Miami eases vote requirements for zoning issues
By Deserae del Campo
After long debate and resident dissent, Miami commissioners last week did away with a five-vote requirement for the city's zoning and planning boards and replaced it with a simple majority rule.
The change came as a record number of projects and land-use changes were coming before the boards and the City Commission.
A five-member quorum requirement remains intact for both the zoning board and planning advisory board.
But under the amendment, a majority vote of the five or more board members present would suffice to approve comprehensive plan adoptions, amendments, major-use special permits and other matters instead of the previously required five votes.
According to the city's planning department, the amendment was a directive by the City Commission. Commissioner Angel Gonzalez promoted the amendment.
Miami's nine-member zoning board makes decisions on property use and development recommendations and can decide whether to waive the building code for a property. The nine-member planning advisory board grants or denies approval of development projects.
Lourdes Slayzk, city zoning administrator, has said that some cases that go before the planning and zoning boards receive "technical denials" because the cases fail to gain five-vote approvals.
"Let's say you get four votes in favor of your project and one against," said Ms. Slayzk during a meeting held in July at which commissioners heard the ordinance on first reading. "That one against the project means it's a recommendation of denial to the City Commission, when in reality four of the members said yes, so this commission is not hearing the true will of the boards.
"This amendment will say that the majority is what rules, regardless of how many of the members are there," she said.
Joe Ganguzza, a zoning board member, was unaware of the voting changes commissioners made but said he was "pleased to hear" that they amended the voting requirements. It is "unfair to applicants that want a recommendation not to get an approval vote just because it depends on how many members are present for that meeting," he said.
Mr. Ganguzza, who has sat on the zoning board since 2000, said he can't remember a time that the absence of a quorum forced it to cancel a meeting. "We are very fortunate to have a dedicated group of members on that board."
Nina West, a Coconut Grove resident who spoke at the meeting, did not agree with the change.
"To the commission I am asking please abstain from changing the current ordinance," Ms. West said. "If board members are not showing up to meetings, then we need new people to sit on these boards."
"What is the problem with what we have now?" asked Commissioner Tomás Regalado. "The problem here is one of perception, and this one is really bad.
"I am going to vote against this like I did in first reading because I just don't understand the logic of it."
Mr. Regalado made note that commissioners see the votes of the planning and zoning boards and understand if there is a denial simply because the vote was 4-1 instead of the required five-person vote for approval. "We are intelligent people," he said. "We can see what the vote is when it comes to the commission."
"I agree with Commissioner Regalado. It really is the commission that makes the final decision at the very end," said Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.
Commissioner Joe Sanchez, who favored the change, said the amendment "will give a true reflection of what is the majority vote for both of these boards."
The commission passed the ordinance 3-2 with Commissioners Spence-Jones and Regalado dissenting.