The Miami-Dade County Commission has given zoning approval to Triple Five Worldwide Group’s plan to build American Dream Miami which will be the largest mall in North America. To call American Dream Miami a mall is not a fair description. It will be a 6 million square foot theme park, office, retail, shopping and entertainment complex. Plans call for 2000 hotel rooms, an ice climbing wall, an indoor ski slope, a water park with submarine rides, shopping, dining, a performing arts center and offices. The project will be built on 175 acres at the intersection of I-75, the Florida Turnpike and Miami Gardens Drive, just south of the Miami-Dade – Broward County line.

In addition, Graham Companies, which is selling a portion of the property to Triple Five, received approval to develop 300 acres to the south of a larger commercial and residential project, containing 3 million square feet of office, 1 million square feet of retail and 2,000 rental units to be developed over the next 20 years.   The American Dream project is expected to add nearly 100,000 trips per day to area roads. The Graham project would add over 50,000 trips per day.

While local leaders are very excited about the potential economic impact of these 2 projects and tout tax revenues and job creation, the traffic congestion is one area where major disagreement exists. While Miami-Dade County will address traffic issues in the approval process, Broward County and cities near the county line have expressed concern. In Miami-Dade County, the developers will have to improve or pay for improvements to state roads affected which the state does not address or pay for. However, Triple Five claims that there will be no impact, or minimal impact at most, to Broward County roads. The developer’s claims are ridiculous. Studies show major traffic diversions to Broward County roads including the Turnpike extension and Miramar Parkway. The complex is 1 mile from the county line and common sense dictates that a high percentage of visitors will be coming from the north. Any market study would compare visitors to Hard Rock Stadium, also on the county line, for Dolphins games, soccer games and concerts, and see how many people come from Broward and north. Countless comparisons in Broward and Miami-Dade could be made. The American Dream Mall would not survive without visitors outside Miami-Dade County.

Prior to Miami-Dade’s approval, Broward threatened to file a lawsuit unless the developer agreed to make improvements to Broward roads impacted by American Dream Miami. Negotiations ensued and Triple Five agreed to spend $650,000 on modernization of traffic lights on Miramar Parkway.   This conciliation is not enough and Broward continues to push for more but won’t find support from its counterparts in Miami-Dade. In a letter to Broward Mayor Beam Furr, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wrote that Miami-Dade County had found no evidence that the American Dream Miami and Graham projects combined would contribute more than 5% of the daily traffic on any Broward roads which would be the trigger to demand fees from the developers. Mayor Gimenez’ conclusion comes despite several reports showing a high impact in Broward County.

American Dream Mall and the Graham Project demonstrate a total lack of regional cooperation in planning. While Triple Five can save a few dollars by not paying fees to Broward to mitigate potential traffic impact, their reluctance to pay is not only cheap, it is shortsighted. The expected price tag of the Triple Five project is $4 Billion.   There is no estimate yet for the Graham Company project. However, adding a few million dollars for traffic mitigation in Broward County is meaningless for either party. The shortsightedness is hard to understand. Clearly, the developers know that the visitors will be coming to this theme park from Broward and the north, whether they are residents or tourists. These visitors will make up a huge percentage of the annual visitors to American Dream Miami. They will be sitting in traffic unnecessarily and starting their experience poorly. This could be avoided, or made better. Triple Five, Graham Companies, Miami-Dade County…. Think bigger.

092514_SupportAffordableHousing[1] (00165480)

Developers have long fought local governments, the media and neighborhood groups in getting new projects approved. On the housing front, everyone complains that rents and home prices are too high. But from the developer’s point of view, the math is simple, particularly in urban areas. Height restrictions, parking requirements, zoning, density requirements and neighborhood opposition, not to mention land costs all make the cost of doing business high and therefore, the cost to the end user, expensive. Local governments aren’t willing to push back too hard because higher prices and rents means a higher tax base. Neighborhood groups inadvertently add to the problem. Organized efforts to limit scope, size and density of projects forces costs up and limits the housing inventory in communities thereby further pushing up rents and prices.

