Modern Home Approved for 819 2nd Street

South of Fifth

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Modern Home Approved for 819 2nd Street:

Unsafe historic structure to be demolished

Following four hours of debate at its January meeting and nearly two more hours this month, the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board gave the go-ahead for the demolition of a home at 819 2nd Street and approved a modern structure to replace it. Despite opposition from the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), the Board voted unanimously to let the project proceed.
 
At its January meeting, the Board heard from experts that the building, which had been deemed an unsafe structure by the County following a fire in 2015, was so badly damaged it needed to be demolished. This week, in response to MDPL’s protest of the demolition, City Design and Preservation Manager Debbie Tackett said, “It is a contributing building. Staff does believe it is one of the last remaining examples of its time.“
 
The demolition recommendation by Staff, she said, was based on the structural condition of the home. “Staff does not believe we can save this existing structure … we do not believe this building can survive a rehabilitation,” she said.
 
While the Board agreed on the need for demolition at its prior meeting, neighbors and Board members, objected to the design and asked for revisions to ensure it would be a better fit for the area.
 
Architect Raphael Levy of Choeff Levy Fischman presented a revised design that replaced the “medium gray concrete color to something much lighter, more compatible with the neighborhood”. Replacing the previously proposed concrete wall with glass on the home’s roof is intended to lessen the impact of the building’s height, he said. The south elevation was also opened up by reducing the use of louvers and adding more glass.
 
Opening the Board discussion on the application, Chair Stevan Pardo noted the concerns about demolition. “Obviously this is very serious” with “emotions attached to it”, however, he said,  “At this hearing what was really critical, I think, for this Board to hear is any counter evidence of a different result, different result from what the applicant presented or from what the staff presented in their recommendation. That has not been provided. If it had been I think we would be having a different conversation on the issue of demolition.”
 
“What I didn’t hear today,” he continued, “is any critique of the specifics of what was presented in the design and I think that would have helped. It would have helped us all to better understand what is the opposition to the design, specifically, and I don’t know why we didn’t get that critique which I think is important for us as a board.”
 
“We have three architects on this board so I think we’ll get enough critique from the Board” but he said it’s very important for the community to understand the importance of being specific in design objections.
 
Member John Stuart responded to some resident comments that the building design could be anywhere and was not unique to the neighborhood. In his opinion, like the idea that art deco is “a global idea”, the building that has been designed for this location “can be argued also to be part of a global idea about modern tropical architecture” and he was supportive of it replacing the older structure.
 
Another member, Nancy Liebman told Levy, “I was very, very critical of the design last time” but she noted what the Board asked for in January was design changes. “Nobody asked you to bring back a design for either replicating the building or restoring it ... This is a product of its own time and that is what this city asks for.”
 
“I think you have gone a thousand miles better than what you brought to us,” she said. “I think this is a product of its own time.”
 
Following a unanimous vote for approval, owner Steve Helfman, who had expressed frustration at the process at the last meeting addressed the Board. “Thank you for your patience and working with us,” he said. “We’re going to make a really nice contribution.”
 
 
Renderings: Choeff Levy Fischman
 

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