This morning I sat down with Tony Cho, President and Founder, of Metro I Properties to chat about his on going projects in Wynwood and the Design District. His company is a full-service real estate brokerage and investment firm that focuses on infill redevelopment of the urban core.  Metro 1 focuses on properties east of I-95 from downtown Miami to NE 54 Street.  What about the MiMo District in the Upper East Side, I asked? Tony Cho’s response:

I believe an anti-development climate exists in the Upper East Side, which makes it difficult for businesses and economic development and continues to further depress real estate values. I think the MiMo BID can help, but ultimately development will bring investment and density and more businesses to the area.

I live on the Upper East Side and I must admit  that the truth hurts. The T3 (2 Stories) designation is stifling redevelopment. I have to agree with Tony and say that 35′  T3  lobby has effectively suppressed property values in the area and will not make our neighborhood any safer because it does not encourage density. The few developments that are in the process of being permitted are all 1-story buildings that DO NOT add enough pedestrians to Biscayne Boulevard. Why are these developers choosing to build only one story? My guess is that it is not economically worthwhile to build a second floor or developers may choose to sell their density bonuses. If the Upper East Side Biscayne Boulevard corridor were to be designated T5 (5 stories) I think we would see developers building 5 stories and not choosing to build less or sell their density bonuses.

We need density, not bad density (10 stories), but GOOD density (5 stories). The 35-foot height limit restricts density in our neighborhood, removing an important motive for developers to invest in the area. On the other hand T5 zoning is attractive to developers, and with Miami 21′s pedestrian friendly zoning, it will bring a good scale of density and development to the area.  T5 zoning allows developers to build structures like the Balans Café building on Biscayne Boulevard and NE 68th Street.  This building is not out of scale and is sensitive to the surrounding single-family homes.

Balans Cafe. Building on Biscayne Boulevard taller than 35'.

This building is an example of good density; retail on the bottom floor with residents living on the floors above. This type of development provides for a symbiotic relationship between businesses and residents. It also helps reduce auto-dependency.

Wake up Upper East Side! If you want your property values to rise and you want your neighborhood to become safer you should support higher intensity infill development.  On the other hand, if you want the neighborhood to stay the same (crime, drugs, prostitution) then let’s keep the 35-foot height limit and not encourage development in the area.  No fence or wall will keep you safe as long as Biscayne Boulevard remains a cesspool of crime, drugs and prostitution.  In order to change the reality of Biscayne Boulevard we need people living and doing business (not turning tricks) on Biscayne Boulevard.  We need to support mixed-use development and the only way this can be done is if the height limit on Biscayne is increased to actually allow five stories.

Not all development is bad, nor are all developers evil. There are plenty of good developers with good intentions in Miami. As a community we need to support more intense development if we want our property values to rise and reduce crime. There is plenty of research out there to support that walkable neighborhoods have higher property values and are safer; the more eyes on the street the less crime. We shouldn’t allow the voice of the few who lobbied for 35′ height limit to further allow our neighborhood to fall into decay.

Please send Commissioner Mark Sarnoff an email and let him know that you support pedestrianizing Biscayne Boulevard in the Upper East Side. Also, please ask him to apply pressure on FDOT to re-stripe Biscayne Boulevard. Biscayne Boulevard needs to be business and pedestrian friendly.  It’s all about economic development. We need density, a street people can actually cross, and parallel parking so businesses can thrive.


11 Responses to The Upper East Side Anti-Development Climate

  1. Brad Knoefler says:

    Nice job. We have been lobbying against this ridiculous height limit for more than 7 years. All of the properties on Biscayne are valued effectively 85% less due to the height limit. There are logical compromises based on the design on the great cities of the world (i.e. Paris) where the width of the street determines the height of the buildings in order to maintain the “triangle of light”. The arbtrary 35 foot limit was determined by Elvis Cruz with no compromise and that is whey there currently are more than $20 million in Bert J. Harris Act claims on the table for the taking of property rights.


  2. Benny Bolet says:

    A few years ago, back in ’07, Jordi Verite had plans to build a 30 story facility called Max Miami, this thing was going to be amazing but had problems with zoning and height requirements. He ended hiring lobbyist Seth Gordon to get the ball rolling on changing the height requirements with the city commissioners. A few months later, voila, they had a vote of confidence and the height restrictions were changed to Jordi’s favor. The project was for the 14th st area near Overtown.


  3. Elvis Cruz says:

    In response to Brad Knoefler: Brad, about the “triangle of light” you mention - should it apply to downtown Miami like it applies to central Paris? So we would have only 100 foot tall buildings in downtown Miami? Zoning restrictions in central Paris have a 7 story height limit - should we have that in downtown Miami?

    Also, thanks for the flattery, but I did not determine the 35 foot height; it came from Miami Dade County and the City of Miami.

    Below is an email response I sent to Felipe earlier today.

    In a message dated 7/10/2011 6:23:49 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, writes:
    Hi Felipe,

    Thank you for including me on your mailing.

    I’ve had experience with some of the issues you mentioned, so I’ve intercut some responses below.

