Things I Picked Up In the Downturn

Posted in General, Uncategorized

I have this wonderful colleague, a super bright young man with great drafting skills, who says about any acceptable document written by someone else that “well, it’s not AWFUL.”  That’s how I feel when I read news reports about the so-called economic recovery:  it’s not AWFUL.  But it isn’t great either.  Perhaps the optimism is simply relief that things aren’t getting worse.  I have learned some things in the last few years, lots of us have, and I can’t afford to forget them because this not-AWFUL economy may continue for awhile.  Perhaps even when boom times rebound, I shouldn’t forget what I’ve picked up during the downturn.

 I’ve learned that I must accomplish more for my clients with less, i.e. less time, less administrative support and less waste and duplication.  But this lean approach does not mean that I should work in a silo and forego collaboration with colleagues.  It is far more efficient for me to find someone who already knows what I need then to learn it from scratch myself.  Note to clients: look for counselors who come with a great team behind them; it’s more efficient in the long run.

 I’ve learned to get to the bottom line more quickly with government agency staff, opposing counsel and the entire project team.  It’s part of accomplishing more with less.  When I have long-standing relationships with these folks, I still have time to be friendly, but truly everyone is under this same pressure and seems to appreciate hearing the “ask” first.

 Finally, I’ve learned not to fear discussing costs with my clients … well, to fear it less, at least.  Ultimately, it improves our working relationship, mutual trust and shared sense of accomplishment when the matter is successfully concluded.

 Here’s one last thing I’ve picked up in the downturn of a more personal nature:  I’ve learned to shed the “bloat” in my life.  Looking over the first half of my adulthood, my choices reveal a constant goal to acquire more things, and spend more time and money planning for my things, caring for my things and storing my things.  Eventually, I had little choice about how to spend my time, energy or money, because it was committed to the upkeep of my things.  Similar to the way I feel after a visit to an oriental buffet, I felt bloated and vaguely resentful about the situation in which I had put myself.  I’ve learned to consider what I need rather than what I want.   I’ve learned to picture the potential purchase in my garage in a few years, covered in … garage dirt, needing to be moved before I can reach the hurricane shutters as the winds are starting to pick up.  This change to more deliberate spending habits has had one additional major effect: our charitable giving has increased significantly.  My family was able to choose how to spend our money because our committed spending to support the “bloat” stopped.  Choice feels good, and helping our neighbors feels even better.

 What have you picked up in the downturn?  Whatever you’ve learned, hold on to it.  It’s valuable.

Miami 21

Posted in Land Development, Zoning

It has been two years since Miami 21 took effect and the City of Miami has not come to a halt, as suspected by some, the City has not been overtaken by larger than life skyscrapers, as complained by others, it is simply still Miami.  Miami is similar to the legend of the Ibis, as it is the last sign of wildlife to take shelter before a hurricane hits and the first to reappear once the storm has passed.  Development in Miami is moving again, however, this time under a completely new form based zoning ordinance.

 Miami 21 has all new lingo (i.e. Transects, SAPs, TODs) but the basics are still the same, floor area ratio (FLR), density and parking are the big 3 questions everyone wants to know about a  site.  Problem is that even knowing the big 3, until you apply the design guidelines to each site, there is no way of knowing if you can get anywhere close to the reaching the thresholds.  Some sites yes, some sites no.  This has ultimately created more work and due diligence in the development of sites in Miami.

 In addition Miami 21 can be a bit overwhelming at first for those used to the dynamic of the previous zoning ordinance, however once you’ve studied a few sites development capacity, you figure out it actually flows. The Transect Zone charts serve as a basic cheat-sheet to the development guidelines and the diagrams are user friendly and allow you to visualize the intent of a requirement.  Not to say that Miami 21 has no kinks here and there, as no zoning ordinance ever is perfect; the City’s last zoning ordinance was in effect for 20 years and routinely required modifications and updates.  Since 1935, when the City’s first zoning code was adopted, it has seen 5 major overhauls. Miami’s evolution into a major City has successfully survived each overhaul.  So the sky has not fallen and Miami’s beautiful skyline will continue to grow as beautiful as ever under a form based code.

