Planning Board Sends North Beach Density Increase to Commission

North Shore

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Planning Board Sends North Beach Density Increase to Commission:

Voters approved measure last fall

The voters spoke but not everyone is on board with implementing the FAR (density) increase in the North Beach Town Center. The Planning Board voted 6-1 this week to transmit the ordinances that would officially implement the will of the voters to City Commission with new member David Weider saying he could not support it.
Through a compromise agreement, preservationists and developers supported historic area designations as recommended in the North Beach Master Plan and the referendum increasing density in the Town Center to allow for revitalization. The Town Center Districts are located between Collins and Dickens and Indian Creek from 69th to 72nd Streets, an area that has deteriorated in recent years.
Rogelio Madan from the City’s Planning Department told the Board, “This is simply to implement what was approved by the voters which is to increase the FAR” noting that the Commission’s Land Use and Development Committee is considering development guidelines which will come before the Board for discussion in the future. Those guidelines will include height and setback requirements, among other items.
David Weider, a new appointee to the Board, asked “What I want to clarify in my own mind is, since the voters apparently approved the FAR increase and the Master Plan for the most part, what is the power of this board to challenge or not challenge the actual increase in the FAR?”
Citing the City Staff report that said the ordinances before the Board were only partially consistent with several of the criteria for consideration, Weider asked if that could be used to not approve the increase. Staff explained that the guidelines to be approved later would address the “partially consistent” comments.
Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis added, “You can try and give a negative recommendation or positive recommendation. You do not have the authority to challenge anything.”
Weider expressed his concern about the impact of the FAR increase on traffic. “One of the issues is whether this increase in FAR is going to increase congestion in the North Beach area, where I live by the way … What we have is a situation where we don’t know for sure whether there’s going to be a negative impact on the community because of this increase in FAR and density.”
“The 71st Street area, it is already over congested,” he said. “There’s an assumption that people are going to be able to get to work on a bicycle or by walking and if they think that’s true in Miami Beach, it isn’t going to happen” because of what he calls the City’s car culture.
“There’s a gradual movement of development from South Beach to North Beach and it seems to me all of it could have been done within existing zoning rather than building towers,” he said. “71st Street could have been beautified. 71st Street could have new structures all within the existing zoning.”
Member Mark Meland spoke up. “The community voted this … This was a citywide referendum and it won what, 60-40 or something? So you can re-litigate this. You can air your grievances, your beefs, but the community spoke on the issue. So you may not like what – maybe you were part of the 40% that lost, but the 60% already voted for this. All we’re doing is just trying to codify, to listen to what the citizens told us so you might have your position but you’re in the minority. You’re in the minority so you can vote no to transmit it. Go ahead, vote no. But I’m going to do what the citizens told us to do.”
Neisen Kasdin, who represents two developers in the area, said the North Beach Master Plan, which recommended the FAR was “the most participatory planning process this city has seen in more than probably 20 years” with thousands of people providing input and supporting the creation of the North Beach Town Center. Then there was the referendum last Fall. “Voters overwhelmingly voted to increase the FAR which is a mandate to the City leadership,” Kasdin said.
Weider reiterated his support for preserving the historic areas of North Beach, “But I am opposed to more congestion and more gridlock in this area where I’ve lived for 40-some odd years … I’m not anti-progress. I’ve worked on so many projects that have changed the City. I’m reticent. I can’t in good conscious vote for this.”
North Beach investor Matis Cohen told Weider, “25% of the Master Plan is directed at transportation and mobility and has an extensive plan, which the only way to get financed is if, in fact, there’s an increased tax base in this city. Live-work-play was the concept and if a person is living in that area and has office space, the park to go to and has shopping downstairs, instead of having to go to Mid-town that would be the concentration of activity in North Beach. And that’s what the consensus was. And that’s what the compromise was with preservation.”
Weider responded, “I’m not trying to be difficult. I’ve just lived in the area, I’ve lived in Miami all my life and I understand the transportation culture here. This is a car culture city.”
Chair Brian Elias told Weider, “I think your concerns are going to be addressed at future hearings when we implement the plan.”
Kasdin added, “The idea is to create neighborhoods that are convenient to the people who live there and work there to have access to stores, to jobs, to restaurants. That is why Sunset Harbour has been successful. People walk to the market. They walk to the restaurants.” He used Brickell City Center as an example, saying most of the young people in his office live on Brickell and don’t own cars.
The Board then voted to send the two ordinances implementing the referendum as approved by the electorate to Commission by a vote of 6-1 with Weider voting no. 

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