    On Jul 10, 2011, at 4:17 PM, felipe azenha wrote:

    Dear Commissioner Sarnoff,

    As a resident of Belle Meade I am opposed to the use of $70,000 from the Quality of Life funds to erect a fence surrounding my community. I wholeheartedly believe that the use of these funds is a waste of money that will not make Belle Meade any safer. I think these funds could be used more effectively to address “Quality of Life” issues that affect the ENTIRE Upper East Side community and not just Belle Meade.

    — I don’t have direct knowledge of your fence issue, only what I read on-line, so I won’t comment on that.

    I propose that these funds should be used for an Upper East Side charrette. An intensive 7-10 day charrette that brings the community together to address our concerns and collectively plan for the future of the Upper East Side will do more to improve the quality of life for ALL residents then a fence excluding my neighbors from outside my Belle Meade community from entering Belle Meade.

    — We had a charrette, in 2003. The UES neighborhoods asked for a 30 foot height limit on Biscayne Boulevard.

    The SINGLE most important thing that we should do as a community is encourage redevelopment in the area with more density.

    — I disagree. I have done extensive research on this issue, and would be happy to meet with you and show you the evidence.

    The more density we have, the more active our streets become and thus our community becomes safer. I have spoken to developers and they have informed me that the current T3 (2 Stories) designation along Biscayne Boulevard discourages them from investing and bringing the needed density to this commercial corridor. This is just one of the items that should be discussed during an Upper East Side charrette.

    — I just read your webpage (the link in the above paragraph, “spoken to developers”). I’m afraid some of what you wrote is not quite right.

    — Actually, there is no T3 designation along Biscayne Boulevard. T3 is for single family or duplex, such as inside Belle Meade or Morningside. Biscayne Boulevard in the Upper East Side has various “transects” (as zoning designations are called in Miami 21), from T4 to T6-8, which provide building height limits from 3 to 12 stories. In the MiMo district, there is also a 35 foot height limit.

    — The Balans building you showed on your website as an example of T5 is only 3 stories; it could be built in T4. (However, it is about 4 feet higher than the 35 foot height limit, as it has a very high first floor ceiling).

    — Please know that the T5 you recommend, under Miami 21, could be as tall as 85 feet. What would that do to the homes directly behind such a building?

    — We all want a successful Biscayne Boulevard, but it’s not as simple as, “If you upzone it, they will come”. Case in point, lower Biscayne, and the Edgewater area, were upzoned in the early 1980′s, with very bad results. Briefly put, high density works best in a district (think downtown Miami or Manhattan), but not along a corridor, especially not a corridor with low density single family / duplex neighborhoods behind it.

    — Again, I’ll be happy to meet with you and show you the extensive evidence.

    The SECOND most important thing that we could do as a community is design and engineer a streetscape that is business and pedestrian friendly. To achieve this we must:
    - Add parallel parking

    — I agree with you completely about parking. I, and several others, spoke out against removing parking along Biscayne during the design phase of the recent rebuilding. Common sense dictates that parking convenience is important for businesses to succeed. For that same reason, all the parking meters recently installed in the Upper East Side should be removed; they should never have been installed to begin with. They suddenly arrived, without public hearing or public input or public approval.

    — I understand from your website that you moved to the UES about a year ago. There is history to the issues you mention, which I can share with you.

    - Reduce travel lanes to calm traffic and discourage speeding
    - Add crosswalks at every intersection

    — I’m not sure what you mean by those two.

    The MiMo BID has met with the FDOT on several occasions, and the FDOT has confirmed that the ideas proposed in a recent MiMo Streetscape Vision Plan produced byChuck Bohl and Jaime Correa from the University of Miami are feasible.

    Retailers need accessible parallel parking in order to thrive. Reducing the travel lanes and adding parking will naturally reduce the design speed of Biscayne Boulevard to the 35 mph it should be. As it stands now the current design speed is 45 mph. The MiMo Historic District is a commercial corridor, not a highway. Ten miles-per-hour would make an enormous impact in terms of economic development and pedestrian friendliness.

    Many community stakeholders know and believe that in order to reduce crime we need more density and a business and pedestrian friendly streetscape design. Building a porous $70,000 fence will not achieve the desired reduction in crime. With $70,000 ALL the neighborhoods from the Upper East Side could come together in a charrette and work towards a safer and more prosperous community. I believe this is a far better use of the Quality of Life funds that are meant to improve the quality of life for the ENTIREUpper East Community and not just Belle Meade.


    Felipe Azenha

    — Felipe, there were many voices who wanted the 35 foot height limit in the Upper East Side, and I was one of them. Please know that this issue was researched extensively.

    — All the evidence I have found shows that the 35 foot height limit will help development along Biscayne, not hurt it.

    — Again, I extend an invitation to sit down with you and show you that evidence.

    I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas.
    I’m frightened of old ones.
    -John Cage

    — Nice quote from John Cage. To me, whether an idea is new or old is far less important than whether it is good.

