Victor Dover and the design of Old Cutler Village

Wide tree-shaded parkway and multi-use trail along Old Cutler Road frontage.

Wide tree-shaded parkway and multi-use trail along Old Cutler Road frontage.

During the past 10 years or so, the so called “new urbanist” planning movement has garnered a great deal of national and even international attention. In Florida, many new urbanist communities, such as Seaside, Rosemary Beach and Aly’s Beach, have become synonymous with sound urban planning.

Victor Dover was one of the early and most fervent proponents of the new urbanism design principles. Today, he remains quite active on the national and international stages.

Despite the best efforts of the county and several municipalities to promote and implement the new urbanist design principles in their land development regulations, local examples of new urban design communities are quite rare. We sat down with him recently to discuss his work and Dover-Kohl’s latest project, Old Cutler Village, 18551 Old Cutler Road in Cutler Bay. Where did you grow up?

Where did you go to school?
Dover: I grew up in North Carolina, studied architecture at Virginia Tech, and then first started my career as an exhibition designer at the National Gallery of Art

in Washington. Soon, I moved to Miami with my schoolmate and future business partner, Joe Kohl, and we both ended up studying urban design at the University of Miami.

What attracted you to town planning and urban design?
Dover: Going from living in walkable, comfortable Old Town Alexandria, VA to living near Dadeland, where in the 1980s it seemed you were expected to drive everywhere and it was all unsightly, was a blunt reminder of just how much difference the built environment makes in our everyday lives. We could tell right away South Floridians deserved something better, something more practical, more beautiful. Design matters.

How long has the firm been in business?
Dover: Dover, Kohl and Partners Town Planning evolved from our first business venture in 1987, and we’re still at it. We were motivated to establish the practice by the idea that if people could better visualize change before it occurs — the essence of planning — they’d make better decisions and build better communities. For about 20 years we’ve also been lucky to work alongside James Dougherty, director of design at Dover-Kohl, and his touch is evident on the new micro-village proposed for Cutler Bay.

What is the typical project your firm works on?
Dover: We get to work on a big range of assignments, from citywide and regional plans, to revitalization strategies for historic places, to retrofitting suburbia, to

Wide tree-shaded parkway and multi-use trail along Old Cutler Road frontage.

Wide tree-shaded parkway and multi-use trail along Old Cutler Road frontage.

new towns, to close-up urban design on small infill developments. These assignments take us all over the country and abroad. Every week, the job’s different.

What are a couple of the projects you are currently working on?
Dover: Right now we’re planning a big section of Oklahoma City, designing an eco-village for Antioch College in Ohio, writing rules for the reuse of a closed military base on Monterey Bay in California, and designing the Jupiter Inlet Village here in Florida.

What are the central tenets of “new urbanism?”
Dover: That’s a big subject, but the gist of it is this: How and where we build and rebuild determines whether the resulting town is walkable and connected and inspiring and sustainable, or not. Urbanists advocate for compact, complete, connected communities where people can get to know their neighbors, places where people love to be. The emphasis starts on creating great addresses by design, and that ends up extending into subjects like street layouts, zoning, architecture, real estate, engineering, economics and ecology.

What are some of the benefits of a mixed use community?
Dover: To start with, when a few more of life’s basic daily needs are close at hand, we don’t have to drive so much. Just a small amount of modest neighborhood-scaled commercial space and some workplaces among the residential development can dramatically shorten some car trips and even eliminate others, replacing them with walking or biking. That cuts traffic congestion, saves time, saves energy, reduces emissions, and makes life more fun.

What are you working on locally?
Dover: Over the last couple of years, we led the effort to create the “Seven50” plan for Southeast Florida. It’s both big-picture and long-term; it lays out prospects for our seven county region for the next 50 years. Lately we’ve been busy writing regulations to control the

Mediterranean Village on behalf of the City of Coral Gables, and refining the Old Cutler Village plans.

Tell us about the Old Cutler Village. What is the vision for the project?
Dover: It’s a micro-village, really, on a very special site well suited for that. It will add a small dose of variety to its surroundings, and it will become a favorite stop along the Old Cutler bike trail. It is designed to have a laidback bed-and-breakfast inn, a café, some townhouses and condominiums, and a little office building, all grouped around public green squares and a nice expansion of the bike trail into a proper linear park. The architecture is inspired by the nearby Deering Estate and it will have an Old Cutler vibe.

Pictured at work is town planner Victor Dover (left).

Pictured at work is town planner Victor Dover (left).

Who is the owner/builder?
Dover: The company is called Fortune International, founded by local investor Edgardo deFortuna. He and his partners are known for very prestigious, high-quality residential developments and careful design. This time they get to show their skills with lowrise, low-key, street-oriented development.

How long have you been associated with Old Cutler Village?
Dover: We’ve studied this site off and on for nearly a decade. It’s been a worthwhile journey, and I’m glad the owners have been patient, because this last small development could make a lot of difference to the surrounding neighborhood. It will add benefits for everybody through placemaking.

