Proposed Town Center Guidelines Contentious

North Shore

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Proposed Town Center Guidelines Contentious:

City administration recommends height up to 200 feet

Miami Beach Planning officials have proposed development guidelines to accommodate the recently approved increase in density for North Beach’s Town Center that could include height up to 200 feet. The first public discussion of the guidelines at this week’s Commission Land Use and Development Committee meeting sparked a debate that was both contentious and sober.
 
Planning Director Tom Mooney introduced the proposed ordinance saying, “The one thing I would preface this with is the need to look at this as a very holistic document. Everything that was developed within this overlay, from development regulations to the proposed uses to the parking requirements, was all done with the same goal in mind which was to create a very sustainable, walkable, and less car centric Town Center area. And we believe that in totality the draft ordinance as proposed achieves that but it’s really important to look at everything in its totality because it does all work together.”
 
Rogelio Madan, the Planning Department’s Chief of Community Planning and Sustainability, presented the draft ordinance which is in response to the 2017 referendum in which an FAR (Floor Area Ratio or density) increase was approved by voters. He noted the Town Center area is .0512 sq miles of the City’s overall area of 7.63 sq miles.
 
Outlining the goals of the legislation, he said, the first is “No Street Left Behind.” To achieve that, the overlay will include zoning regulations that will ensure that the newly approved FAR is appropriately distributed within development sites in order to activate all street frontages and to prevent massing on one frontage which creates a “back-of-house” condition on the opposite street.  In addition, he said, “There’s a need for wider sidewalks… [the sidewalks now] are substandard especially if we want to encourage walkability.”

 
Current condition of many North Beach Town Center sidewalks. Photo: City of Miami Beach
 
 
“Some of the things we don’t want to see is a wall effect,” he said referencing the “Biscayne Wall” in Miami’s Brickell area “where you have tower from end to end. So, in order to prevent this, we are proposing limitations on tower width to prevent this wall effect. And we don’t want to see a back-of-house condition so we have proposed required activation on all sides to prevent back-of-house conditions.”
 
The proposed ordinance, he said, “has a maximum width of 165 feet and that allows space for air and light to get through on the side streets and then a maximum height of 200 feet,” Madan said. The option to go to 200 feet would be allowed through a public benefits program.

 
Examples of proposed height and width. Rendering: City of Miami Beach
 

In addition, he said, “We don’t want the retail space to be set so far back that retailers can’t succeed.” Under the ordinance, retail would “be at the setback line to ensure maximum visibility and viability.”
 
Another goal to “spur and facilitate sustainable economic development, encourage diverse uses and expedite regulatory processes,” would be achieved by “streamlining the development to incorporate typical board order conditions into the Code,” including loading hours, hours of operations, noise attenuation, “things we know are standard in every [land use] board order so that the developer knows what will be required of them upfront” rather than waiting to have those conditions imposed later through the approval process. For example, it removes the 50,000 sq ft building requirement for a conditional use permit from the Planning Board because many of the conditions in the CUP process would be incorporated into City Code via this legislation.
 
To create mixed use, co-live, live-work spaces and allow for more micro units is another goal. 
 
Madan said, “In a co-living unit, what you allow is for a smaller unit size than what is typically provided for, however, it requires that 20% of the building be utilized for amenity spaces. Typically, they would have shared gourmet kitchens, they would have office spaces, gyms, and other amenities to allow the residents to be able to enjoy their space while minimizing their private unit space.”
 
“This is a common trend that we’re seeing in several cities throughout the country, particularly Pittsburgh,” he added. “We’re seeing it now in Wynwood. There’s several that are being considered in Brickell. They’re under consideration in Los Angeles, New York City. So, this is a common trend that we’re seeing in the country. Millennials particularly tend to like it.”
 
“Another trend that we’re seeing, a lot of people working from home as consultants,” Madan said. “This allows them to have their space where they can work from home and be able to live where they work.
 
Realization of a 70th Street Pedestrian Paseo would be accomplished through setbacks. He noted the distance between 69th and 71st Street is approximately 600 feet. “These blocks are unusually long with no breaks for pedestrians to cut through. This is a less than optimal condition which can be alleviated by the creation of a Pedestrian Paso as parcels redevelop and setbacks are established to create the break.”
 
The proposed ordinance requires that properties along the frontage in Town Center “provide 10 feet so that an alley can be realized that allows pedestrains to walk from Indian Creek to Collins, so essentially bay to ocean,” Madan said.
 
