activities by use, or in the case of form-based zoning, the differing regulations may govern the density, size, and shape of allowed buildings whatever their use. The planning rules for each zone, determine whether planning permission for a given development may be granted. Zoning may specify a variety of outright and conditional uses of land. It may indicate the required size and dimensions of lots or the form and scale of buildings. These guidelines are set in order to guide urban growth and development."

“Zoning is the most common regulatory urban planning method used by local governments in developed countries.”  In the US the only exception to regulating development with zoning is the City of Houston, Texas.

Two of the most important codes in Miami-Dade County are the City of Miami code, called Miami 21, and the Miami-Dade County Zoning Code.  You can access Miami 21 here and the county's zoning districts here.  There are 32 more municipalities.  Each one has its individual zoning code.

Before you can develop a building, you need to know the rules of the game.  That is why you need to understand the zoning for a particular piece of property.  Sometimes it’s best before you invest a great deal of money to hire a professional who can review the zoning on a parcel for you.

United Architects, a Miami architecture firm with offices in Coral Gables, can study a site for you to determine whether the property you are considering can be used for the purposes you have in mind.
Then, what about a site you want to purchase which does not comply with the present zoning?  Often, we can tell you right away whether there is a chance to re-zone it or get a variance.  Or sometimes, we can make a few simple phone calls to the zoning officials and get an answer.

But what about when a variance or a zoning change is required?

Each municipality has a different process.  Is it necessary to hire a zoning attorney?  Sometimes the answer is “Yes”, but often, the answer is “No”.  If what you are intending to build is very similar to the required zoning classification, there is no need to hire a zoning attorney.  Many times, as long as what you want to build is not so different from what the county or municipality envisioned, an architect can handle the entire process for you. 

A quick rule of thumb, but not necessarily a hard and fast rule, is to ask yourself if the property you are considering for a particular building will allow you to build something that's similar to the new buildings in the surrounding area.  "Spot zoning" is illegal, so normally large swaths of areas are zoned the same when the same conditions exist.  For example, let's take the area of W. Flagler and SW 19th Avenue.  This area is zoned T6-8.  So, lots right on Flagler in that area are zoned T6-8.  However, two blocks away from Flagler they may be zoned differently because the conditions are different. 


Some areas are in transition.  The buildings there now may be low-rise buildings, but with T6-8 zoning, you can build a mid-rise or high-rise, if the property is large enough to provide the onsite parking.  This is a very important point because how much parking can be located on a site will generally determine how much building can be built.  There is a direct relationship between the two.

We at United Architects understand Miami-Dade County zoning, we can prepare the required documentation and drawings, we can talk to the zoning officials, and get as much information as possible to prepare you to apply for a variance or zoning change.

Also, before you buy, read our article here prior to leasing or purchasing a building.  There is more on zoning and buying a commercial building here.

Call us before you buy the property to make sure the plans you envision can be actualized.  Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A., LEED AP’s cell phone number is 305-439-7898.  Maria Luisa Castellanos is also a realtor and can represent you in a real estate transaction.  Read more about that here.


Call 305-552-5465 or Email to discuss your exciting project ideas with the principal of the firm, Maria Luisa


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