Is it a good example of urban planning?
Dover: It’s very site-specific; the design grew out of a really long look at the context and from studying the town’s Old Cutler Charrette documents. It is all about adding a handful of things that will really be good neighbors. The Town of Cutler Bay will get a proud architectural entrance, and the existing sewer pump station will finally be screened from view. The development will add a gentle kind of polish to that part of the Old Cutler Road corridor and boost the surrounding property value, but without undoing the tranquility we all love about the area. We think it will be very popular with cyclists and birdwatchers, too.

Isn’t the land too small for it to work as a mixed use community?
Dover: Don’t think of it as a standalone community unto itself. It’s going to be a seamless part of the surrounding neighborhood, and will spatially tie the separated subdivisions and parks together. This part of the neighborhood will add some missing ingredients to the mix, give the existing neighbors a new place to walk. I think someday it will show up in the postcard pictures that tell what Cutler Bay is all about, not something isolated and separate.

Will the project be green certified?
Dover: Yes. Thankfully, Cutler Bay and the developers share a strong greenbuilding ethic, and that is going to be very evident in the village layout and in the architecture.

There has been a lot of discussion about the impact of the proposal on the wetlands restoration project to the east. How are you as the planner handling the interaction with the restoration project? Does the proposal affect any of the wetlands?
Dover: The whole thing is designed to protect it. It will frame the beautiful views and make those views accessible to the public, to complement the adjacent

restoration area and the national park beyond. The little “birding belvedere” tower is to be made open to the public, so people can go up and look at the restoration area at treetop level, without intruding on it. Meanwhile, the development itself is tucked away from the wetlands, and its footprint is kept small, to avoid impacts on the ecosystem restoration. The engineers are carefully controlling every drop of stormwater, too, to insure the restoration area remains healthy.

As part of the design and planning process, did you meet/consult with the area’s residents? Does the proposal reflect their input?
Dover: Yes. Before we ever put pen to paper on the latest draft, we had really productive, interactive meetings with neighbors. A couple of us spent some

Pedestrian walk to the mixed-use square.

Pedestrian walk to the mixed-use square.

weekends going door to door, too, interviewing neighbors one on one. We learned a lot and their ideas are in the drawings. They suggested the small restaurant, for example. Some neighbors seemed to sense immediately that one more gated enclave of cookie- cutter houses would be aiming too low, and they urged a very open, civic-minded design instead. They’re right.

What can be developed on the property today?
Dover: Current zoning would allow for about 30 or 40 single-family detached homes in a 1970s-style, suburban, cul-de-sac format, with backs of buildings up against Old Cutler Road, and no public spaces. That would be a colossal missed opportunity, in my opinion.

Why is the proposal superior to the plan that could be developed under the current zoning?
Dover: The micro-village proposal will indeed allow for a few more dwellings — about 79 total — and add in things like the 12-room bed-and-breakfast inn. But in the process, the neighborhood also will get more housing variety, deep setbacks from Old Cutler Road, and with the fronts of buildings facing the public instead of the backs. But that’s just the start. The public also will gain open parkland, places to walk along the restoration area and view it, a much better bikeway, the screening of the pump station, some trip-capturing mixed use, and many other benefits.

Do you plan to have additional meetings with the community?
Dover: Certainly, yes. The next one is Apr. 21 in the meeting room at Palmetto Bay Village Center (the former Burger King Headquarters) at 7 p.m. We’re looking forward to showing the latest drafts and answering questions.

What are the next steps in the approval process?
Dover: The crucial steps are for the Town of Cutler Bay to confirm that this vision fits within the town’s goals, expressed in their official Comprehensive Plan, and make the necessary adjustments to policies and regulations that will make it possible within strict quality controls and limits. That all will be done with ample opportunity for public comment and input, and the town’s elected leaders will be the decision-makers. Call me wonky, but it’s exciting, and historic; this kind of local control was one reason Cutler Bay citizens incorporated the town to begin with, and this project will be a symbol of the good things that came from that.

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5 Comments on "Victor Dover and the design of Old Cutler Village"

  1. Ed MacDougall | April 16, 2015 at 1:49 pm | Reply

    By: Ed MacDougall, former mayor, Town of Cutler Bay

    I would like to comment on your recent article about the proposed Old Cutler Village (OCV), a development being proposed for Old Cutler Road and 184th Street. Your article presented a one sided look at a project that is opposed by many residents and several homeowners associations. I hope you will allow me the opportunity to present the opposing side.

    Good urban planning starts with a Charrette, followed by creating maps of future land use, land development regulations and zoning. This proposed development runs counter to each of our existing long term plans for this roadway. These plans were developed with input from local residents and take into account issues such as traffic, storm water run-off, congruency to nearby developments, land elevation, etc. Randomly making changes to these plans is not in the best interest of our community.

    Approval of this project means rejecting the basic tenant of the Old Cutler Road Charrette, which was to rein in commercial development by confining it to the area between the two traffic circles.

