5775 collins avenue action deferred


Susan Askew
Susan Askew

5775 collins avenue action deferred:

developer wants more time but says plans won't change

The owners of the property at 5775 Collins Avenue (Marlborough House) asked the Design Review Board yesterday for more time to discuss their proposed project with residents of neighboring buildings, however their attorney insisted their plans are not going to change.

In a room with a large number of residents wearing blue shirts (to protest the blocking of ocean views), Jeffrey Bercow, representing the owners, Miami Beach Associates LLC, was met with resistance when he asked for a continuance until the July 7th meeting. “We need additional time to address some of the concerns raised by our neighbors,” he said. 
When the Board and City Staff raised the issue that there was not sufficient time to change their plans and meet the 30 day public notice requirement in time for the July meeting and instead suggested a September continuance, Bercow said, “We understand that we cannot make any changes to the application and we wish to come back on July 7th to see if there are other ways that we can address those concerns.”
He said they have met with residents of Villa di Mare to the north, L’Excellence to the south, and just recently met with residents of the Royal Embassy across the street from the proposed project. Most of the people who showed up to express their opposition indicated they live at the Royal Embassy.
Planning staff member James Murphy told the board he had received “quite a large number – plus or minus 60 – letters in opposition” to the project and noted that Staff recommended continuance of the discussion until the September meeting date “because of the substantial amount, in Staff’s opinion, of refinement that needs to occur.” In a memo to the Board, Staff recommended “reorienting” the building on the site to allow for more open view corridors and including a public beach access.
As a matter of procedure, once an applicant requests a continuance, the only public comment allowed is restricted to the request for continuance. Cesar Buia, a resident of the Royal Embassy, acknowledged residents in his building met with the developer and their attorneys last week. “We expressed our concerns…the response I got is that the project is the project. No changes,” he said. Unless there is “a radical and drastic change” to the project including “providing a path to the beach and shifting the building 90 degrees,” he didn’t think more time would make any difference. Several other residents said a resolution could not be had in the 30 days between yesterday’s meeting and July 7th
When one gentleman expressed his dismay that his family changed their travel plans to attend the meeting, Murphy apologized to the audience. “We received the request for continuance toward the tail end of last week. I apologize,” he said. “We tried to get it verbally out but it’s always the applicant’s [right] that they can request a continuance and I apologize, I know that we did change our agenda [to hear the issue among the first items] to accommodate everyone that wanted to speak.”
Bercow objected to those who showed up to protest the request for a continuance. “We have informed the representatives of all of these condominium associations that we would be requesting this deferral today so that we can address some of those concerns and come back on July 7th … We did our best.” But Buia said, “There was no assurance your proposal was going to be accepted… We wanted to express our concerns.”
Board member Mike Steffens pressed Bercow, “If you don’t have time by the July meeting to make any changes to these drawings, to this submittal, why aren’t you presenting it today?”
Bercow responded, “Because there are numerous neighbors that we need to meet with and discuss what we’re proposing to do and we have not been able to complete our discussions with all of our neighbors by today’s hearing.”
He explained, “I think that we can be very creative in addressing the concerns of our neighbors to the north, south, and west. The folks from the north, Villa di Mare, and the south, L’Excellence, are not here because we have had continuing discussions with them and we need to continue those discussions into June. We will continue to reach out to these folks, Royal Embassy, and speak with them as well. I think we and our architectural team can be very creative in how we address their concerns.”
Eve Boutsis, deputy city attorney, asked, “Can you do that without submitting new plans, though?”
“Yes. Absolutely. Yes we can,” Bercow said. When a Board member asked for clarification on if they were going to try to submit new plans, Bercow was adamant. “We’re not going to change those plans. No.” When his response elicited disapproval from the assembled audience, Bercow said, “I’m not going to discuss in a public hearing how we propose to address private concerns.”
Katie Phang, who described herself as  “the sole lawyer on the Board who … [errs] on the side of caution” said it is unfortunate the Board does not meet in August as that would be the happy medium. She asked Bercow if they are going to meet with the neighbors to discuss their concerns, “Wouldn’t you want to have that buffer of time to be able to make a change to the plan, albeit even if it’s small, because that’s the requirement to be able to come before the Board for purposes of making perhaps an accommodation, no matter how minor it is for the people that are objecting to the project.”