Activists across the country understand this and are taking a more prominent role in support of development, particularly smart growth. “YIMBY” groups (“Yes In My Backyard”) have formed across the country to speak in favor of development. These groups support mass transportation and pedestrian  and bicycle friendly corridors, affordable housing, modern urbanization and redevelopment. They blog and they coordinate grass root efforts to support candidates and elected officials who will promote legislation in these areas and who facilitate these issues as part of the public discourse.

A YIMBY organization in the San Francisco Bay Area. The San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation (SFBARF, yes, I am serious) has taken a cutting edged position in Lafayette, California to promote affordable housing. SFBARF recently filed a lawsuit against the city of Lafayette to block plans to build 44 single family homes on a tract of land which was previously planned for a 315-unit apartment complex. The plaintiff has based its lawsuit on the California Housing Accountability Act, a law which has been used by affordable housing developers who have had projects denied. This is the first time an advocacy group has used the law to block a project and advocate for greater density. In essence, SFBARF is taking a pre-emptive strike on behalf of a developer who is not named and who has not submitted an actual plan.

YIMBY groups are good partners to work with governments and developers to advocate for affordable housing projects and policies and to counteract opposition groups and the usual gadflies. With this type of support, perhaps developers will be able to save on one category of development costs that adds to rising rents and purchase prices – extortion fees paid to opposition groups in exchange for support of the “undesirable use” in the neighborhood.

 

Marijuana-leaf_sized[1] (00153800)

The Arcata, California City Council recently approved the creation of a “Medical Marijuana Innovation Zone”. The 5-0 vote requires further study and the preparation of a zoning ordinance. If finalized, Arcata, a small town in Northwest California, would create what could be the first ever land use designation which would promote and regulate medical marijuana sales and production.

Arcata has not gone so far as to offer any economic or other incentives to attract medical marijuana businesses. But, it hopes that the new innovation zone will cause lease rates to increase as new businesses come into the market because of the industry friendly market. In addition, the city believes that a new type of tourist, a medical marijuana tourist, might begin to visit the city.

But has Arcata gone far enough in creating this innovation zone? The city could have followed the lead of other cities who have created innovations zones, or “I Zones” and offered other economic benefits and incentives to encourage the results that city leaders seem to be seeking. I Zones are used to provide real benefits to businesses to grow and therefore, a community reaps real economic development. For example, a city will create an I Zone for a specific purpose and offer tax increment refunds to encourage businesses to locate within the I Zone. As projects are built within the I Zone and businesses open, jobs are created, tax bases increase, ancillary service businesses arrive and new housing is built or existing housing is leased.

Gainesville, Florida has successfully established the University of Florida Innovation Square, a 40 acre research and business innovation zone. This I Zone is self-described as a “community that brings research and business together to inspire people to think bigger.” Research, business and residential space is located on site and over 15 companies have moved to Innovation Square.

Chicago has created Broadband Innovation Zones. Located in commercial and industrial corridors, these I Zones are created for private provision of gigabit broadband speed for business, universities, schools, hospitals, research institutions and other community organizations. The purpose of the Broadband I Zones is to foster innovation, job creation and economic growth through ultra-high speed internet services at below market rates.

If Arcata truly wants to promote marijuana and related products in order to achieve economic growth, lower rents and increased tourism opportunities for its city, it can use the innovation zone designation for more than a land use classification. It could offer tax credits and other incentives to encourage the medical marijuana industry to locate in Arcata and create, research and develop different uses for medical marijuana and other products. The city could put businesses and researchers together to collaborate cost efficient processes for growth, harvesting and distribution. And, a residential component could be added so that the “work, live, play” feature would be available in the I Zone to draw leading experts in the marijuana field to Arcata, making Arcata the cannabis capital of the United States.

 

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