Clifton Hotel Owners Want to Add Third Story

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Clifton Hotel Owners Want to Add Third Story:

Application seeks variance for smaller rooms

The owners of the Clifton hotel at 1343 Collins Avenue want to build a one-story rooftop addition as part of a new renovation that includes preserving and restoring elements of the 1948 building. At issue may be the proposed size of 12 new hotel rooms. In an application to be considered by the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board this week, the owners are seeking a variance for the new units to be less than 300 sf. City Planning staff supports the overall plan but not the variance for the smaller rooms.
The Clifton was designed by architect Gerard Pitt in the Post War Modern Revival style of architecture. Currently, it is a two-story building with 35 hotel rooms and stands at 27 feet. The proposed structure, designed by Jose Gomez of Beilinson Gomez Architects, would be three stories, 40 feet. Due to interior changes, the net gain of hotel rooms will be eight, bringing the total number of rooms to 43, if approved. There is also a sun patio proposed for the exclusive use of hotel guests.
In its memo to the Board, the staff “commends the architect for designing the rooftop addition in a minimalist architectural vocabulary that is compatible with the underlying building.” For the most part, “the fairly modest addition follows the existing building footprint” with a setback of approximately 35 feet from Collins Avenue on the front side of the hotel. 
According to the staff report, the City Code states that “15% of the hotel units shall be between 300-335 sf and 85% of units shall be larger than 335 sf.” The Clifton’s owners want “to permit 12 hotel units (100%) at less than 300 sf (the smallest at 205 sf), and zero hotel units exceeding 335 sf (0% of units).”
“In addition, four existing units in the building are proposed to be reduced in size from 216 sf to 200 sf to allow the introduction of a new stair and elevator for the new addition. The reduction in unit size for existing structures is allowed in the MXE [Mixed-Use] zoning district, however, any new hotel unit is required to comply with the minimum 300 sf of area. The proposed average room size is 233 sf where a minimum area of 300 sf is required. Also none of the units meet the requirement of more than 335 sf for 85% of the units. As such, staff does not recommend approval of the variance, and instead Staff recommends that the new units comply with the hotel unit size requirements,” according to the memo.
In order to obtain a variance, an applicant must show “practical difficulties or hardship” which the Staff does not believe exists in this case. “The Board has recognized previously that the retention of the existing exterior window configuration and architectural features of a building are sometimes in conflict with the interior renovations of the spaces in historic structures and may create practical difficulties when adjusting to the room size required by the City Code. In this case, the building already has existing non-conforming units, which will be mostly retained and renovated and the addition of new units is the applicant’s choice to increase the FAR available on site.”  FAR refers to floor area ratio, the amount of usable floor area in relation to the total area of the lot on which a building stands. A higher FAR indicates a higher density. The existing FAR on the site is 10,400 sf or 1.48 FAR; proposed FAR is 14,000 sf or 2.0 FAR.
In the application to the Historic Preservation Board, attorney Monika Entin wrote, “The proposal includes preserving and restoring key features of the historic design, including the lobby and the asymmetrical front façade with its dominating eyebrows. Further, the Applicant also seeks to restore the iconic ‘Hotel Clifton’ sign.”
“The proposed addition brings the building more in line with the heights of the surrounding structures as most of the buildings in the immediate area are 3+ stories,” according to the application letter. “The addition is setback nearly forty feet to maintain the architectural character of the existing building.”
Entin argues the variance for the smaller rooms is integral to the preservation of the characteristics of the existing building. By utilizing the structural supports already in place – existing load bearing walls and columns – the owners can “minimize the impact to the Clifton, and ultimately protect the structural integrity of the hotel,” she wrote.
“The new windows are aligned with the existing structure in order to maintain the architectural character of the existing building,” which has rooms that are smaller than current requirements for new construction and, that, she wrote, is what creates the hardship justifying the variance. “Without the proposed variance the Applicant will be forced to undertake extensive demolition and construction work, ultimately jeopardizing the historic structure.”
Application documents filed on behalf of 1343 Collins Avenue LLC list owners Karan Suri, Ross Walker, and Mark Strome. Suri and Walker are co-founders of Hawkins Way Capital, a Los Angeles-based real estate company. Strome is the founder of Strome Investment Management and is an Advisory Partner of Hawkins Way.
Details here

Renderings: Beilinson Gomez Architects

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