“The activation of alleys (or paseos) allows for interesting and creative spaces in the urban fabric… We’re starting to get a taste of it on Española Way and near the Betsey Hotel,” he said. “This is definitely something that is becoming more and more common to activate these back-of-house alleys.”
 
The City administration is also proposing a public benefits program that is still being formulated but the gist, according to Madan, would be that “to go above 125 feet, a developer would have to provide public benefits to the community.”
 
Options could include providing onsite or offsite workforce or affordable housing, achieving LEED Platinum Certification, and to provide a fully sustainable structure that accommodates excess stormwater retention and reuse “to help with the City’s stormwater management plan.”
 
Finally, Madan said, the ordinance is designed to “encourage centralized and off-street loading, the concept being trucks would go to one [central location to load and unload and use hand trucks to take deliveries the rest of the way] rather than be circulating around the district… blocking lanes, getting in the way, preventing traffic flow. We see this as a way to ease that problem.”
 
A mobility study contracted by the City to “ensure the ideal mix of uses, minimize traffic impact, and actually assist the traffic impact,” took into account what is already in the development pipeline and what the development capacity is. Madan said the consultants recommended an 1800 hotel room cap, 200 residential units over 1,000 sq ft, 300 units under 1,000 sq ft and a cap on co-working units/affordable housing units at 300. 
 
“We looked at capacity that existed beforehand and with this additional capacity … there’d be a total of 2,600 residential units roughly,” Madan said.
 
To further address traffic, Madan said the proposed ordinance would reduce parking requirements and encourage centralized parking areas in order to encourage walkability and transit use; require facilities to encourage biking such as bicycle parking and showers; require wider sidewalks to encourage walking, “10 feet of clear pedestrian paths along every street frontage”; and require transit oriented development by requiring retail be located close to the streets rather than set behind parking lots the way you would see in a typical suburban area.” 
 
He then introduced a massing study with visuals to show how the new proposed heights would look in context with what is approved for the area now, along with what is being considered.  
 
The proposed ordinance “requires a transition from 69th Street so that you don’t have a tower up against 69th Street where to the south you have lower scale residential buildings,” Madan said. Where a building “adjacent to parks can go higher” as “low scale residential is not negatively impacted from that.”

 
Massing study of the proposed height increases for North Beach Town Center. Renderings: City of Miami Beach


When the three-member Land Use Committee began its discussions, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said, “The community’s agreement, the Commission’s agreement, the developer’s agreement, preservation’s agreement was to maintain a human effect and follow the Dover Kohl Master Plan [for North Beach] which was ten stories [in Town Center]. I think, 125 feet. How did we get to 200 ft? Why was that recommendation made?” Rosen Gonzalez was referencing an agreement between developers and preservationists to support further historic districts that would be protected from development in exchange for a density increase in Town Center. 
 
“We had a community agreement. We were going to vote for ‘a better North Beach’,” she said. “’A better North Beach’ was going to include a density increase. Daniel Ciraldo [Executive Director of Miami Design Preservation League] who is here, campaigned for this density increase and we had a plan that we were going to follow and that is not what we are getting here at all. We are going from 10 stories to 20 stories which is absolutely not the vision for North Beach.”
 
Mooney responded, “One of the things that we saw in our own internal massing analysis was that larger assemblages, while you could do 125 feet, we showed within our own massing studies that you could distribute the allowable FAR within 125 feet and it’s not a bad thing.” He noted the recently approved hotel proposed by developer Silvia Coltrane is 125 feet. 
 
“What we saw in larger assemblages was that you would have more variety in building form and the opportunity for more slender towers or more slender tower portions of buildings and more variety for the distribution in that allowable FAR. For instance, in the only other district that has similar FAR, which is actually lower, is the RM-3 district… you can go up to 200 feet. We felt that 200 feet was a good number in terms of allowing for a more varied distribution of that volume.” The RM-3 District spans most of the oceanfront from 16th to 72nd Streets. The District has an allowable FAR of 3.0 while the new Town Center approved FAR is 3.5. 
 
FAR (Floor Area Ratio) is calculated by taking the total gross area of a building divided by the gross area of the lot on which it is built. Within the City of Miami Beach, the amount of allowable FAR varies by zoning district. A higher ratio indicates a denser building. In Miami Beach, RM-1 districts, which are residential multifamily, low intensity areas, have a maximum FAR of 1.25. In RM-3 districts, multifamily, high intensity areas, FAR limits range from 2.0 to 3.0.
 
