The Planning Board this week recommended City Commissioners allow up to an additional ten feet in height for buildings (maximum 60 feet) in commercial districts provided the first floor has a minimum height of 12 feet from the base flood elevation plus maximum freeboard. In addition, the Board gave a positive recommendation to another ordinance to provide increased height and setbacks for some residential properties. Both ordinances originated with the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Sea Level Rise in an effort to provide resiliency.
The first ordinance would allow commercial buildings to adapt to raised roads and sidewalks over time. Commercial buildings rely on street traffic entering establishments with customers drawn in by what they see as they pass by. If a building were to be raised before another, commercial establishments would find themselves at a disadvantage to competitors who increase their elevation later. Under this ordinance, new buildings would be constructed with higher first floor ceilings, allowing the first floor level to be raised in the future while still allowing enough usable space on their first floors.
The ordinance as recommended by the Planning Board reflects the original thoughts of the Blue Ribbon Panel. After going to the Commission's Land Use and Development Committee, the height was reduced to an extra five feet up to a maximum of 55. Planning Board members, however, believed that did not allow builders enough height on subsequent floors to make their buildings attractive to tenants.
Board member Jeff Feldman, who is a general contractor, said, “I think we’ve seen over the course of time – if you’ve seen enough commercial buildings – what a ten-foot ceiling height does to a commercial building. And in today’s day and age, I think it obsoletes them in a lot of ways.” He said you need to take into account 12 to 18 inches of ceiling space for soffits, HVAC, mechanical, plumbing, sprinklers, IT cabling. “I think to give an 8 ½ foot or an 8 foot ceiling height in an office or some sort of commercial space would be absurd. I think 12 foot ceiling heights give us the opportunity for much better interior space, a more flexible design for the building and I think just an overall better building.”
Planning Director Tom Mooney said the Blue Ribbon Panel’s ten-foot recommendation “would give more flexibility for those upper floors.”
The Planning Board also recommended including the Town Center (TC) districts in the ordinance. (Note: Additional height would not be applicable to the West side of Alton Road from 6th Street to Collins Canal where the allowable height limit was already raised to 60 feet for resiliency purposes.)
The ordinance also creates new allowable height exceptions for future forms of renewable energy such as solar panels and wind turbines.
In addition, the Board recommended City Commissioners adopt another set of recommendations from the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel pertaining to RM-1 and RM-2 districts. The ordinance would allow an additional 5 feet in height (maximum 55 feet in RM-1 districts; maximum 65 feet in RM-2) for properties not located in an historic district. It also calls for increased side setbacks (7.5 feet of 8% of lot width in RM-1; single lots no change, otherwise 10 feet or 8% of lot coverage in RM-2). These proposed changes do not apply to the RM-1 portion of the Flamingo Park area where the maximum height will remain at 35 feet.
The Board recommended modifying the proposal, however, to reduce required parking to one space per unit regardless of unit size (versus 1.5 to 2 depending on unit size); eliminate the proposed lot coverage requirement (which was proposed at 45%); and replace the proposed lot aggregation limit for the RM-1 district (proposed at no more than two) with tangible design criteria for aggregated lots.
Mooney said, “The intent, similar to the commercial height ordinance, was to modify the development regulations in the lower density, lower-scale multi family districts to take into account the changes that are going to be needed for sea level rise in the future to basically allow for the next context of buildings that are going to be replacing existing RM-1 and RM-2 buildings outside of local historic districts."
With regard to limiting the number of lots that could be aggregated, the Board believed having good design guidelines would allow for more flexibility while ensuring compatibility. Board member Randy Gumenick said, “It gives the architect a bigger canvas to create something really nice.”
Board member Daniel Veitia said, “What concerns me about lot aggregation is people already have lots aggregated … I’m more concerned about codifying breaking and massing in the design review process that wouldn’t allow a building to span and block a whole waterway for six lots.”
“We talked about affordable housing,” he said referring to an earlier discussion. “These types of restrictions will never allow you to create affordable housing.”
Commercial height standards ordinance considered by the Board (and modified as noted above in their recommendation)
RM-1 and RM-2 proposed ordinance considered by the Board (and modified as noted above in their recommendation)
Planning Board agenda which includes video links for each discussion item