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South Florida CEO - July 16, 2005

Land Shortage Will Require a Regional Approach to Land Use, Transportation

Richard Westlund

The tri-county region, once characterized by abundant land and suburban-style development, is quickly moving toward a higher-density future with multi-family residential redevelopment, multistory mixed-use centers and designated urban transportation corridors.

Regional cooperation and government policies are helping spur this transformation, but more is needed, experts say.

"South Florida is so interconnected by jobs and its population flow that you have to look at it regionally," says Neisen O. Kasdin, a partner at law firm Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart PA, in Miami, and chairman of the Urban Land Institute's Southeast Florida Council. "Clearly, there isn't sufficient coordination between land use and transportation."

Wedged between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades, Broward County is quickly running out of raw land suitable for new suburban development. Miami-Dade County and even Palm Beach County are not far behind. At the same time, the region's 5.6 million population keeps growing, with as many as 1.8 million more residents projected by 2020.

"You can't legislate against growth," Broward County Administrator Roger Desjarlais says. "Growth management simply hasn't worked in Florida, in part because of our attractive state tax environment. People will continue to move to South Florida, and our own birth rate will outpace in-migration by 2015 or so."

With high demand for new homes and limited supply, it's hardly surprising that home prices are shooting up quickly--as much as 30 to 40 percent in the past year for existing single-family homes, according to figures from the Florida Association of Realtors. But as median prices soar to $ 325,000 to $ 370,000 in the tri-county area, working-age buyers find it more and more difficult to purchase homes.

"Workforce housing is critical to a community being able to prosper," says attorney Alejandro Vilarello, a shareholder at Akerman Senterfitt in Miami and a former city attorney for Miami and Hialeah. "We need to have our workforce be able to afford to live in our urban communities--a city can't survive on a high-end residential market alone."

Already, the high price of homes in Palm Beach County is forcing many workers to make 30- to 40-mile trips from St. Lucie County to the north. In southern Miami-Dade, agricultural communities 25 to 30 miles from downtown Miami are increasingly being developed as residential suburbs.

Moreover, as more residents drive to work, school or recreational activities, the region's overburdened road network will become more congested.

"People don't want to get out of their cars, but we're heading to a time when mass transit becomes more important," says real estate attorney Lee Worsham, a partner at Ruden McClosky in West Palm Beach. "You need higher-density development, though, to have enough people to support it."

* What's the Plan

South Florida planners say the region needs to do a better job of land use planning to accommodate future population growth. That means coordinating city and county master plans and zoning policies, housing development and transportation initiatives to funnel growth into selected redevelopment areas.

"The major focus in the future will be stimulating redevelopment," says commercial real estate specialist Neil Merin, chairman of NAI Merin Hunter Codman Inc. in West Palm Beach, and a member of Palm Beach County's land use advisory committee. "We will certainly see more densification in our eastern suburbs throughout the region. That's the only way you can put an emphasis on mass transit, affordable housing and the ability to provide governmental services."

In Palm Beach County, Merin says a new rural subdivision with single-family homes on five-acre lots that is three miles from the nearest bus stop is hardly practical for families that can't afford to buy two cars. "In a situation like that, you're effectively dooming mass transit," he says. "And as land becomes an increasingly scarce resource, areas that want to preserve a rural lifestyle will feel greater pressure to allow more intensive development."

In Broward, county administrator Desjarlais says it is clear that the days of large single-family housing projects are over. "Any new projects will be redevelopment efforts," he says. "We simply can't replace single-family homes one for one and accommodate our growing population. That means increasing densities somewhere."

Desjarlais points to the growth of "traditional neighborhood design" (TND) developments that incorporate denser housing, retail stores, office space and recreational amenities in a pedestrian-oriented setting. "That's where we ought to be headed," he says. "But with 32 cities in Broward, there's no one governing body determining land use law. Several years ago, we started to coordinate better with the cities, and we created a funding source to invest in redevelopment projects. That way we can begin to provide the infrastructure and assistance to address the needs of our growing population."

Nowhere is the process of urban redevelopment occurring at a faster pace than north and south of downtown Miami. On Brickell Avenue and the Biscayne Boulevard corridor there, tens of thousands of new high-rise condominium units are being built or converted from existing apartments in a frenzy of vertical residential development.

"In terms of the planning process, the market today is driving residential redevelopment," Vilarello says. "But I'm not sure other issues are being met by the community as a whole."

Some Miami-Dade cities are planning for the future while others are overwhelmed, attorney Vilarello says. He points to the City of Miami's recent two-year planning and zoning code initiative, Miami 21, as an example of how an already-developed community can reexamine these key redevelopment issues. "It's an ambitious effort," he adds. "It is always important to look at the needs of the community as times change."

For all of South Florida, new urban centers characterized by mixed-use development may hold the key to providing additional housing units and space for new jobs in an era of limited land availability. That land use approach is already underway in many suburban communities.

In the southern Miami-Dade burg of Kendall, for instance, the Dadeland Mall is now the center of an emerging high-rise "downtown Dadeland," and in Sunrise, high-density residential projects are planned near the Sawgrass Mills Mall. In Palm Beach County, residential redevelopment is occurring near Mizner Park in Boca Raton, CityPlace in West Palm Beach and the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens.

"These are where South Florida's new urban cores will be created," says real estate analyst Jack Winston, a senior associate with Goodkin Consulting in Miami. "As people seek out an urban lifestyle, the mixed-use concept, which integrates retail and services with residential development in mid-rise or high-rise buildings, is becoming the answer to that problem."