Rosen Gonzalez said the proposed ordinance “is not respecting the plan that everyone ratified.” She turned to Committee Chair, John Alemán and said, “Commissioner Alemán, you took the lead on the Master Plan, aren’t you upset that we’re not respecting the experts?”
 
Alemán responded. “No. We are respecting the experts. What we’ve done here is taken the guidance of the Master Plan and studied it even further. I really respect the judgement of the Planning Department who has looked and done specific massings and shown that we can leave the height at 125 feet but what we end up with is really more blocky-type massing versus allowing the FAR to get distributed more vertically and allow light and air and space in between which allows views as you walk through the City. I think that’s a superior product and I think that the community will appreciate that edit. I think it’s a good edit.”
 
Commissioner Michael Góngora said, “This is a really proactive plan and you can tell that a lot of time, energy and creative thought went into this…. I was curious about the height and how we got to where we are… People need to understand we started with three different districts in the Town Center that are being combined into one with one height.” He noted that the previous City Commission upzoned the TC-1 District along 71st Street. “The first thing [this ordinance] does, it adds 125 feet to the TC-2 and TC-3 districts.... the entire district is upzoned to 125 feet essentially.”
 
“The North Beach Master Plan as I read it used many of the same arguments to go up to 125 feet that are now made by the administration to go up to 200 feet,” Góngora added. “Slender towers, lower than 125 feet would yield boxy buildings that would be out of proportion. We’re now hearing that same argument to go from 125 feet to 200 feet… I’m not as opposed as I believe my colleague [Rosen Gonzalez] is. I’m just kind of concerned.” He noted the ordinance did not provide 200 feet as a matter of right, but rather for contributing to a public benefit program. While supportive of the concept, he said that part of the legislation was not yet fully determined. “We don’t know what that fund would be so it’s difficult to discuss the height without having a better understanding of what that public benefit fund, as well as the other mechanisms to get you to that higher height, would be."
 
Alemán noted that regarding height, since the Oct 2016 approval of the Master Plan, the Planning Department “has done a lot more study on it.”
 
Mooney said the Dover Kohl Master Plan “which was mostly some broad strokes didn’t do the detailed level of massing analysis that we’ve done over the last couple of months. Their recommendation was based upon the current height level, at that time of 75 feet. So certainly going up to 125 feet from 75 feet with a higher FAR is going to allow for more slender towers relative to a 75 foot building. What we did was we took that 125 feet and then we did further analysis, and as I indicated and our massing analysis indicates, you can get the allowable FAR within 125 feet. The buildings tend to be a little bit more static, boxy and similar, and what we wanted to look at was ways that we could expand the variety of that distribution of massing, particularly on larger assemblages.”
 
“This area is not going to get developed in one fell swoop,” he reminded them. “It’s going to be years. These are regulations that we’re putting in place for future development that’s going to take place likely over the next couple of decades, and what we wanted to do was give really good architects the tools of being able to distribute that massing in a very unique way.”
 
“The proposal was primarily to allow for more variety in building types and variations in massing but also as indicated about the public benefits because height has value,” Mooney emphasized. “They’re also intended to be consistent with, the increases in height would be consistent with, the value of the public benefit.”
 
Góngora said, “I’m not tied to any particular height but, for me, the decision as to height is understanding what is the public benefit, what am I getting for that height.”
 
Discussing the smaller co-living spaces, proposed at 375 sq ft, Rosen Gonzalez said, “I fear the smaller units could be used as short-term rentals.”
 
Chief Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis reminded the Committee members that short term rentals are State regulated and that while the City’s current regulations on them were grandfathered in prior to the State asserting its purview, new prohibitions cannot be added to the City Code. 
 
Góngora concurred. “I’ve been having a hard time getting my arms around this co-living idea because I feel like we’re setting up hotel rooms and we’re allowing 375 sq ft, that’s smaller than a lot of hotel rooms.” He noted the larger cities given as examples of this concept – New York City, Boston, and Philadelphia – are “biking cities with good mass transit systems” and “we’re an island community with not a great transit system so I’m not sure they’re a good example for us to be using… I don’t see us as an analagous community.”
 
Ray Fort of Arquitectonica, representing stakeholders in the North Beach Town Center, said Miami Beach is not really a small community, but rather a larger city, “and we need to provide these living options for a diverse group of individuals and that includes young people and it can really serve older people as well.”
 