    — Thanks again for your email,

    Elvis Cruz
    631 NE 57 Street
    Miami, FL 33137
    305 754 1420


  4. PalmGroveResident says:

    First off, consider the messenger. A developer who wants to make money off an area.

    If T5 is really up to 85 feet, that’s the potential for buildings to look down into my backyard. No thanks.

    And height=less crime? Sorry, but have you driven through most of downtown Miami at night? I’ll take walking through MiMo any day.

    What’s wrong with nice neighborhoods of single family homes close to downtown, the beach, etc. That’s very attractive. Works for PLENTY of areas (in Miami alone) without larger buildings spotting the landscape.

    If you want to work on safety. Crack down on the motels (while supporting ones like the New Yorker). Crack down on the Take One Lounge. Hookers frequent back and forth between that strip club (notorious for being on ‘The First 48′ reality crime show) and Biscayne Blvd. Attend court hearings to let judges know prostitution in the area isn’t a victimless crime. Commander Morales has set up a very successful program with ‘Operation Streetwalker.

    The fence is a dumb idea. Plenty of other good that $70k can go to. Make the entire area a neighborhood, not fenced-off parcels.

    Oh and it’s BALANS, not Balance Cafe. The original is on Lincoln Road. Frequent businesses in the area to make them thrive. I plan on spreading the word about the new vegan/raw food Mi Vidi Cafe on 72nd and Biscayne.


  5. Felipe Azenha says:

    In order to clarify… MiMo as already been designated T5 but there is a height limit of 35 feet here. We are advocating to keep it T5 and raise the building height limit to 53ft. The height limit supersedes what the transect allows for. Therefore, if we raise the height limit to 53 feet and keep the T5 designation, a developer would not be able to build to 85 feet.

    That being said, developers won’t come to the area to develop if the zoning is restrictive; 35-feet is restrictive. They will develop in areas which are less restrictive and not anti-development and our community will continue to suffer economically and crime will not decline. Density is not the enemy it is our friend, it will make our neighborhood safer and more vibrant. As it currently stands, the developments that are coming to Biscyane Blvd. are mostly 1-floor buildings that do not bring density. This is not good development for a mixed-use commercial corridor.

    Would you be willing to support an Upper East Charrette PalmGroveResident?


  6. Tony Garcia says:

    The important thing to understand is that the height alone does not bring safety - it is the pedestrian culture that accompanies higher intensity mixed-use developments - along with good pedestrian frontage - that will create a more pleasant Biscayne BLVD.

    The question of transition to the neighborhood is a challenge, but not one without a solution. No one is saying that the neighborhood cannot remain predominantly single family, but limiting the height on a major corridor is not an appropriate regional land-use strategy. We need to accommodate infill growth in and around our urban core. Make no mistake - you do not live in the suburbs, you live in an already urbanized area - one that warrants more intense land uses.
    More intense does not have to mean gritty - as long as its done correctly.
    Look at Belle Meade - there is a charming 3 story apartment building toward the entrance - within the fabric of single-family homes.

    Nothing is damaged by having this mixture of building types, as long as the transition from the corridor to the neighborhood is done in a contextual way - meaning that those properties adjacent to the corridor will have to change over time to T4 so that there is a proper transition from the more intense corridor to the neighborhood. (T5 to T4 to T3)


  7. Steve Hagen says:

    City of Miami should get involved in building the parking lots or buildings necessary due to the size of some Boulevard lots…..Colect fees from developers who are short on parking and who will buuld retail businesses with long term jobs…We need more than more residences….


  8. Tony Garcia says:

    good point Steve. Parking is a HUGE issue in redeveloping these properties. As you point out many of the properties are small - too small to provide parking.


  9. ray says:

    What I think is great, is that a vote on the fence was postponed because it is the summer and fewer people are in town, according to Sarnoff. Am I missing something, wasn’t it not long ago that we watched him and other elected offficials always plan votes on much bigger issues than this fence in the summer, and ignore residents repeated requests the votes be held in the fall when more residents are around. …not that anyone who watches him expects anything sarnoff says to necessarily have a word of truth in it and not that he seems to even care that he is so absurdly inconsistent and self-serving.


  10. Neil says:

    What makes 10 stories “bad density” on a corridor that will have a commuter train? I don’t think there should be a height limit any lower than that within two blocks of any current or near future train station. It can transition down to lower density 3-6 blocks from the stations.

    The lack of density, especially surrounding the northern stations, is the main reason that Metrorail is so underutilized. I live about four blocks from the tracks in South Miami, so I’m no NIMBY.


  11. Felipe Azenha says:


    It’s all about compromises. A ten story building next the single family homes is a bit imposing, it would never fly and it shouldn’t. I would never support 10 stories along the MiMo Historic District. Miami 21 has designated the MiMo corridor T5, 5 stories is a good compromise that will encourage redevelopment and add much needed density to the area.

    However you are spot-on about the commuter train. Eventually (hopefully in the next 10-12 years) there will be a MAJOR train station on 79th street, the area immediately surrounding this train station should be of higher density.


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