We’re spending this month making the city’s movers and shakers nail down some resolutions and predictions for their work in 2017. This week we’re talking development and neighborhood change. You can see all of the resolutions here.
Wayne Pathman is the chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, the chairman of the City of Miami’s sea level rise committee, a managing partner at Pathman Lewis, LLP, and a land use and zoning attorney. We lightly edited this for clarity and length.
Historic preservation may be overcome by rising seas.
Sea level rise’s impact has not yet I think filtered down to most developers in terms of what they should be doing, but the building code is starting to change to allow better development. In Miami Beach, they’ve changed the permitted base flood elevation from one to five feet, and it doesn’t count against your height restriction. That’s a very positive move that I think developers are looking at.
I think the city is thinking about how Miami Beach deals with historic districts… there’s a lot of work to be done there.
Historic designations, while important to maintain the integrity of the community, sometimes cannot be done or should not be done if you can’t find resilient solutions to maintain those areas. It will be interesting in the next year how the city approaches the final review of the [North Beach] master plan. Creating conservation districts, which allows flexibility for development, makes more sense. Editor’s note: The alternative are local historic districts, which have stricter requirements for preservation.
There’s a new player in town, mother nature, and she doesn’t care if it’s historic or not. Historic buildings will be impacted more, not just by sea level rise, but by things like taxation, banking, and insurance. The insurance will happen long before the water gets here. They may make buildings that are historic unaffordable because of the costs associated with insuring them or retrofitting them to make them resilient.
There should be concern about how we protect historic buildings. There should be studies done. How is that affordable? How do you manage the economics of saving an area and dealing with sea level rise at the same time? If it can be done and it’s economically viable, then there can be preservation.
Rising insurance costs could start discouraging developers.
I represent a couple of the developers in the community there. They are very concerned about the master plan and sea level rise, but it comes back to, “Is it affordable for a property owner and developer to do certain things or is it unrealistic to be able to do it?” If insurance continues to rise and solutions for raising the building are too expensive, then it doesn’t pencil out, then it doesn’t make sense for someone to invest in the building or it makes it unaffordable for their tenants.
I do think developers are getting more informed about the issue of sea level rise in terms of what they can do to build better, more resilient buildings.
The mainland is late to the party, but they’re beginning to wake up.
Governments, county level and city level especially are doing much better. They all have resiliency coordinators now, they are involved with the Rockefeller Foundation. We are making proposals to the commission and the mayor to undertake new ideas about how to build for the future.
We’ve been studying it and had workshops with the planning department for City of Miami. We’re also working with Jane Gilbert, their chief resiliency officer, and coming up with proposals to start changing the zoning code and start doing things in the City of Miami as they have in the Shorecrest area. The city is becoming very open minded as far as hearing from the sea level rise committee and others as far as how to start planning for the future.
In Miami Beach, further changes are coming in zoning codes, requiring boards to consider sea level rise and resilient solutions before they approve projects.
On the City of Miami side, many of those similar things will be happening or are in the process. We’re a little further behind. In the near future you’ll see changes in code, more review by the sea level rise committee of projects. We just reviewed the RFP for Virginia Key as far as how sea level rise will impact that project.
The rest of Miami-Dade will struggle to get started, though.
Unincorporated Miami-Dade County and some of the other cities that lie within the county certainly are aware of flooding but probably don’t have it within their budget to do much about it. There are areas in West Dade who have more problems than Miami Beach.
It’s a budgetary matter… what they can do about it may be limited. Roughly 40 percent of the county is still on septic tanks. Septic is going to be one of the top problems for being impacted by sea level rise. It could be billions of dollars to deal with that problem and get people off of septic.
I know they’ve discussed it, they’re aware of it. I’ve heard some talk outside the county that the cost could be $6 to $8 billion. It’s clearly one of the areas that has to be dealt with earlier than later.
There will be more experimentation with resilient building.
The 1450 building on Brickell Avenue raised their base flood elevation, they raised their elevator banks. That building is resilient for sea level rise, there’s a generator in the building. The savings for the developers are more than a million dollars a year in energy costs [because of energy efficient construction] and they’ve attracted tenants [based on that]. Their blueprint for that building is a perfect example of how they can build a resilient building and have a very good return.
There are many buildings not historic that you can demolish and build a better building. It will make sense to do those things. You can still make it resilient by building a higher pedestal. By increasing base flood elevation, yes, you can build a better building without it being so costly.
There always has to be a balance between new vs old, what can be saved vs what can’t. The game changer today is that sea level rise has to be a factor in the decision making process.