Alemán said, “We have holes in our inventory, including for unmarried singles, for young people, for young couples, there’s very little residential product and now we’re looking at North Beach, very little residential product for them and what is there that they’d be willing to live in? What is there is not in good shape, not appealing, not modern.”
 
Góngora said, “I agree.”
 
“And so I appreciate the creativity of trying to address that market which we don’t do a very good job of today,” Alemán concluded.
 
Michael Larkin, the attorney for the North Beach stakeholders said, “In order to make this Town Center thrive, you have to add a population. You have to add somewhat more density here. You have to have increased population to make all of these businesses thrive. This is an innovative way to do it.” He noted that once approved as apartment buildings, they cannot be used as hotels because the life safety requirements are very different. If they were to used as hotel rooms, “There will be instant life safety violations,” he said. The Code “prevents the illegal conversion” to hotel units. 
 
“The idea is to increase the population, to capture the population, so they will serve the businesses in Town Center,” Larkin concluded.
 
Góngora clarified that short term rentals are currently legal in the Town Center area. “I assume that will extend to this new Town Center district. So, I want to know what the impact will be on our City becaiuse what this is being sold to us as is a really great way for us to have small units for young couples and provide workforce housing so that young people have a new and modern building but now based on what I’m hearing, I’m thinking are we really just setting up a short term rental building as a hotel and we’re not really providing that type of housing that’s being sold as.”
 
Alemán asked the City Attorney’s office to be ready to address that question at the next discussion of the ordinance.
 
Rosen Gonzelez said, “I do not support this at all… we’re going to get a bunch of little boxes that are going to be short term rentals that we can’t regulate…  We’re really not getting any families… What we’re getting is 375 sq ft.” She expressed concern about the “stress that would create” on the entire city.
 
Alemán said, “It’s important to take a step back and remember where we are. We’re talking about a very small area… It’s very, very small. This Town Center is meant, by definition, to be dense. It’s meant to have more height and to be more urban and dense. That’s its idea. There’s still all of the rest of the North Beach area, of residentoal housing that isn’t going anywhere.”
 
She noted, “We just created these very large historic neighborhoods and in order to preserve some of those properties, we added other incentives… so this is not the only style of housing in North Beach. This is just the Town Center and it is, by definition, meant to be dense.”
 
“The whole point,” Alemán continued, “is that we are actually trying to allow development and economic investment in this small section because then that will increase the demand for North Beach living overall and as North Beach becomes a more desirable place to live, then you get a better economic equation on the rest of North Beach including the historic properties so now you start to have a reason, an economic incentive to preserve a multi-family dwelling because it’s more desirable to live in North Beach overall because there’s a grocery store, because there’s a neighborhood fulfillment center, because there’s a restaurant, because there’s a gym.”
 
She reminded the Committee of the mobility study and said the proposed ordinance “has withstood the inspection of a mobility study. We can’t say traffic’s bad and, therefore, we’re not going to do any of this. That’s not a legitimate argument. What we’re trying to do is bring density so that you can get off the road because now [all your amenities are close by]."
 
Góngora responded, “I agree with a lot of what you said and, clearly the residents of North Beach came out and supported the FAR and they want more development and I would like to see good development also. So, I don’t want anybody to take my comments to be negative. I’m just very cautious because as we’re discussing things this whole point about the co-living, with the small units and the short term rentals, to me, sends up red flags that we’re going to be creating essentially a hotel environment instead of urban living for young couples and workforce housing which is the vision I bought into.”
 
Fort next suggested a height limit of up to 220 feet to encourage more office use and the desired floor to floor height of up to 14 feet with a trend toward 16 foot floor to floor heights, “We should go to 220 in terms of height and 180 in terms of tower length.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez again referenced the North Beach Master Plan which recommended the maximum height of 10 stories. “What we sold the community [in the referendum] was very different from what you are proposing now.” She called the Master Plan “a collective decision by the community” and said by approving the current proposal for any height increase over 125 feet and 10 stories, “We would be breaking that compact.”
 
Alemán responded, “Dover Kohl did not do this sort of analysis where they loaded in the actual architectural requirements for office and residential and I appreciate what you’re saying. You’re concerned about this height recommendation, whether we're going too far. We’re going to work and look at that. But this is a unique analysis that Jason King [of Dover Kohl] didn’t do. Not because he wouldn’t. This was not part of their scope of work so this is now new information.”
 
