The maximum square footage (intensity) of a building is regulated by the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for the applicable zoning district, which standard applies to all zoning districts except for single-family districts. The maximum floor area for a property is determined by multiplying the lot size by the FAR of the zoning district.
Covered stairwells, elevator shafts, and mechanical chutes have been treated as floor area in the City of Miami Beach since 1971. In this regard, under Ordinance 1891, the Zoning Ordinance in effect from 1971 to 1989, the definition of floor area specified which areas of the floors of a building are included in the calculation of FAR. These areas expressly included stairwells, elevator shafts, and mechanical equipment.
Beginning in 1988, the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee (ZORC) performed a comprehensive review of Ordinance 1891 and recommended that the definition of floor area be restructured and consolidated to include all “areas of the floors of a building,” without listing specific inclusions, and that only a list of enumerated “exclusions” would apply. Ordinance No. 89-2665, adopted in 1989, amended the definition of floor area, in accordance with the stylistic recommendation of ZORC. This definition, except for the addition of new explicitly defined exclusions, which have not changed the meaning of the term, has remained in place up until today.
Section 114-1 of the Land Development Regulations (LDRs), which was adopted in 1989, defines Floor Area as follows:
Floor Area means the sum of the gross horizontal areas of the floors of a building or buildings, measured from the exterior faces of exterior walls or from the exterior face of an architectural projection, from the centerline of walls separating two attached buildings.
The definition then enumerates specific portions of the building that may be excluded from the calculation of floor area, which include the following:
(1) Accessory water tanks or cooling towers.
(2) Uncovered steps.
(3) Attic space, whether or not a floor actually has been laid, providing structural headroom of less than seven feet six inches.
(4) Terraces, breezeways, or open porches.
(5) Floor space used for required accessory off-street parking spaces. However, up to a maximum of two spaces per residential unit may be provided without being included in the calculation of the floor area ratio.
(6) Commercial parking garages and noncommercial parking garages when such structures are the main use on a site.
(7) Mechanical equipment rooms located above main roof deck.
(8) Exterior unenclosed private balconies.
(9) Floor area located below grade when the top of the slab of the ceiling is located at or below grade. However, if any portion of the top of the slab of the ceiling is above grade, the floor area that is below grade shall be included in the floor area ratio calculation. Despite the foregoing, for existing contributing structures that are located within a local historic district, national register historic district, or local historic site, when the top of the slab of an existing ceiling of a partial basement is located above grade, one-half of the floor area of the corresponding floor that is located below grade shall be included in the floor area ratio calculation.
(10) Enclosed garbage rooms, enclosed within the building on the ground floor level.
The inclusion of stairwells, stairways, covered steps, and elevator shafts in the definition of floor area has been and continues to be an important component of the City’s building and land development regulations. The reason the inclusion of these elements is important is three-fold:
These elements are part and parcel of the bulk, mass and intensity of a building. FAR regulates the bulk, mass and intensity of a building.
The inclusion of these elements provides for the highest level of accuracy, objectivity, clarity, and consistency from the perspective of the public administration of the land development regulations. The clear and objective standard promotes uniformity in terms of the staff’s review of plans for consistency with the LDRs and building permit review.
Every building constructed in the City since 1971 has followed the same set of regulatory requirements regarding FAR, and that includes counting these elements in the overall FAR.
On July 10, 2019, the Planning Director issued a determination reaffirming that stairwells, stairways, covered steps, and elevator shafts at every floor count towards the maximum floor area. In addition to reconfirming the plain and unambiguous definition of floor area as noted above, the July 10, 2019 determination was consistent with nearly 50 years of code administration and precedent, including two previous determinations of prior Planning Directors, both of which were previously affirmed by the Board of Adjustment (BOA).
The July 10, 2019 determination was appealed to the BOA, and on November 1, 2019, the BOA overturned the Planning Director’s determination. The BOA order is not final due to the pending petition for writ of certiorari in the circuit court. The decision of the BOA, should it go into effect, would have major impacts to the City and overturn nearly 50 years of zoning precedent. Additionally, it would create significant ambiguity and inconsistency in the way land development applications are reviewed by staff for compliance with the LDRs. The current definition is free of ambiguity and has allowed for consistent and effective administration and review.
