By an overwhelming margin, Miami Beach voters supported an increase in FAR – the maximum allowable size of a building – for the North Beach Town Center, a ten block area around 71st Street. It was the first time in 20 years that voters have approved an increase in FAR (floor area ratio). When all precincts had reported, the “yes” votes carried the day, 58.64% to 41.36%.
Following a three-year master planning process that included more than 1,000 participants, a consensus document emerged that recommended the development and upzoning of Town Center to revitalize North Beach. It also included preservation districts to protect some of the area’s architecturally significant buildings. In an historic compromise, developers and preservationists came together to support the master plan, the ballot initiative, and designation of the historic districts including areas along Tatum Waterway and Crespi Boulevard, which had initially been carved out.
One of the parties to the agreement, Matis Cohen, President of North Beach Property Owners Association, said, “I think that this is the first time in the history of Miami Beach that the city, the residents, community leaders, and business community unified in a singular vision and put together their efforts to make something happen and not stop something from happening. That’s the big distinction. We worked together to make something happen rather than stopping something from happening.”
Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League, another key player in the agreement, said, “I’m happy people put their faith in us and we got a very high percentage of the vote, nearly 60%. I think this shows what can happen when the different sides all come together.”
The sponsor of the Commission resolution to put the North Beach question on the ballot, Commissioner Ricky Arriola, said, “Conventional wisdom was it was a mistake. You don’t put this kind of thing on the ballot in an election year.” But he sponsored it because, he said, “The people of North Beach have waited long enough … and I think that gamble paid off, obviously.”
He wasn’t surprised by the margin. He compared it to the unsuccessful vote to develop Ocean Terrace which was 55-45 against, almost the exact reverse of the Town Center vote. “[Ocean Terrace] didn’t have a broad coalition. It didn’t have a master plan that spelled out a specific vision for the area.”
“It’s huge,” he added. “It hasn’t been done in 20 years. Since we downzoned the Beach in ‘97 we’ve never had an FAR question pass … All the folks I talked to were urging me not to do this. And I just thought this was the time.”
Ciraldo also noted the 20-year mark and said he thought the initiative passed because “[Residents] saw that it was a benefit. It was part of this overall plan that the community developed, weighed in on and supported and it included preservation and development. I think it’s a microcosm of Miami Beach coming together.”
What’s next? Ciraldo said, “This is one component of the master plan that required the voters to weigh in on. The other items are moving forward legislatively and, with this passing, now we have a really solid foundation on which to really go and implement the master plan. It will require the enabling legislation for the Town Center zoning and then, concurrently, the continuation of the designation for the two areas in the national register districts that the preservationists have been pushing for since at least 2007.”
Arriola said, “Basically now that the area can be upzoned, we’ll go block by block and enact the legislation so the properties are upzoned, enact legislation to put this into law.”
On the development side, Cohen said, “We start immediately. With the vote, we can hire professionals, architects, engineers to start proper planning. Property owners are anxious to get something done.”