Larkin added, “220 is appropriate when it’s adjacent to the park. Space and height is a ratio. When you have all that open space it can certainly support a height of 220 feet at the southern boundary of the park. You have the lower height on 71st Street and you push the maximum height toward the park.”
 
Góngora said, “It’s a lot for me to absorb today. I’m not decided.” Noting it was a good discussion, he said he wasn’t prepared to vote on the height yet. 
 
Referring to the Brickell area in downtown Miami, Alemán said the difference in this proposed ordinance is an annual review. “We want to look back at this every year and see what has been done, but also what has not been done because the point of this ordinance is to stimulate investment in Town Center, to stimulate revitalization of Town Center. It’s sort of a habit for us in Miami Beach to be anti-development but in this one tiny place, we want to encourage investment in development so while we don’t want to go so far and make it so flexible that it becomes completely unpleasant and impassable – sorry Brickell – we also don’t want nothing to happen because then we haven’t met the goal of the Master Plan and we haven’t stimulated it. So built in here is an annual recurring look to make sure that we didn’t go too far and we also didn’t hold back too much. We’ve created an envelope that is exciting and inspiring for property owners to actually invest. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
 
Góngora added, “One of the things that gives me some comfort on the Brickell conversation is it is a three-block radius, so it’s a much smaller area that we’re talking about. There’s a lot of things being crammed into this three-block area in this ordinance, but we are talking about a three-block area.”

“The second thing, you said we want to stimulate development and I agree with that comment because the reason that we’re doing this is to make sure that North Beach gets better, that we build things,” he said. “If the Commission ultimately moves forward with this proposal to allow a buy-in for additional height, I think we should stimulate people that you’ve got to do it within a certain time period, that we sunset that provision that allows them to buy into the extra height so that people do it right away and we don’t just keep this ordinance on the books forever so that developers may hold it and flip it in the future. If we’re doing this, we want you to build something.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez said, “I would have embraced this if it would have led to larger units. We would have had two and three bedroom beautiful units and made it kind of an Upper East Side or Midtown type of feel but that’s not what this is. So, we are encouraging development and I’m all for encouraging development. I thought we were really going to be creating housing and not creating hotel units and I feel like that’s really what we’re doing.”
 
When the meeting opened up for public comment, MDPL’s Ciraldo said, “I think what the voters visualized were the renderings of the North Beach Master Plan. We all agreed on the Master Plan… there were parameters in the Master Plan including height so I just don’t understand why we’re now like ad nauseam trying to write all sorts of other plans when we had a Master Plan. And the voters voted on it and the public benefit is the Town Center redevelopment but we’ve gotta like make the rules and make it happen not just like go in this circle of hearing after hearing… All I’m here to say is let’s get something done because I think we are on the same page but let’s just do it in a way that the Master Plan envisioned and not be stuck in the zoning Ferris wheel circle forever which I’m worried about.”
 
Margueritte Ramos, Chair of the North Beach Steering Committee, said, “The Master Plan was a collaboration of the Steering Committee and 1,100 residents and we worked hard on that. There were things that were lacking,” she said noting “a huge hole” with regard to resiliency related to sea level rise. “The Master Plan is not the ‘be all and end all’ of North Beach,” she said. “It’s our guide. We need to work with it as a guide.”
 
She emphasized, “We never ever intended for Town Center to be affordable housing. Ever. We’ve been an affordable neighborhood for 25 years and we have been fighting for 25 years for beautification and we never intended for Town Center to be an affordable housing center. That is our main street where the restaurants will be, that is [where] live, work, and play will be, not affordable housing. I wanted to make that clear that that was never something that we discussed or agreed on, so please don’t stall anymore. Send this to the Commission so that the Planning Board can dissect this as much as they want and come up with a resolution.”
 
Daniel Veitia, a Planning Board member, North Beach resident, and member of the North Beach Steering Committee said he was reserving particular comments for the Planning Board discussion but that he wanted to comment at the Committee meeting as a resident and Steering Committee member.  “When we hired the master planner, the biggest concern was the tight budget.” He said the City said, “We’ve already done all these plans. All we need to do is hire someone to put them all together, have some community meetings.” As a result “so many things” were removed from the scope. “We had so many options but we went with one of the cheapest ones.” 
 
“But one thing Dover Kohl taught us,” Veitia said, “was that this is just an outline, that you will have to go through the process of reconciliation and you will have to balance the details” which is what the Planning Department did in its analysis. “So, I’m thankful that you didn’t just rely on the Dover Kohl Master Plan, that you went beyond that and really tried to think outside the box.” 
 
