On July 8, the City of Miami Beach decided to defer consideration on the proposed ordinance regarding the highly controversial Ocean Terrace development until July 29. However, that didn’t stop more than a dozen people from speaking against the project at the commission meeting. The meeting also included some accusations that the mayor and commissioners were being influenced by David Custin, a lobbyist and political consultant who represents the developer.
The ordinance, which was approved by the planning board, includes plans for a mixed-use residential, retail and hotel development along North Beach’s Ocean Terrace. Currently, Developer Sandor Scher has spent more than $60 million buying up buildings with the goal of revitalizing the area.
More specifically, the ordinances hope to increase the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) between 73rd and 75th street and Ocean Terrace and Collins Avenue. The proposal would increase the maximum height allowance in the overlay district to 250 feet or 22 stories for residential uses and 125 feet for hotel uses from the current 75 feet or eight stories. If approved by commission, it will be up to voters to decide in November about the increase in FAR.
If approved, Scher’s vision would include a 250-foot-high, mixed used residential, retail and hotel along Ocean Terrace. The structure would be next to the St. Tropez condominium, a 28-story unit, grandfathered into the Ocean Terrace historic district.
If the commission approves, it would be the first time that voters have been asked to make an exception to a 1997 ballot measure that placed limits on the height and size of buildings on Miami Beach.
Below are many sides of this controversial issue.
The Development Side
Lobbyist for the Developer Neisen O. Kasdin spoke at the July 8 commission meeting and reassured all that they weren’t altering North Beach’s historic significance, saying “This is in no way affecting, changing or diminishing the historic zoning for Ocean terrace.”
Kasdin said the ordinance was delayed because the city’s planning board insisted on changes to the proposed code. Those changes include “reducing the allowable commercial [area] over what is presently allowed” and “imposing new restrictions.”
“All of the community and neighbor groups have endorsed this legislative change,” Kasdin added.
Kasdin encouraged the “opposition” to keep an open mind and understand that the proposed legislation is necessary for the revitalization of Ocean Terrace and upper Collins Ave. The planning board also agreed and has said that past attempts over the years to revive the once-booming destination have failed because of restrictive policies.
“Clearly, the planning board took the issue seriously and gave ample time for anyone in the community to view their opinion,” said President and CEO of the North Beach Property Owners Association, Matis Cohen, who has been active on the issue. “Every major association either wrote a letter of recommendation or spoke on behalf of allowing the increase of FAR without any changes.”
Cohen who spoke at the planning board meeting said, “Someone finally has aggregated the land and we should not penalize them but incentivize. Because the fact is that nobody wants to take their husband or wife to a destination called Ocean Terrace the way it is now. In the current market, the buildings and dilapidated properties in the area can’t in anyway be rehabbed or renovated.”
Cohen continued by saying, “The way to engage the community is to allow Ocean Terrace to be activated in which resort taxes and property taxes can contribute to the city. These funds will then come back to this community. Together with Town Center, this will become a destination for the community. We should get behind it and push it as much as we can. We can’t afford to wait another 20 years.”
The Preservation Side
Many concerned residents and organizations came to the commission and planning meetings to voice their concerns regarding the FAR increase and its impact to the community.
“My opinion is that Ocean Terrace adds to our neighborhood and isn’t an obstacle that needs to be erased,” said North beach resident Franciska Medina at the recent commission meeting. “It’s also the reason I choose to live there. Visitors whether local or international are envious of our neighborhood.”
Many like Medina say they are not anti-development and would like to see the neighborhood evolve.
“As a resident I would like to see what could be built under the existent zoning,” Medina said. “Past failed projects have shown us how not to rush into a decision and to include the existent master plan.”
Resident Katherine Komer voiced her concerns regarding Ocean Terrace being excluded from the overall master plan regarding North Beach.
“I don’t fundamentally understand why it’s being removed,” Komer said. “My understanding is that the city has invested a lot of money to find a master planner to create a coherent and cohesive plan for North Beach, which we all agree that we need. Why push this through without the involvement of a master planner. We now have the team in place and the capabilities of developing a real master plan that will fundamentally shape the future of North Beach. To shove this in the side seems shady and questionable.”
Additional fears include the legislation setting a bad precedent regarding zoning and land use.
“This will be the first time that this ‘upzoning’ has happened since 1997,” said Historic Preservation Officer for Miami Design Preservation League Daniel Ciraldo. “That’s huge… For the last two decades Miami Beach has seen so much revitalization and it has been done under the existing zoning code. So why are we all of a sudden changing our zoning and what precedent does that set for the future. It’s a little bit scary…”
As a foreshadow, Ciraldo discussed the disappointment of the St. Tropez development… “Any project that overwhelms the street and doesn’t have any public benefit is doomed to fail like St. Tropez.” He went on further to discuss how that project was also short sighted because it didn’t develop the retail on the ground floor of the project and now it’s a “dead zone”.
Importance of Planning
President of Urban Resource Daniel Veitia stressed the importance of planning now more than ever and is concerned with the community support necessary to improve Ocean Terrace and pass the required voter referendum. In order to give residents a greater understanding of what could be built, Veitia has suggested two recommended changes to the proposed ordinance and supports the floor plate restrictions recommended by the Planning Board and staff. The first change includes the importance of ground floor activation on Ocean Terrace and the second is focused on insuring the proposed increase in FAR is controlled and does not overwhelm the character you want to preserve.
“Asking the residents to vote on an FAR increase without knowing what would be built weakens the opportunity for the developer to successfully increase his FAR,” said Veitia. “I support the FAR and height increase but only if we further codify the planning principles necessary to insure what is proposed is compatible. Only then can we hope residents city-wide accept the future plan for Ocean Terrace.”
At the planning board meeting, Veitia asked for consideration to restrict the height of the proposed development to 33 feet for the first 50 feet of frontage. This would push the tower back and control the massing along the sidewalk. In addition, he argued the need to insure activation along Ocean Terrace which is booked between two amazing city parks (Bandshell Park and Altos Del Mar Park) and the constant pedestrian activation fed by the beachwalk. “The planning board got it right when they approved the 10,000 sqft floor plate restriction and only with a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Board, who will approve the final design, can the developer get the 16,000 sqft he desires to make the project happen. This will give the community added protection in the development and location of the proposed towers.”
Veitia stressed what a big deal this was for the community, saying “I’m going to be more anxious about the results of this vote than any commission race. If the vote doesn’t happen then I will be concerned for the future of North Beach. The commissioners are betting on this project to create the desired change in our community. If residents turn down this proposal at the voting booth, what does that mean for the future of Town Center and the role it plays in the long term economic development of North Beach? This is why the master planner plays such an important role in the process of improving our community through redevelopment.”
Conclusion – Get Involved
The North Shore Historic District Neighborhood Association, headed by Kimberlee Blecha and Kirk Paskal, sent an email on June 24 saying, “While to some this may have seemed like a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario since the beginning, the testimony of so many fellow neighbors in attendance was a wonderful representation of the passion, sensibility and grit that makes our North Beach community so amazing – and gives great hope that together we can, and will, eventually succeed in nurturing new investment and compatible development while also safeguarding the vibrant character, history, diversity and quality of life that make North Beach so unique.”
Indeed. I think we can all agree – North Beach is special and full of passionate residents.
Feel strongly about the issue? Come to City of Miami Beach Commission Meeting on July 29 and voice your concerns or support. There will also be a discussion item at the July 14th Historic Preservation Board Meeting regarding Ocean Terrace Development.
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