    To build this development, the land owner must get the zoning changed from residential to mixed use. There is no guarantee that once the property is rezoned that the owner will build what is depicted in the drawings being presented. Once rezoned, the value of the property rises and the owner can throw away the plans and sell the property at a profit. Cutler Cay was once expected to be developed as a golf course with a helipad. Plans can change, but once this property is rezoned, we can never go back.

    Additionally, If they get the zoning change approved it opens the door to other land owners outside the current commercial zone to request rezoning and potential lawsuits should they be denied.

    Our future land use map which outlines development through 2020 specificity provide that this piece of property allow for low density residential development or be used for conservation purposes only. Our Parks Master Plan declares that the town should attempt to obtain this property as a park.

    The plans for OCV will require that the town allow the developers to access 184th Street using the 77th Ave. right-of-way. This same right-of-way is needed for pipes bringing water to the future Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Restoration project. If the town allows the developer to use this right of way, will it then be unavailable for the restoration project?

    Soon traffic along Old Cutler and 184th Street will increase due to the expansion of Palmer Trinity School and their entrance being moved to 184th Street. Now add this new development into the mix and the congestion will only increase.

    I commend the planners for stating the project will be green certified. But residents should be aware that a green certified building can be up to 4 stories high, and that this project is being planned by the same people who created Downtown Dadeland, a project that has many critics.

    Residents should also be aware that lobbyists for this project have donated to and/or worked as paid consultants for Mayor Bell's 2014 election campaign and Sue Ellen Loyzelle's 2011 campaign. We cannot allow outside developers and lobbyists to control the destiny of our community.

    You can find out more about upcoming meeting or join the growing opposition to this project by visiting For information about the history of this property and to join an email list for updates on the fight against the spread of commercial development on historic Old Cutler Road visit

  2. I attended the 'Battle of Cutler Ridge' as an FDOT representative in the early 1970s when citizens rightly tossed out the Freeway designed through Cutler Ridge. The school hearing location was packed and citizens overflowed to the grounds outside. Then, the slide projector plug was intentionally pulled, throwing the meeting into darkness. An elected official jumped to a tabletop and said "lets get behind the rapid rail system instead!" Metro came soon thereafter.
    Current plans for Old Cutler Village are born of a similar response. Don't add big roadways and strip commercial to our neighborhood! However, we've learned a great deal since 1980 about what makes a great community. Ed MacDougall, former mayor, Town of Cutler Bay suggests the new plan violates the tenant to contain commercial development. Last century examples of commercial and residential development would support the Mayor's opposition. They forces us all to drive and not even think of walking or cycling. Those methods of the 'separatists', where all community elements were to be isolated for maximum privacy, gave us greater congestion, a less sustainable economy and more isolation.
    The new zoning established for the Village will state clearly the new way of integrating several uses in a civilized manner, not your father's commercial strip and gated community. The openness of connected walks and trails will make the splendid natural environment available to all. The pattern of Coral Gables has proven its value and should be encouraged. Finally, all would agree that Dadeland's scale would be inappropriate on Old Cutler. It is great on the Metro line and US1. A walkable Village would enhance the entire Cutler area, it deserves wide support. Disclosure Note: I routinely have the privilege of working with Victor Dover, so I know his town designs work very well, when communities have the courage to move forward instead of backward. Richard A. Hall, P.E.

    • Michael Periu | May 24, 2015 at 11:02 am | Reply

      Richard, I'd like you to reply to my comments above regarding traffic. What will be the impact in your professional opinion on traffic on Old Cutler Road? The impact should be measured versus the status quo – not against other potential types of development.

  3. I just want to know who the hell is going to stay in the proposed bed & breakfast in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

  4. Michael Periu | May 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm | Reply

    The renderings in this "article" leave out several important details: 1. Where are the 250+ condominiums that the developer plans to build? 2. Where are all the cars? I don't think its accurate to portray this renderings as just having one or two cars casually parked. Old Cutler Road is a PARKING LOT in the morning and a PARKING LOT at rush hour. How can you plan to add several hundred residential units which translates into 500+ additional cars at rush hour? No amount of mixed-use urban planning can address the fact that OCR is already too congested. The article doesn't once mention this issue directly. I suggest you admit that it will be a nightmare. Frankly this article reads like "sponsored" content.

    The response about mixed-used cutting down on traffic is disingenuous. It may cut down on traffic compared to other options for congested development, but it will NOT help Old Cutler Road and the residents of Cutler Bay. The status quo will only GET WORSE with hundreds of new residents. How will adding hundreds of residential units make Old Cutler Road better for residents at rush hour vs. today?

    The reality is that ANY development – no matter how much planning goes into it – will make driving on Old Cutler Road a nightmare. Its already terrible and it will only get worse.

    Mr. Richard Hall since you are a planning Engineer can you explain to me how traffic on OCR will DECREASE during rush hour by adding this development? How will adding hundreds of residential units DECREASE traffic?

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