The Related Group wants to build a 25-story, 90-unit multifamily residential tower on Terminal Island with a deep-water large-yacht marina. At meetings of the Planning Board and City Commission this week, those plans were met with legal and security challenges.
U.S. Coast Guard Community Officer, Captain Brian Keffer told the Planning Board, “The Coast Guard strongly objects” to the proposal based on “incompatibility of our industrial processes with residential living, the negative impact to our port security and, most importantly, the impact on Coast Guard operations which serve the public.”
Specifically, he said the 24-hour, 365-day “shipboard maintenance is loud, creates bright light during nighttime hours, and emits fumes. We use heavy equipment at all hours to load and unload cargo, including high explosive ammunition.” With the new state of the art ships coming into the base, he anticipates “constant conflict with residents of Terminal Island.”
Keffer said he has “severe personnel and operational security concerns.” The proposed building, he said, “would provide an overlook from an elevated position for others designed to surveil Coast Guard operations including cutter movement, narcotics offloads, and criminal transfers.”
Keffer said the Coast Guard has a fifty-foot security zone around its base and small boats tending to yachts on Terminal Island “have repeatedly violated the security zone leaving us extraordinarly vulnerable.” Related’s proposal includes a large-yacht marina. Keffer told Planning Board members that it is already a challenge for Coast Guard vessels to navigate the narrow waterway around the base. “Additional tightening of the passage will exacerbate the situation and degrades our ability to deploy quickly,” he said.
All of these concerns could lead the Coast Guard to move away, he said, “which would mean less Coast Guard presence and responsiveness.” He cited the Coast Guard’s work with regard to rescue operations, migrant patrols, and addressing environmental threats, all of which benefit the Miami Beach community.
To better understand the Coast Guard concerns, Related has hired Ridge Global, a risk consulting firm from Washington, DC founded by former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Retired Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Peterman told the Board he believes all of the things Keffer mentioned in his comments can be mitigated. With regard to future residents, Peterman said the developer has drafted restrictions and covenants that buyers would sign stating they understand the industrial activities, including those of the Coast Guard, and agree not to sue the Coast Guard for their activities.
In a separate challenge, Frank Del Vecchio, a community activist who lives in the South of Fifth neighborhood, raised a potential legal issue with the application. By his interpretation, Related cannot ask for the change in zoning needed to build the project as they do not own a majority of the lot frontage on the island. He said it is easily fixable by having the City join the application as it stands to benefit from a potential new maintenance facility and garage. The application does not include that project and as Eve Boutsis, deputy city attorney, said “The City has not taken the first step in that sense … the project is not before the Commission. There are no negotiations, it has not gone to Finance, there is no development agreement, nothing to move this along.” She stated, “This is running independent of that. You cannot contract zone… you cannot say give me a development agreement, we give you zoning.”
But Del Vecchio said he wanted the entire potential development to be considered as he believes the traffic “chokepoint” at the MacArthur Causeway will get worse with an enlarged maintenance facility and a new 350 space parking garage and Fisher Island’s plan to expand the utilization of their garage.
While city staff said they believed the application was correct and could proceed, Related opted not to present the project in order to give the City attorney's office time to confirm their opinion. Related’s attorney, Tracey Slavens, said the developer appreciated the public comments which “help us better identify the concerns and address them over the next month.”
Planning Board member Daniel Veitia said he would like to see the impact of any rezoning on the entire Island especially if the Coast Guard or FPL which has operations there as well were to leave. “I want to see the full potential development,” he said. “The Federal Government just told us they may move their operations so [if the Board takes action] you’ve just zoned the ability for residential use.”
When Del Vecchio raised procedural concerns about the lack of a Planning Board referral at the City Commission meeting the next day, Related decided to withdraw the item from consideration and will re-advertise for a future date.
If you’d like to comment on the proposed project, email Commissioners or for the Planning Board, Atoinette Stohl.