With Miami-Dade County making a concerted effort to expand its public transit system, South Florida developers are asking “what development opportunities will accompany the birth of such transit system?” Likewise, it will befit South Florida developers and attorneys to learn what zoning concessions Miami-Dade County must make in order to facilitate such transit-oriented development. A Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce seminar entitled ‘Development Along Transit Hubs’ was recently held at the law offices of Bilzin Sumberg to address these issues.

The panelists at the conference included: Honorable Bruno Barreiro, Miami-Dade County Commissioner; Alice Bravo, Deputy City Manager; John Guitar, Senior Vice President for Business Development at All Aboard Florida; Andrew Frey, Development Manager at CC Residential; and Fausto Gomez, Government Relations and Public Affairs Counselor at Gomez Barker Associates.

Despite Miami-Dade County’s efforts to expand the public transit system, a recent poll which asked Miamians to identify adjectives that describe Miami-Dade County’s public transit system revealed that the three most frequently chosen adjectives were disconnected, disjointed and fragmented. The panelists identified “the last mile problem” as Miami-Dade County’s most burdensome obstacle preventing the city from enjoying an effective public transit system. The last mile problem describes commuters’ frustration that their public transit system can deliver them close to their destination, but the commuter must walk the last mile of their commute.  This ‘last mile’ gap in Miami-Dade County’s public transit system prevents many commuters from utilizing the system altogether.

The panel was in unanimous agreement that the development of more dense, walkable neighborhoods, as found in New York City and Paris, are the solution to the last mile problem.  Predictably, development opportunities created by Miami-Dade County’s need for more walkable neighborhoods lie in the development of neighborhoods surrounding transit hubs. A more speculative development opportunity is to purchase land in a location where a transit hub is likely to be built.

Unfortunately for developers, these development opportunities are not without obstacles.  Specifically, as Andrew Frey points out,

“to make possible a transit-oriented neighborhood around every train station, at minimum there should be 75 units per acre permitted residential density and no required parking for one-half mile radius, whether in the county or a city.”

A reduction or elimination of required parking could change the face of Miami development. Such a change would allow for tighter-knit buildings, similar to those that line the streets of Greenwich Village.

Panelists noted that, to make the most of transit investments around the County–past and future, the County must maximize ridership, which requires the presence of dense, walkable neighborhoods surrounding train stations and bus routes. Commissioner Barreiro noted that “every dollar not collected from a fare-paying rider must come from taxpayers,” thus emphasizing the interest the entire Miami-Dade County community shares in creating transit-oriented development.

It will be fascinating to see how the County responds to the requests of developers looking to meet the demand for transit-oriented development opportunities. As Miami’s traffic problem grows, Miami-Dade County’s public and private sectors become increasingly determined to come together to build an effective transit system that will connect numerous walkable communities.