Winter 1997 – 1900 Brickell: City Can’t Say No to Spot Zoning

A series of deferrals by City of Miami officials on the issue of 1900 Brickell Avenue has left the future of residential Brickell Avenue up in the air for the past several months. The question lingers as to whether to allow the single family residence at 1900 Brickell Avenue to be converted into a medical office/clinic by a plastic surgeon. It will be considered again by City Commissioners Thursday, January 23rd, 5 p.m.

Although the Brickell Homeowners Association representing nearly 5,000 homes and more than 10,000 adults has said that they do not want this or any other medical practice here, the doctor is persistent in his effort to set up shop in this highly visible location, situated in the middle of residential Brickell Avenue.

The Battle to Preserve Residential Quality

This plastic surgeon’s business would be the first commercial venture to break through the residential zoning code that the BHA strives to protect in its neighborhood. Residents fear that allowing this commercial encroachment would be the first of many exceptions, eroding the residential character of the neighborhood. Judging by how language in the code has been struck, added and expanded by officials trying to accommodate the special request of one, BHA Directors worry that any language developed would be just as easily be changed down the road for other exemptions.

The doctor and his attorney have asked for a “Special Exception” to the Zoning Code for the Brickell neighborhood which is residential only.

Both the Brickell Homeowners Association and the Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association have taken an unwavering stand against this proposed exception, which they view as benefiting one individual at the expense of an entire community.

To add more confusion to the matter, at the December City Planning Advisory Board meeting, the commission-requested ordinance was denied. But then, after interested parties had departed, the matter was brought up for reconsideration. Although Brickell Homeowners representatives and residents had left after the vote with what they thought was a victory, in its second discussion of the matter, the board added another amendment to make the city planning department’s proposed change to the ordinance applicable to R-3 zoning throughout all of the city, not just Brickell Avenue. It was approved by the Planning Advisory Board.

Confusing? No question, however, the fundamental issue is whether to allow the residential quality of an entire community be disrupted to satisfy the desire of one individual.

Miami Commissioners will consider the matter on January 23, 1997, 5:00 p.m., Miami City Hall, 1500 Pan American Dr. The City Commission’s decisioncommercial versus residentialis much more likely to be residential if many residents are present to make their position known.

Background

The property at 1900 Brickell Avenue, a single family residence, has been for sale for some time. The doctor has been operating a plastic surgery business for 15 years on Coral Way, but now wants to convert this home into a medical facility for patients. While he says there will be no overnight stays, he and his attorney say that about 10 patients would come to the facility daily, along with an administrative/medical support staff. (The new language would allow up to three.) The doctor says he would put up a sign on Brickell Avenue, announcing his medical practice. This would be the first and only business fronting Brickell Avenue between 15th and 25th Roads.

Why Not: The Arguments

Argument: The doctor says that he plans to improve the appearance of the property which he says should outweigh that it is a commercial enterprise on a residential street.

BHA/Roads Directors’ Position: One exception, while perhaps to some not an objectionable kind of business operation, will inevitably lead to more. Rules, ordinances, special language and exceptions can be undone by the City as quickly as they are created.

Argument: The doctor’s attorney says that they will include in the language of the exception that only a plastic surgeon can operate there in the future, if the doctor should decide to leave or sell the property.

BHA/Roads Directors’ Position: The future is too uncertain. Property taxes are quite high for Brickell property such as this, so how long will such a practice be feasible? What if the doctor finds he must have other doctor/partners to be financially successful at this location? More doctors, more patients, support staff, etc. If an exception is granted now, we can only expect that another exception will be granted later, perhaps for a different kind or expanded business. The adjacent property to the south is currently a vacant lot.

Argument: The property could have a 26-unit apartment building built there under the current code. Preservation of the single-family home is certainly preferable to a building that could be as high as five stories.

BHA/Roads Directors’ Position: No developer has come forth to develop the property into an apartment complex, and we have no indication there will ever be one. It is more probable that a developer purchasing the property would make larger units for the upscale Brickell market. Converting a home into a business is not preferable to residents who want to preserve the residential quality of their neighborhood.

From BHA News, Winter 1997, Vol. VII, No. 1