He noted the responsibility of the Committee members and said, “Hopefully, you make the right decision and, hopefully, those decisions aren’t too opinionated, aren’t too weighted on public opinion and rather on fact, rather on what our Planning Department [said].” 
 
“But,” he warned, “don’t you think for a minute that there isn’t a cost to that. Don’t you think for a minute that you’re right and that everyone else is wrong. Don’t think the private community will follow and do whatever it is you’re asking them to do. I don’t know that they will. I don’t know that they won’t. I do know that my community must improve. I do know that through the Dover Kohl study, through the engagement with the community that there was such an overwhelming amount of people that weren’t happy with North Beach the way it is, it can’t just stay as it is.”
 
Developer Sandor Scher who is behind the revitalization of Ocean Terrace said, “You have an unbelievable responsibility that will be historic because of the impact it will have on the future of our City.”
 
He said he first wanted to focus on the increasing cost of services. “We already know that revenue is not increasing at the same rate. We have deficits. And unlike the Federal government we can’t print more money. So, it’s incumbent upon this body to find ways to responsibly deal with those deficits. That should be one of your primary thoughts and functions in every decision that you make.”
 
“Number two, interest rates are rising, he said. “Today, as you know, interest rates, they went up and will go up twice again this year. That has a direct effect on development. The delays to date to a regular developer have had a catastrophic effect on the returns of their projects and whether or not these projects are feasible. You have to keep this in mind. The same reason why the City is contemplating borrowing money now because it thinks that this might be the last opportunity to borrow money at a good rate, this is the same position that a developer is in when this could be their final opportunity to move forward with a project because they may not be able to borrow money at a rate that makes the project able to be executed.”
 
“At some point, and you have to know this, no matter what you do to liberalize development, no matter what you give, no matter what bonuses there are, there will not be development when interest rates go above a certain threshold. We are at that point,” Scher said.
 
It is an issue impacting all cities, he said. “The economy builds, things start happening, growth starts happening and they say we need a Master Plan. By the time the Master Plan gets done, and the decisions get made, and the ordinances get through, the cycle is finished and then developers instead of taking high interest rates become opportunistic and they will wait to find the person who got caught in the cycle, who had the high interest rate who couldn’t afford it, and they buy the project for 60 cents on the dollar from the bank that now owns it. And I can’t stress to you enough that this is a very real threat and that the delays to date have had a real effect on the ability for Town Center to happen and if you’re not thinking about that, you must.”
 
“The third thing that is important to Miami Beach and we talk about it all the time,” Scher said, “is attainable and affordable housing. I will tell you – and nobody here can argue with this – that as a City we have totally failed at finding ways of encouraging developers to build affordable and attainable housing. We have. It’s a fact. The results speak for themselves. To propose that decades of failed policy should now fall on the shoulders of a few developers sends a message to the development community to basically stop and that the City isn’t really serious about moving forward. We need a policy that supports affordable development, that allows developers who specifically develop affordable housing to come here and do that work if you want to accomplish that goal. Right now, those policies don’t exist and that’s why affordable and attainable housing developers look elsewhere.” 
 
“I heard a little bit of talk today about gridlock,” he said. “I just want to talk about the concept of residential use creating traffic issues because I know that it is simply wrong. I consider it to be saber rattling. All you have to do is look at the South of Fifth neighborhood. It’s one of the most densely populated areas of Miami Beach. We have Portofino. We have Continuum. We have Murano Grande. Big buildings. We have tons of residential, more residential than almost anywhere in Miami Beach. There’s no traffic South of Fifth. The only time there’s traffic South of Fifth is when there’s a school line or when the valet at a restaurant lets the street back up because they’re not doing their job. That’s it. There is no traffic because of residential use and so to say that the number of units that we’re going to build here is going to have any impact on traffic is simply wrong and I think it’s just fear mongering.”
 
“We’ve got to move forward to protect our City because, again, I echo that the decisions you make today will affect our grandchildren. You need and you must act to increase the financial revenue of this City in a lasting way. The only way to do this is to encourage economic development. Your legacy will be either for making smart decisions or your legacy will be that this was the Commission that used this City to tell every taxpayer that their taxes were increasing so that they could receive less service. That’s a reality that we’re facing right now,” Scher told them.
 