Airports — An Overlooked Opportunity

Posted in Transportation

Airport business is thriving

There are small “cities” all over America where business is booming 24/7, money is available for capital projects, and local politicians of both stripes actually support growing businesses: Airports. Airports have experienced dips in emplaned passengers (i.e., a ticketed passengers on a “revenue” flight subject to landing fees) as a result of the economic slow down, but the long-term aviation forecasts show growth. Whether you support the administration’s policy to invest in infrastructure, or you believe ultimately in the ability of private industry to drive our economy, in the current political environment airports will be a growth industry. For example, in Florida alone, where there are 21 commercial service airports and 71 general aviation airports, traffic at Miami International and Jacksonville International in 2009 exceeded counts at those airports in 2006, and Orlando and Fort Lauderdale are nearly back to their 2006 levels. Airport facility projects have such a long lead-time that airport operators are generally continuing with development programs. Airports are 24-hour-per-day consumers of a long list of products and services including:

  • food service
  • retail sales
  • personal services
  • communication and entertainment services
  • parking management
  • limousines, taxis and rental cars
  • architecture and engineering
  • financial services
  • construction
  • insurance advisory services
  • building and equipment maintenance
  • fuel system management
  • commercial and industrial land development

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Getting the Deal Done – Cities Can Help!

Posted in Regulatory

Florida and its urban areas are blessed and cursed by a pervasive system of land development regulation.  Well-trained and educated City planners, urged on by elected officials increasingly more sensitive to neighborhood issues, wield their regulatory swords to make sure that developers deliver well-planned and attractive projects – on paper.  And, wow – is there a lot of paper! 

Every condition and requirement of a project is memorialized in a document that is very often recorded against the property to insure those sneaky developers don’t weasel out of their commitments.  Unfortunately, many of those City agreements don’t contemplate a release upon complete performance, nor do they require the City as a party to the agreement to respond to requests for estoppel information.  The recorded documents pile up in title and every potential sale or loan kicks off a long and costly diligence effort on the part of a buyer or lender to understand what, if any, impact the old development agreements have on the property.  The buyer is standing there, eager to make an investment in the City, if she could only get a straight answer to the question: “Have all of the offsite road improvements been completed and accepted?”  But City staff, so bold about imposing those conditions, become nervous about responding to questions on the status of performance.  It’s understandable: why should they stick their necks out? 

Local governments could get more capital flowing into their local economy and increase the likelihood that paper-projects and half-built projects will be completed if they would set up reasonable procedures to execute releases and estoppels when requested.  Empower some staff members, charge a reasonable fee, but respond quickly.  It really will help to get the deal done!

Delaying the Compliance Date for Swimming Pool Lift Requirements

Posted in Regulatory

On March 15, 2012, the Attorney General signed a final rule extending the date for compliance with the ADA’s new accessibility to swimming pool requirements (e.g., pool lifts) sixty days to May 21, 2012.  Shortly thereafter, the Department issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make the extension a total of 180 days which would bring the compliance date to September 11, 2012.  Many in the hotel industry were hoping that the new rulemaking would result in less onerous requirements, especially for existing swimming pools.

While no one can truly predict the outcome of federal rulemaking, based on the text of the NPRM, it appears as though the DOJ is not considering any changes to the requirements, only an extension of the date. If this turns out to be the case, then what the DOJ is doing is effectively giving the hotel industry a free pass from the pool lift requirement for this summer’s swimming season, and through next Memorial Day for those parts of the country where swimming pools close on Labor Day and don’t reopen until then.

 Since it is possible, even if unlikely, that the DOJ will consider comments on the substantive requirements for existing swimming pools, you should take the opportunity to submit any written comments you may have on this subject on or before April 4, 2012.  You can  find the text of the proposed rulemaking and submit your comments by selecting here.

