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The City of Miami surprisingly approved Walmart's application for a permit in Midtown Miami this week.
This afternoon I got an unsolicited email in my inbox from the man who did the approving. Below in italics is my reply:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Walmart's plan is riddled with design flaws and areas that don't meet zoning code, ignoring the City of Miami zoning code's numerous Intent Statements and Design Standards for Midtown.
The City of Miami's Planning department, led by Director Francisco Garcia or Senior Staffer Carmen Sanchez either do not understand, or are completely ignoring the details of Walmart's plans for Midtown Miami.
The intent of Miami 21 -- our new form based zoning code -- is to simplify design questions to easily comparable pictures. The inadequacy of the technical drawings alone, could be reason enough to withhold approval from Walmart's plans.
Improperly illustrating Walmart's plan for NE 31st street creates confusion for laymen. Neither N. Miami Avenue or Midtown Blvd or NE 31st street is properly depicted in Walmart's plans.
Gensler Architects' feeble misinterpretation of standards feels contemptuous of the Midtown Master plan. Their final attempt substitutes service areas for "active liner uses" -- which must be somehow pedestrian accessible from the street, but simultaneously screened from public view -- per district zoning requirements.
The Urban Design Review Board (UDRB) has already unanimously rejected Walmart's application 6-0 in a public meeting held on February 20th, 2013 for failure to meet Design Standards. It's unclear if Mr. Garcia has the authority to overrule the UDRB within the Midtown Miami district as he's been claiming to plan on doing.
Two weeks earlier, Mr. Garcia called a Special Meeting of Miami's UDRB on February 6th, giving a scant five business days notice to anyone who came to his office in person -- the minimum required by local ordinance. As the Chair of the UDRB noted, this is a prototypical design being poorly shoehorned into a locally designed district.
During minute 46 of the February sixth public meeting, Walmart's architects Gensler defined "Retail Support" areas on their diagrams as "back of house, storage, broom closets and offices that support the retailer."
These areas clearly do not have a use that serves the public, and are inadequate liner uses. According to zoning code, this means second level garages fronting N. Miami Avenue and Midtown Boulevard must be set back 85 feet from the building line.
After the UDRB meeting -- at which even the board's staunchest supporters of Walmart still voted to decline the project -- each architect made abundantly clear that the term "liner uses" means that these uses must be active.
Active uses must be pedestrian accessible from the street and open to the public.
Walmart's service areas are misplaced throughout their project plan. There's bathrooms and back of house storage placed on N. Miami Avenue where glazing spaces are required.
The worst offense is on the second and third levels of Walmart's project, where they propose to use service areas to screen areas where active liners and liner uses should be employed.
The North Block in Midtown was already designed and built in this fashion. If Walmart were permitted to build without these active use liners, the two blocks would mis-match.
Walmart's proposed plan for 31st street clearly isn't compatible with adopted Midtown SD 27.2 Design Standards.
The second floor setback of 10 feet from the building line on NE 31st street is still missing after being mentioned at UDRB hearings. This is a 5,000 square feet deviation from code, clearly visible, yet unnoticed by city reviewers.
Walmart's Midtown plan seems designed to discourage pedestrian traffic. The project's "Two Plans, One Application" approach is fatally flawed, leaving inadequate communication between two sides.
The proposed internal circulation (elevators, stairs, escalators) only moves consumers to the interior of the Walmart store on the west side.
A single cargo only elevator and a single pedestrian stairwell inhabit the east side of the parking areas.
Its unclear if the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards are met placing no handicap access to the east side of the project via the garage. Clearly, district standards requiring screened service areas would prevent dual use elevators in Midtown.
Walmart's plan for NE 31st Street would increase traffic so dramatically, even Midtown residents might have to hop in their cars to shop at Walmart.
Walmart's plan to add a third traffic lane and rip out second parallel parking lanes runs clearly contrary to the SD 27.2 Design Standards as adopted.
There are missing bulbs out on the sidewalks at corners on NE 31st street, intended to protect pedestrians and maintain walkability the length of Midtown on N. Miami Avenue. There is no required street furniture in Walmart's drawings for NE 31st street, or much else that could stand between a pedestrian and an 18 wheel truck.
Twenty four trees are slated for removal from NE 31st street -- per Walmart's final plans -- trees which are required to match Design Standards and already existant.
In fact, NE 31st street is already designed properly, existing and complete, with only modifications to accommodate curb cuts allowed by code.
The City's Public Works department gave Walmart a waiver to the width of their driveway, but it doesn't make it a safe design. Rather, it would become a public hazard, widening the service entrance against established code.
If a pedestrian is struck on NE 31st street, a Public Works waiver cannot bring back a child from the dead, nor a parent or sibling.
The third floor plan is an exquisite exercise in saying nothing and doing less.
Walmart's roof treatment, where code calls for entirely covered and screened parking is a laugh. In another perverse joke by Walmart's planners, they call stained concrete on the third level an "active use," not "future shopping cart storage."
The very idea that "stained concrete" constitutes an active use or a liner use in a multi-story parking garage is like saying hood ornaments are crucial to driving cars. In reality, this stained concrete would make for an outstanding surface to park shopping carts for circulation.
The latest revisions simply relocate the trees required on NE 31st street in violation of Design Standards to serve as inadequate rooftop screening in violation of the zoning code. Furthermore, the third floor area contains only limited tree cover as per the UDRB's review, and does not conceal parking.
Parking concealment has a dual purpose of providing shelter from heat and water exposure during half of the year for visitors. This design has virtually no rooftop parking concealment -- bring your umbrellas and windbreakers.
If Walmart built a Midtown Miami location as designed today, the potential for pedestrian injury could be high. The anti-pedestrian redesign of NE 31st Street, the use of faux façades and service space where active space is required, as well as other design flaws riddle the submission.
Walmart's flawed plans would then be enshrined in concrete for decades to...
"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" -- Albert Einstein
I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony when looking at Walmart's proposed plans to build in Midtown Miami, not sure where to bite first.
This article seeks to provide the reader a timeline of events.
In October of 2011 DDR Corp. who owns and manages Midtown Miami mall announced that they had agreement to sell the South Block to Walmart.
Soon thereafter, I penned a column for the Miami Herald opining that Walmart would be a bad fit for Midtown Miami -- but if designed properly, they could build without public input. Since then, Walmart has obtained no less than three public meetings, two public meetings at City Hall, two public hearings at City Hall, three to five sets of plans reviewed by no less than one dozen city staffers over the course of 18 months.
In June of 2012, Walmart applied -- alongside the City Manager's office -- unsuccessfully to Miami's Planning and Zoning Appeals Board to alter the fundamental nature of the Midtown district's rules, and was denied in a 9-0 vote.
In September 2012 the City of Miami received a complete set of plans from Walmart with an application fee, this application contained a single structure and did not meet the special district code.
January of 2013 saw a revised plan submitted, was never reviewed by Miami's Zoning Department and contained two buildings in one application.
During February 2013 Walmart appeared twice in front of Miami's UDRB and at the second meeting requested a final up or down vote, resulting in a unanimous 6-0 vote to deny the application for failure to meet Midtown district standards.
In light of the clear Intent Statements in Midtown's design standards by district master planner Bernard Zyscovich's personal comments in 2012's PZAB meeting, I'm of the opinion that no project in Midtown can obtain the City Planning director's override of a UDRB decision.
Below are just a few of the numerous major flaws in Walmart's submission, each of which on it's own right merit denial.
At this juncture, the Miami City Planning Director Francisco Garcia has numerous reasons to issue denial, but curiously maintains that approval based on Staffer Carmen Sanchez's acceptable review is forthcoming..
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