“As bad as that legacy sounds, the truly lasting legacy will be that due to a lack of economic development, the City will be ill equipped to deal with one of the largest existential threats that any city has ever faced. Sea level rise is something that we do not know how much it will cost to combat and we don’t know what the permanent solution is and how to win that battle. What we do know is that it’s going to be very, very expensive and it’s incumbent upon you, the Commission, to make sure that we have the money to deal with it. The way to do this is to take advantage of economic development opportunities when they present themselves. This is an opportunity to grow tax income by a magnitude of at least 20 times, we’re talking about $40m a year in increased revenue year over year. And when you think about what can be done with that money – whether it’s the police radios or the fire trucks or the schools or the parks – all of that is paid for with that money, let alone the resiliency expense that you will be prepared to face, so I implore you to think about what will need to be done to accomplish this and your legacy as Commissioners that single handedly did more for this City than anyone ever else has. So, I implore you to please put the rhetoric down and please put the future first.”
 
North Beach resident Tom Richerson said the reason he supports the height increase is “there needs to be vitality in North Beach… but unless you have an economic engine that can drive the vitality to North Beach, the RM-1 [residential area] is going to continue to deteriorate. And we all sort of know that.”
 
“I’m the first one who should stand up here and say I’m against this 220 feet,” Richerson said. “I live on 64th Street. My building faces north. I live on the 15th floor so if it was 12 floors my view is unchanged. 220 feet, all of a sudden, I’m looking at buildings. But what’s the trade off? I’m not against the height because the tradeoff is a more vital community where I can walk around.”
 
“It can’t just always be promises and we’re gonna come back and they’re gonna have a better plan and so if we just defeat this, you know, we’re gonna see something better,” Richerson said. “We haven’t seen something better. I’ve lived in the community for five years up there, but talking to other people, it hasn’t changed in 10 years or 15 or 20. It’s time for a change. The community really wants it.”
 
Finally, he noted social media posts in which South Beach residents who ride their bikes into North Beach say they like it just the way it is, “but the people from North Beach say ‘I’m dying for change.’ The community, if we don’t have change, is gonna die. And I’m actually in favor of the height increases even though it’s gonna screw up my view because I think it’s better for the community.”
 
Alemán said, “It’s absolutely true that we have a mandate for Town Center to be revitalized and for it to thrive.” Addressing the budget shortfall, she said, “As anyone who runs a business knows, it’s much easier to grow your revenue line than to find ways if you’re already an efficient business to cut costs. Overall with this ordinance I’d like to see us err on the side of growth and progress and timeliness.” 
 
She said she supported Planning Director Tom Mooney and the Department’s recommendations, “because I know how thoughtful and conservative that Tom is and if Tom says it’s okay, I believe it really is okay.” Noting that he was a 25 year veteran of the City Planning Department, she said, “He’s been around that long because he’s thoughtful and cares about our City.”
 
“So, I’d like to see us err on the side of growth and progress and support Tom’s version” not the request for height up to 220 feet. “I’d like to support and I would move for a recommendation of Tom’s version and I would really encourage us to be brave and do that. Knowing that we’re going to have a status report on Town Center growth every year so if we have been too conservative and we don’t see any investments we will know we’ve gotta loosen it up even further because the mandate is to allow it to thrive and be redeveloped. If we have gone too far and we see a project that is not in keeping, then we will throttle it back and it only takes two readings of a Commission. This is all legislative so we can modify every single thing in here with two readings of the Commission.”
 
Góngora said he still wasn’t comfortable with the height issue. The Master Plan, he said, “was very clear in capping height at 125 feet. While I’m not opposed, in theory, to going above and beyond that, that’s not what the Master Plan said. The Master Plan prescribes specific setback requirements… the ordinance that our administration prepared is much more liberal in the setback requirements and much more development friendly than the Master Plan foresaw.”
 
“I’m trying to wrap my head around it,” he said, “because I do want to move this forward. I do want the Town Center plan to happen. And I don’t want to slow it down. But I’m not comfortable recommending this ordinance, sending it anywhere with a favorable recommendation and not to the Commission.”
 
He then asked if the Committee could send it to the Planning Board with a neutral recommendation for review and have it come back to the Land Use Committee to discuss further. His intent was to keep the jurisdiction with the Land Use Committee before moving it to the full Commission. Rosen Gonzalez said she was in agreement with that and the three-member Committee voted in favor.
 
