Dispelling myths, conspiracy theories, and examining updated language planned for the NCD revisions regarding lot splitting
August 1, 2017
Monday night the PZAB deferred the review of the new language for the NCD’s regarding Lot splitting until Oct 4. This topic – what should we do about fixing Lot Splitting and other areas of the code that are negatively impact the character of the Grove – is a hot one to say the least. Many of the residents (Grove Watch included) are hyper-aware of the problems we face, but what many are not aware of is the background and the real issues behind this first step in protecting our neighborhood. The purpose of this email is to educate who is interested in helping solve this problem as well as to dispel some myths and misinformation that have been floating around in the recent days. Unfortunately, this misinformation has done an incredible disservice to many members of our community.
1. CURRENT LAW ON THE BOOKS REGARDING LOT SPLITTING
3.6.g.1 Lots and building sites:
Wherever an existing single-family residence or lawful accessory building(s) or structure(s) is located on one or more platted lots or portions thereof, such lots shall thereafter constitute only one building site and no permit shall be issued for the construction of more than one single-family residence except by Warrant. Such structures shall include but not be limited to swimming pools, tennis courts, walls, and fences or other at grade or above ground improvements. No building sites in existence prior to September 24, 2005 shall be diminished in size except by Warrant, subject to the criteria specified in Article 4, Table 12 Design Review Criteria.
The paragraph above is copied directly from the current Miami 21, Appendix A section 3.6.g. This is the language (along with similar language for the NCD 2) that Planning and Zoning is attempting to remedy with the new language (see attached) that was submitted last night for review at the PZAB meeting. Underlined above are the pertinent phrases that deal with lot splitting and highlighted in RED are the phrases that explain how Lot Splitting is currently PERMITTED in the NCD-3.
2. MISLEADING EMAIL REGARDING THE NEW LANGUAGE FOR THE NCD
On Monday 7/31 at 6:30 at City Hall 3500 Pan American Drive 33133 there will be a meeting to propose changes of NCD codes to eliminate the prohibition of lot splitting in the Grove. This is item #3 on the agenda. Of course, this meeting was scheduled for when so many Grove residents are out of town during the summer. If you are in town, please come. We must speak up now or lose the Grove forever.
This is an excerpt from a misleading and alarming email that was sent out by a neighborhood association stating that the new proposed language would “eliminate the prohibition on Lot Splitting”. This one sentence has done an incredible disservice to the public not only because it is false (as you can see above Lot Splitting is permitted as long as you go through the Warrant Process) but also because it has taken advantage of many residents’ fears and frustrations and used it to convolute the issue. “lose the Grove forever”
The email goes on to argue for complete prohibition of Lot Splitting in the Grove claiming that Coral Gables does the same. Yet Coral Gables also has language that allows lot splitting as well. See pg 49 in their code. http://coralgables.com/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentID=7951
Whether we agree with it or not Lot Splitting is currently allowed in the NCD and many people have a legitimate right to disagree with the call to eliminate this ability completely. Property Rights vs. Zoning Laws are a very delicate issue and striking the correct and healthy balance that allows residents some ability to use their land as they want (i.e. sell of a lot in order to provide for retirement) while protecting the character of a neighborhood that benefits the community at large is a very difficult thing to do.
Further the author of the email questions the timing of the meeting as having nefarious purposes (to do it while many were out on summer vacation). In fact the timing we feel was a result of the neighborhood frustration level and the demand by residents to get something passed as quickly as possible to fix the code. This amendment was requested by the PZAB “as soon as possible” at their last public meeting. It was publicly posted on the city’s website along with an accompanying agenda packet. In addition, it is common practice in the city to introduce ordinance changes over the summer so this was simply the normal procedure for an item like this.
3. THE CRUX OF THE ISSUE
The crux of the issue is that the current NCD language is unclear and does not do enough to protect the character of the Grove. It allows a split IF you go through the warrant process and are approved. However, the criteria stated in the code which the city must use to determine whether the lot split is permissible is VERY vague and unclear and thus the city doesn’t have enough tools to reject many of these applications.
Neighbors and city officials have long recognized fixing these weaknesses and others in the NCD as the necessary first steps in stemming the tide of uncharacteristic development in the Grove. Representatives of the Grove Watch Group along with other members of the community (Village Council, Grove 2030, former City Attorney) have been working hand in hand with representatives from the District 2 office as well as with the Planning and Zoning departments of the City of Miami for months to not only completely overhaul the NCD (a longer and more arduous process), but also in the shorter term, to fix parts of the law that could have an immediate impact on conserving our neighborhood character.
The already inundated City Planning and Zoning Department has put a lot of effort into listening to the residents and working to craft new language. In fact, much of the language stems from arguments made by residents at the past few warrant application appeals/denials that have ended up on either PZAB or City Commission agendas. The language that was to be presented and reviewed last night was the result of these meetings and months of work by the PZ department.
It is our feeling and the feeling of others who have been involved in developing this that the new language is a HUGE IMPROVEMENT and should be moved forward for discussion at PZAB and further to the Commission for tweaking and eventual law.
Attached is a copy of the new language from the Planning Department proposed for review at PZAB as well as a letter released yesterday by the District 2 Commissioners Office detailing how the new language works to repair the unclear and loophole ridden language of the current NCD. It is a great explanation and WE URGE ALL OF YOU TO READ BOTH ITEMS COMPLETELY.
4. EDUCATION IS THE KEY
It is important to educate ourselves on the things we read about that affect how we will make decisions. Unfortunately, some people have figured out that social media makes it much easier to manipulate people’s fears and doubts especially when dealing with a very complex issue of which many people may not have a complete grasp.
There will now be two months to educate ourselves on the language proposed to fix Lot Splitting in the Grove. It is incumbent on all of us to research, get the facts straight, question what we read (including this letter that you are reading now – don’t take our word for it). Find people who have knowledge on the subject, read articles, read the code, read the new language of the code, ask questions.
The PZAB meeting will be held on Oct 4. The purpose of the PZAB hearing is NOT to vote it into law but simply to review the language, hear questions/concerns from the residents, for the board to ask questions to the staff about the language and then to either recommend or not that it go to the City Commission for a FIRST and SECOND reading where there will be more discussion on the language and the merits of the new ordinance.
5. MORE TO COME
The fight to improve our code will not stop here. There are other parts of the law that will require improvements as well, starting with reducing the allowable FAR (Floor Area Ratio) in the NCD. It currently is the same as all of the city of Miami (80%) and many of us feel is far too high and is one of the single most detrimental things that affect our community, allowing very large houses on smaller lots that crowd out old established canopy.
Please educate yourselves on this topic as well. In the future when the language to fix this in the code comes to PZAB, we will be sure to submit our own email to you all in order to help educate our neighbors as well, something we failed to do prior to the Lot Splitting language being read. In addition, there will be a community meeting held by Grove 2030, along with their sponsor the Village Council in September that will go over the language recommendations for Lot Splitting as well as other changes the NCD that residents are seeking to implement. We urge you all to attend and we will provide information as to the time and location when we have more information.
We live and we learn and will continue to fight to improve our neighborhoods and the code that regulates it.