Florida Businesses and Industries to Benefit From 2012 Energy Policy, Environmental & Growth Management Legislation

Posted in Regulatory, Uncategorized

Authored by Reggie L. Bouthillier, Kenneth Metcalf*, Maribel N. Nicholson-Choice, and Todd Sumner

The 2012 Florida Legislative Session focused on the redistricting process and passage of the State budget. Despite these challenging priorities, the  Legislature passed several bills addressing energy policy, environmental regulation and growth management which are intended to benefit businesses and industries in Florida.  While formulation of a Florida energy policy has proven to be elusive, the Legislature succeeded this year in passing energy legislation as the first step toward establishing a State energy policy. Furthermore, the Legislature continued efforts to incorporate streamlining measures into various permitting programs to ease regulatory burdens faced by businesses and industry sectors struggling in Florida to rebound from the difficult economic times. Following the landmark Community Planning Act of 2011,  the 2012 Legislature also passed a “glitch bill” addressing comprehensive planning and school coordination, as well as legislation to streamline the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) review process. 

Read more in our recent GT AlertFlorida Businesses and Industries to Benefit From 2012 Energy Policy, Environmental & Growth Management Legislation.

Repositioning Golf Courses

Posted in Recreation

Golf demand peaked in 2001 and has been steadily declining ever since.  In particular, the demand for full golf memberships in master-planned communities has declined by 50 percent.  Owners of many courses cannot operate them profitably.  Such golf course owners should consider the alternative of redeveloping their golf courses to other uses.

Alternatives for Redevelopment of Golf Courses

Examples of alternatives for redeveloping golf courses include:

  • Single-family and/or multi-family residential development.
  • Mixed-use development (any combination of residential/commercial/retail).
  • Lots for merchant builders.
  • Conservation easement or donation to local government for tax incentives.
  • Sale to local government to create park land.
  • Combination of conservation easement for tax purposes and residential/mixed-use development.

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Welcome! Bienvenido! Bem-vindo! The Return of the Miami Real Estate Market

Posted in Real Estate

Whether it be rental or retail, the real estate market is buzzing and it has everyone moving again. During the residential condominium market boom, several buildings were converted from rental to condominium, thereby reducing the supply of rental units on the market. The long-established developers that were able to make it through the recent storm, coupled with international investors’ thirst for Miami, has created a mini-boom for new rental apartment buildings in the city.

Further enhancing the market supply are properties previously tied up with banks or in some form of litigation that are now up for sale. Miami’s retail market is also shifting, as we have new retailers coming into Miami’s design district, Midtown and downtown Miami. The current cost of land per square foot is more affordable for retailers, and the increased population density within walking distance to their stores incentivizes major retailers to invest in our community. So, from all of us (realtors, attorneys, architects, landscapers, contractors and many others) who thrive on the Miami real estate market, Welcome! Bienvenido! Bem-vindo!

How Can a State of Emergency Declaration in Florida Benefit Your Land Development Investment?

Posted in Regulatory

Authored by Kerri L. BarshKenneth B. Metcalf, Debbie M. Orshefsky and Ivan T. Sumner

Last year, Florida adopted SB 2156 creating Section 252.363, Florida Statutes (2011), which extends and tolls certain time-frames associated with specified permits and development orders within the geographic area of a governor’s state of emergency declaration.

Have any declarations been issued to date?

Yes. The governor has issued Executive Order (EO) No. 11-128 (as extended by EO Nos. 11-172 and 11-202) declaring a State of Emergency for Florida due to significant drought and wildfire conditions.

To which development orders and permits does this apply?

  • The expiration of local government development orders.
  • The expiration of building permits.
  • The expiration of permits issued by the Florida Department of Environmental

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Bob Traurig – a Legend Among Florida’s Land Use Lawyers

Posted in Land Development

Authored by Edward Martos

With our first posting, From the Ground Up set out to serve Florida’s development community as an invaluable resource for discussion of the latest news within the community and analysis of the municipal, county and state laws that shape how Florida grows. From the Ground Up is authored by some of Florida’s brightest and most capable land use attorneys with key contributions from their real estate, environmental, tax and corporate law counterparts. Together, our authors ensure that this blog examines every aspect of bringing a development project to life from the ground up to its highest potential. Excited as we are for the future of this blog, however, the authors recognize that our contributions to this blog, like the contributions we make to our clients’ projects, would likely be impossible if not for the accomplishments of and model example set by Robert “Bob” Traurig.

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