When Rosen Gonzalez became concerned about the schedule of meetings and that the ordinance might slip away from the Committee’s jurisdiction and go to Commission, she made an emotional statement to the development community in the room. “I stayed out of the [FAR increase] referendum campaign. I did not say anything. I agreed to the height increase for 125 feet. I voted in favor of it. I have done every single thing possible.” 
 
“If I sent one mailer [opposing] the FAR increase, it would have died. Your ‘Better North Beach’ would have not been a ‘Better North Beach’ according to you, so I have played. I have done every single thing that has been asked. And now we’re getting another ten stories rammed down our throats and it’s just not right. It is not right because we have agreed to every single provision that the development community has asked for. I’ve stayed out of it. I’ve not fought it and I feel very uncomfortable with this motion. Can you do something that makes me feel a little more comfortable and just wait until July and we can fully vet things before we recommend it?”
 
Alemán told her, “Commissioner, we already took a vote. We’ve already completed this, is that correct City Attorney? We already had a motion and we had a vote.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez then asked for a motion “to reconsider the vote that we just took. Is that the game that we’re going to play right here? Would you second my motion, Michael?” she said to Góngora. He agreed to second it “for purpose of clarification.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez continued, “Okay, what was wrapped up in that [earlier] vote is now under reconsideration. What I’m saying here is that you have to be fair. You have to be balanced. I didn’t do anything during the campaign. I was just like this,” she said biting her knuckle. “Because I really do feel in my heart of hearts if people understood what was going on they would have voted no. I stayed out of it. Former Mayor Matti Bower stayed out of it. We did it out of respect for the development community. That was huge. You got the FAR increase. Now, we gave you the height increase but I had a conversation with the master planner [Jason King] this morning and he told me that this is not at all what the community decided. So, I just want to do what’s fair and right. And that’s it.” 
 
Looking at the audience, she said, “We can smirk. We can smile. We can laugh. But we did stay out of it. You know, I mean, if this is the kind of stuff that we’re gonna do, then maybe for the [Commission] meeting on the 27th [of June] I should put a reconsideration of the FAR on the August ballot and then we can go back to referendum and then, I don’t know how much you spent, all over again and then I will run a campaign against the FAR because I feel like that’s what we’re moving toward because agreements are not being kept here. It’s very disturbing and I want to see a revitalization of that area. I told you, I’ve been cooperating every single step of the way. And thank you… wait, wait, wait,” she said to Alemán who was trying to get her to wrap up her comments, “I feel very emotional about this because I’ve been…”
 
Alemán said, “Bring your comments to a close so we can have a dialogue, all of us.”
 
Rosen Gonzalez responded, “Well wait a second because I just feel at this point that, I mean we got the historic districts done, we’ve come this far and now, right now, we are going to cause a huge problem for [MDPL Executive Director] Daniel Ciraldo who stayed out of it. Daniel, I think we should run a campaign.”
 
“One moment,” Alemán interjected, “Let’s all just take a breath for a second. The Commissioner said 10 stories had been rammed down her throat but I would like to clear the record. The Planning Department did a very thorough analysis and they came forward with that recommendation based on proper planning studies.”
 
Góngora clarified his motion “was for after the Planning Board deliberates it for it to come back to Land Use before it goes to the Commission.” Given the timing of the Planning Board’s July meeting falling after the Land Use meeting, Góngora suggested moving the Committee’s meeting to be after the Planning Board to not delay the discussion beyond the August recess. “I’m trying to work with the community to move this forward in a quicker pace” he said to audience applause.
 
“I don’t want to slow this down for those that are in a hurry but the whole intent of the motion was to have the benefit of the deliberation of the Planning Board here before we send recommendations to Commission,” he added.
 
The Committee agreed to a meeting on July 31st at 9 am.
 
In addition to public input being taken at the July Planning Board meeting, further Land Use meetings, and the subsequent two Commission hearings, Assistant City Manager Susy Torriente said, “If any of the public wants to meet with the Planning staff, we’re more than happy to do that as well as just to have the conversation and, much like what we did today, we’re not going to agree to anything not in a public forum, but we can definitely have conversations that I think are very beneficial.”
 
Mooney noted the Planning Board will also have a discussion only item on Town Center at its June meeting so that it is fully briefed before a formal deliberation in July. 
 
Link to the item presented to the Land Use Committee. (There were some corrections made by staff at the meeting as well as suggestions by Ray Fort of Arquitectonica that were agreed to by Mooney. They will also be transmitted to the Planning Board concurrently but separately.)
 

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