By: Andres Viglucci
Wynwood property owners and developers, looking to turn the industrial-districtturned-hipster-mecca into a real, honest-to-goodness neighborhood, have banded together to do something almost unheard of in Miami: Voluntarily control development.
Working through the auspices of a city-chartered business improvement district, the group has crafted a comprehensive zoning plan that its members say will encourage preservation of Wynwood’s characteristic warehouses and funky vibe, foster development of small-scale retail, creative enterprises and affordable housing for its youthful habitues, and improve the street experience by widening sidewalks and introducing greenery where now there’s cracked concrete and asphalt.
The proposed Wynwood Neighborhood Revitalization District, which goes to the city commission for initial review on Thursday, would allow warehouse owners to sell unused development rights to other local property owners in exchange for preserving the structures, and would create a design-review board to ensure new development is compatible with the artsy neighborhood aesthetic.
It also contains a novel approach to parking — a bedeveling issue since the district became one of Miami’s hottest redevelopment zones. Instead of requiring a set parking minimum for every new development, the plan would allow developers to reduce the number of required slots by paying into a special fund. The BID, which represents the district’s 200 property owners, could then use that pooled money to fund construction of centralized parking.
The reduced requirements, the plan’s authors say, would lower housing costs and encourage development suited to Wynwood’s small industrial lots, many of which can’t accommodate lots of parking, instead of the typical Miami redevelopment model of lot assemblages that often leads to overscaled development. Think New York City’s traditional mid-scale neighborhoods and not maxed-out Brickell, they say.
“We’re trying to discourage developers from building up to the maximum height,” said David Polinsky, a BID board member and developer who’s building Wynwood’s first new residential project in years, a small 11-unit condo next to Panther Coffee. “We want human scale.”
The linchpin of the plan, drawn up for the BID by Miami firm PlusUrbia: Increasing but strictly capping housing density to bring full-time residents to the sparsely populated warehouse district, whose outdated light-industrial zoning now makes new residential development largely unfeasible. The plan would also create a true, walkable urban environment of the type that attracts the millenial generation already flocking to Wynwood’s art galleries, bars and restaurants and its growing number of creative businesses.
The plan also would allow the creation of Miami’s first woonerf — a Dutch-inspired curbless street design in which slow-moving cars and pedestrians share the right of way — to help bring a semblance of landscaped public space to a neighborhood with a severe shortage of it. Three side streets have been designated as possible woonerfs, which could beclosed for special events.
“This is the planning document that takes us to Wynwood 2.0,” said Joe Furst, BID chairman and managing director at Goldman Properties, the firm that helped launch the Wynwood renaissance when it commissioned graffiti artists to spray-paint murals on a set of old warehouses. “It’s time to create a place that people can call home. This is the most comprehensive way of thinking about a neighborhood.”
The plan’s backers say they believe reductions in parking and the density increase could result in relatively affordable apartments as small as 650 square feet. The plan, in the works for more than a year, was developed in conjunction with Miami’s planning department and recently won the unanimous endorsement of the city planning board. It applies only to the industrial zone south of 29th Street, and not to the mostly residential, working-class portions of Wynwood north of that.
The plan would, among other features:
- Increase overall housing density and allow buildings up to 12 stories along North Miami Avenue and up to eight stories on Northwest Second and Fifth avenues, with the rest of the neighborhood at five stories.
- Discourage warehouse teardowns by allowing owners looking to preserve the structures — which are too modest to qualify for protection as historic buildings — to sell their unused air rights to developers who want to build up to the caps on the main avenues.
- Establish a design-review board made up of local stakeholders to advise the city planning department on the compatibility of new development.
- Mandate expansion of sidewalks from the current five feet to 10 feet and require that the district’s long blocks be broken up with “paseos,” or public cut-throughs from one block to another, in new developments.
Some developers are already designing projects according to the new rules. Jonathon Yormak, principal of a New York firm that has bought several properties in Wynwood, said its architects have laid out plans for 250 apartments and 35,000 square feet of retail on a large property across from Polinsky’s 250 Wynwood condo.
The new building would rise on the site once slated for Wynwood Central, a scrapped mixed-use project that would have had just 69 large rental apartments under the existing zoning. The new rules would permit smaller, more affordable units that appeal to Wynwood’s young millenial professionals and creative types, Yormak said.
“There is no question it’s better for Wynwood” he said.
“Under the existing zoning code, if you wanted to build housing and cater to millenials, people who can’t really afford luxury, there was no way to build that at all. “We want young, smart knowledge-based workers in all industries to be able to afford and live in an urban environment where there is food and art and culture, and to be able to walk everywhere. It needs to be a 24-7 environment, and not just Thursday night partying and Sunday brunch.”