Staff has reviewed the floor area calculations for nine recent development projects (see attached chart). If these projects were to exclude stairwells, stairways, covered steps, and elevator shafts from the floor area calculations, the overall square footage and intensity would increase from between 7% and 16%, for an average increase of 9.5%.
It is important to note that the analysis in the attached chart is a snapshot of a sample of projects with varying sizes and does not represent all development projects currently in the development review, permitting or construction process. An analysis of every project would yield a much higher amount of additional square footage than that noted above.
Also, Planning staff performed a geographic information systems (GIS) analysis to estimate which apartment (non-condominium) and commercial buildings have available floor area in the City. This GIS analysis utilized the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s data on building size. While the building size calculations from the Property Appraiser may not be identical to the City’s floor area calculations, they provide a good estimate of the impact that an across-the-board increase in floor area would have City wide. Additionally, the analysis does not consider unified development sites, which may have additional impacts on the allowable FAR in some zoning districts and the movement or aggregation of floor area between lots.
Under this GIS analysis, each parcel was analyzed individually, taking into consideration the increase from the currently available floor area, if any, and the estimated increase. Some properties that currently have no floor area available may suddenly have floor area available. Currently there is an estimated 22,979,726 square feet of floor area available in the City of Miami Beach within properties containing apartments and commercial buildings. If the maximum floor area of lots were increased by an additional 9.5%, there would be an estimated 27,122,711 square feet of floor area available to properties containing apartments and commercial buildings. This represents a potential estimated increase of 4,142,985 square feet. Such an indiscriminate increase in floor area could have significant impacts on levels of service in the City including water, sanitary sewer, solid waste, storm water sewer, and transportation facilities.
The aforementioned analyses are important as they begin to quantify the potential increase in available floor area, City wide, resulting from the conversion of currently included areas of a building into excluded areas. They also clearly show that such increases are not trivial or minimal in any way. Even this initial analysis confirms the importance of evaluating increases in FAR on a more limited, strategic basis.
The proposed ordinance effectively overrules the Board of Adjustment order. It clarifies the areas of a building that count towards the maximum floor area limitations and reaffirms the definition of floor area that the City has consistently and uniformly applied to every building for nearly 50 years. The ordinance affirms that the definition of floor area includes stairwells, stairways, covered steps, elevator shafts at every floor (including mezzanine level elevator shafts), and mechanical chutes and chases at every floor (including mezzanine level). The proposal is consistent with how floor area ratio (FAR) limitations have been calculated since the adoption of Zoning Ordinance 89-2665 in 1989, as well as the previous ordinance that was in effect from 1971 to 1989 (Ordinance 1891).
The proposed amendment does not affect single family home districts (RS-1, 2, 3, & 4). Single family districts are regulated by unit size limitations, lot coverage, and height limits, and are not subject to FAR restrictions.
Finally, it is important to note that a separate discussion pertaining to potential strategic FAR increases/incentives related to resiliency and other defined policy benchmarks has been placed on the January 15, 2020 City Commission agenda for referral to the Land Use and Sustainability Committee and Planning Board. If this item is referred, it would allow for a broader, more comprehensive discussion regarding potential FAR increases. Given the potential impacts to the built environment and City infrastructure, any FAR increase or incentive must be effectuated in a deliberate and thoughtful manner and must be supported by a thorough planning analysis.
PLANNING BOARD REVIEW
On December 17, 2019, the Planning Board held a public hearing and transmitted the Ordinance to the City Commission with a favorable recommendation by a vote of seven to zero (7-0).
The subject ordinance was approved at first reading on January 15, 2020, with no changes to the ordinance text. Additionally, the following applicability section was approved by the City Commission, and is included within the draft ordinance for second reading:
The provisions of this Ordinance shall not apply to the development site that is the subject of an appeal granted by the Board of Adjustment prior to the effective date of this Ordinance that (i) authorized the exclusion from floor area calculations of elevator shafts, mechanical/ventilation/trash shafts, and stairwells; and (2) does not result in a change to the height or floor plate of the residential tower of the proposed development.