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By: Samantha Joseph
January 16, 2014
A 50-year plan now in the works could change zoning rules and real estate development goals for the seven coastal counties stretching from Key West to the Indian River Lagoon.
Seven50, a long-term plan for economic and civic growth in seven southeast Florida counties, is a proposal from the South Florida and Treasure Coast regional planning councils. Proponents say it anticipates rising sea levels, the projected influx of 3 million-plus new residents and other issues the region will face in coming decades.
Its far-reaching goals cover everything from education to Everglades conservation. They also include an in-depth plan that could see local governments reconsider parking ratios, building sizes and development incentives to ensure real estate and transit projects go hand-in-hand.
“You can’t just shape the buildings,” said consultant Victor Brandon Dover, principal of Coral Gables-based Dover, Kohl & Partners Town Planning. “In the 20th century we were settling this place. Now we’re filling it in.”
That infill process would consider best uses for increasingly expensive land.
“What you will see is not just nodes of high-rises along the coast, but new city centers clustered in former western sleeper suburbs,” said Carla Coleman, executive director of the Urban Land Institute, a group focused on sustainable land use. “Part of it is about changing housing types, but it’s also a different way of looking at choices. Not all housing will be done according to the emerging trends. We must have choices.”
About 400 people registered for a final summit Wednesday at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center to discuss the strategy that has already drawn letters of support from Boynton Beach, Coral Gables, Hialeah, Greenacres, Lauderhill, Pembroke Pines and several other governments.
In attendance were the mayors of the three South Florida counties, who created a regional coalition to find solutions for common economic and development problems.
They said Seven50, shorthand for what seven counties hope to accomplish in 50 years, would be a blueprint for prosperous communities, a cleaner environment, better education systems and more efficient transportation in South Florida as well as Indian River, Martin, Monroe and St. Lucie counties.
Instead of real estate development that separates commercial projects from residential, for example, it advocates mixed-used projects that creatively use space to build communities with homes, jobs, businesses and entertainment.
“We could also be smarter about parking,” Dover said. “Typical zoning, which may have been adopted in the 1950s, requires too much parking. But it’s a huge impediment to affordable housing, especially as land gets more expensive. Local governments can choose to update their zoning codes. The ones that do are going to be the most competitive.”
It’s also likely to reward developers interested in creating “walkable downtowns” designed with easy access to grocery stores, restaurants and amenities to attract pedestrians.
That idea is already in play in some of the region’s most affluent cities. Downtown Coral Gables, for instance, has abundant retail and dining options, plus an efficient trolley to reduce traffic congestion, Coleman said.
“In terms of the building environment, how land use is done and how we merge these live-work-play communities, the downtown areas in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm are showing us how to do this in sustainable ways,” she said.
Planners say cities that follow suit will likely attract the kind of real estate development that creates jobs and boosts tax revenue for local governments.
“Instead of starting with things we could spend money on, we started by looking at ways to add real estate value,” Dover said. “It’s a complex recipe for a happier region but one that’s worth the effort.”