* Searching for Solutions

Providing workforce housing that is affordable, attractive, and located near employment centers, services and day care opportunities remains a challenge, says Strategic Regional Policy Plan for South Florida (SRPP), a publication of the Hollywood-based South Florida Regional Planning Council. "The strategies needed to alleviate the affordable housing problem in South Florida will require a combined effort at the federal, state, regional and local levels," the publication reports.

Planners, residential developers and builders all believe that increasing the region's supply of moderately priced housing is essential to attracting and keeping police officers, teachers, nurses and other middle-income professionals.

"It's not just the cost of land that's rising," says Richard Horton, president of the Builders Association of South Florida (BASF). "Construction materials like concrete and steel are getting more expensive, and buildings must pay high impact fees for new roads, schools and other infrastructure. These things make it very difficult for builders to provide the affordable product that's needed."

Horton says expanding the supply of homes will require a combination of approaches including higher-density infill housing, a possible expansion of Miami-Dade's urban development boundary, and the conversion of office and industrially zoned parcels to residential uses. "In Dade alone, we will need 10,000 new units a year for the next decade. We must do a better job of focusing on infill and government must do its part."

To increase the supply of affordable housing, South Florida needs to think locally, not regionally, says Lloyd J. Boggio, CEO of the Carlisle Group, a developer of moderately priced communities and a member of Florida's Affordable Housing Study Commission. "The crisis in affordable housing is a regional problem," he says. "But housing itself is a local issue. You always have to work with cities and neighborhoods on a local level."

Still, Boggio believes there are steps that local governments throughout the region should take to boost the housing supply. "The ideas are all here right now, but they're being implemented in a piecemeal manner," he says. "The cities and counties should learn from each other."

While new suburban land is at a premium, South Florida has plenty of sites suitable for higher-density infill residential development, according to Jack Rodgers, vice president and senior asset manager for Builder Financial Corp., a Fort Lauderdale firm that raises equity for regional builders.

"There are plenty of projects from the 1960s and '70s that offer excellent opportunities for redevelopment," he says. "But these will be smaller scale projects, rather than the large master-planned communities of the past."

Rodgers says he favors an approach that encourages entrepreneurial builders to respond to market needs, rather than a "top-down" approach to planning. "Too many rules can make it harder to get things done," he says.

* Transporting regionalism

While housing may be a local issue, South Florida's transportation problems will not be solved without a regional approach, experts say. Simply put, today's intertwined tri-county economy is not divided by political lines. For example, a recent transit study indicates that 23 percent of Broward's workforce travels to jobs in Miami-Dade or Palm Beach.

"You can't face transportation without understanding it's a total regional problem," says Allen C. Harper, chairman-emeritus of Coral Gables-based realty firm Esslinger Wooten Maxwell and chairman of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. "We need to get the local politicians as a group to recognize the issue. We are making progress, but there's a long way to go to overcome the parochial politics of South Florida."

Looking at South Florida as a region, the Tri-Rail commuter system is the first step to more effective mass transit, Harper says. More rail service will be a necessity in the future, he believes, with dedicated bus-only highway lanes as an intermediate step.

Reducing roadway congestion requires a wide-ranging look at commercial and residential development, says attorney Debbie Orshefsky, a partner at Greenberg Traurig in Fort Lauderdale and a former chairwoman of the Downtown Fort Lauderdale Transportation Management Association. "It's not just transportation," she says. "It's all the other issues that make up the social fabric of the community."

Orshefsky adds that land use decisions in each county need to be based, at least in part, on transportation availability. "We're going to need more intensive land uses and urban corridors to support mass transit," she says. "That kind of attention to transportation is critical to making South Florida an appealing place to live ten years from now."

In some places, roadway improvements may help ease the situation. In central Broward, for instance, local municipalities have teamed up to create the State Road 7/US 441 Collaborative. Supported by the South Florida Regional Planning Council, the collaborative is working on a strategic plan for the entire 25.6-mile corridor The plan may include road widening, a bus transit pilot project, road resurfacing and landscaping improvements. A two-year series of public design charrettes will wrap up in November.

But Urban Land Institute Southeast Florida chairman Kasdin cautions that South Florida is probably nearing the limit in terms of building new roads. "There's a planning theory that if you build more roads, you'll have more cars," he says. "In any case, we need to be thinking more about a multi-layered transportation system--one size doesn't fit all."

One Miami-Dade example is the planned trolley system on crowded Miami Beach. Across the causeway, the City of Miami is planning its own trolley system to serve the new higher-density residential developments to the north of downtown and along Biscayne Boulevard.

To the south along US 1, Miami-Dade County recently expanded the south Miami-Dade busway an additional five miles, and construction of the third and final segment from Naranja to Florida City is expected to be completed in May 2007. That would allow commuters to ride the bus to the southernmost Metro-rail station in Kendall, and then take the train to work.

County planners would like to use some of Miami-Dade's transit tax funds to expand the Metrorail system northward toward Broward, and westward to Florida International University's Tamiami campus. That step would require matching federal funds.

Broward planners are also looking at an east-west rail system along the Interstate-595 corridor, as well as feeder bus lines, says Harper. Broward is considering putting a dedicated transit tax like Miami-Dade's on the ballot, and Palm Beach will face the same types of transit funding issues in a few more years, according to Harper. "This is South Florida's future," Harper says, "and our citizens must understand the need to take action on these regional issues."


County AveragePrice
March 2005
March 2004
% Increase 
$ 322,300
$ 332,400
$ 371,500
$ 230,700
$ 254,400
$ 272,100

Source:Florida Association of Realtors,s ales of existing single-family homes