Bercow continued to emphasize there would be no change to the plans. “We believe that we can make acceptable accommodations between now and July and we understand that if we don’t, there’s a risk that our application will either be denied or further deferred or continued to September or a later date. We understand that but we think we can do it within July and our clients’ development and construction schedule is pushing us to get this done as quickly as possible.” The last comment generated laughter from the audience.
Phang continued, “There’s just an exceptional amount of opposition, Jeff, that’s here today.”
Bercow shot back, “Can I tell you I think that it’s somewhat unfair that we do have this opposition and not knowing that folks would come out to oppose a one month deferral where there is some substantial discussion of the substantive issues. We didn’t bring out the people from Villa di Mare and L’Excellence who are in support to a large degree to what we’re proposing. So you’re hearing one side. And I just want to point out that those folks live immediately next door to this property not across Collins Avenue.”
When a Board member asked if anyone had the appetite to put forth a continuance until July as requested by Bercow, no one indicated a willingness to do so.
Chair Deena Bell said, “I think with the public opposition, all the emails that we’ve received and also my own opinion of reviewing the plans, I would be in support of you going out and really getting the feedback with the ability to make any modifications to the plan for the betterment of the project, so meaning coming back in September.”
The motion passed 6-0 with applause from the audience.
The tension in the room rose further when Bercow asked the Board to reconsider and table their motion until later in the day “so we can attempt to bring our architects down here and show you the very bad position that you’ve put us in. I mean you’ve basically made, you’ve made a judgment about the staff recommendation without hearing our side of it.” Bercow had to speak over the crowd noise at points. “And you’ve heard their side of it. You’ve read the staff recommendation. You’ve seen our plans but you haven’t heard our justification. And you’re making a decision based upon staff recommendation but not hearing from us on something that affects the project. You’re basically saying ‘Now go ahead and redesign the project the way staff has recommended’ but you haven’t heard our side of it.”
Phang responded, “Jeff, we’re not. We’re not saying that we are deciding this based upon what Staff’s recommendations are. We’re just saying that we think it’s too truncated an amount of time for you to make a good faith effort to meet with the people that you need to meet with…” and come back in July.
Bercow interrupted and stated emphatically, “I will tell you, let me tell you, we’re not going to reorient the building. That’s not going to happen. And we want to be able to tell you why. And you’re now forcing us to come back and rotate the building 90 degrees … ”
As counsel to the Board, Boutsis jumped in. “That’s not… No. I’m sorry. Excuse me. That’s not what they’re saying and I don’t want you to put that into the record as a fact because that is not what they’re saying. They have heard the testimony from the objectors asking for additional time. They’ve heard from you and they’ve heard from Staff. They’re willing to give you the time that you requested which is a continuance but they’re giving additional time. There is nothing improper in that. If you don’t want a continuance you can ask for withdrawal of the continuance and go forward today.”
“I can’t go forward today,” Bercow responded. “My architects aren’t here … but they’re basically two changes that Staff has made, has requested, which is access and reorienting the project. We don’t believe reorienting the project is justified and that’s the main reason why they said we want you to come back in September with revised plans. We don’t intend to do that.”
Phang reminded Bercow that if he came back in September “and you have the same plans, substantively the same plans, there’s no guarantee that you’re not going to get approval just like there’s no guarantee that you’re going to get approval and you can substantively address it then.”
Bercow’s frustration continued. “We’ve lost two very valuable months,” he said. “Our client owns the property. They’re not a purchaser.” (Some of the applications that come before the land use boards are potential purchasers seeking approvals before they commit to closing on a property.) He continued, “We believe that we can accomplish what we need to accomplish in the next thirty days. And I respectfully request that you reconsider your motion.”
The Board did not act on the request. The project will be back before the Board at its September 5th meeting.
North Shore Open Space Park: One other DRB note, the remaining items needing approval in the renovation plans for North Shore Open Space Park – the fencing along Collins Avenue, playground equipment and the park lighting plan – have been continued for discussion at the September meeting after the City Commission asked for further review. The Board already gave its approval to the rest of the plan.