Plans submitted to the Design Review Board show a new 18-story residential building (above) to replace the existing 12-story Marlborough House. While the new building’s design is within the allowable height and minimum setback requirements for the RM-3 district in which it sits (residential, multi-family high intensity), both City planning staff and residents have raised concerns about the “condo canyon effect” and the loss of view corridors provided by the current building.
Neighbors of the project have mobilized over the summer, starting a Facebook group called “Save Collins” which has garnered nearly 700 followers and emailing the Design Review Board, City Commissioners, and candidates for elective office in an attempt to make their case for a revised building design.
Next week, they will host a Meet and Greet for area residents to learn more about Mid-Beach issues, though it is expected the 5775 Collins project will dominate the discussion. The group says most Commissioners and candidates have indicated they will attend.
It’s all leading up to the September 5th meeting of the Design Review Board when the project will be considered. Tensions were first evident at the DRB’s June 7th meeting in which the owner, Miami Beach Associates LLC, asked for a continuance of one month to the July meeting so they could discuss the project further with neighboring property owners. The Board, however, voted to delay it until September given the concerns voiced in numerous emails and by residents in the audience who said it would take longer to resolve the issues involved.
Michael Larkin, attorney for the owner, wrote the DRB on June 23rd, “The Proposed Development will beautify the Property with the construction of a modern beachfront tower” with a “new state-of-the-art iconic design.” He said the proposed building with 89 residential units (versus the 107 in the existing building) is a “less-intense residential building”. He also noted it “complies with RM-3 density and intensity and is consistent in size and bulk with the neighboring residential towers.”
The disagreement is not over what is allowed to be built on the site but over the building’s orientation. It is proposed to run parallel to Collins Avenue versus the existing Marlborough House which is oriented perpendicular to Collins with what City staff calls “generous side setbacks” (nearly 79’ on the south side and 73’ on the north end of the property).
In its report to the DRB, staff writes, “While the proposed building is sited with greater than minimum front and rear yard setbacks, it relies on minimum side yard setbacks. Combined with the proposed orientation, staff has serious concerns with the overall design direction and massing of the subject proposal on the oceanfront site and the loss of the established northern and southern view corridors created by the generous setbacks of the existing building that has stood for nearly 55 years.”
The result of the current proposal, they say, is “effectively cutting off Collins Avenue and blocking vistas to and breezes from the Atlantic Ocean." The proposed building, they write, "will effectively broadside the Ocean, reinforcing the ‘Condo Canyon’ effect notably seen along portions of Collins Avenue by building the tower from side setback line to side setback line.” The proposal, they note, “will diminish both side yards that serve as important view corridors by over half."
Staff recommends the developer reorient the building “and substantially increase both interior side setbacks to a minimum of 50’ on each side in order to create and maintain important view corridor(s) … A more slender, modest profile for the building as seen from Collins Avenue is strongly recommended to allow for expansive views of the water and the allowance of sunlight and ocean breezes.”
“Staff recognizes the applicant’s desire to provide the best water views for the residences; however in re-orienting the building, most, if not all units will still have full views to the Atlantic Ocean and beach," they say.
The second battle is over beach access. Staff indicates in its memo “a potential inconsistency with an important policy of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, regarding direct public access to the shoreline” and “strongly recommend[s] that the applicant seriously consider incorporating in its development a dedicated pedestrian beach path.” They cite The Bath Club at 5937 Collins and Mei at 5875 Collins which both constructed beach access within their properties.
Eda Valero-Figueira is a ten year resident of Seacoast Condominium which is across the street just to the south of the project. She told RE:MiamiBeach, “I bought here because I didn’t want to live in an old asphalt and cement area. I like the airiness and the character of the buildings.” She worries about newer buildings “changing the character of the street altogether.”
“The design doesn’t fit with anything we have in the area,” she said. “It looks like a shopping mall. It’s so humongous. One of the things I liked about this area was at least the buildings were reasonable.” She supports the staff suggestion to reorient the building. “If they turned it, that would be ideal, if they reduced the air and light corridors a little less … they’re almost covering the whole area,” she said.
Directly across the street from the planned redevelopment is the Royal Embassy condominium. Rebecca Orand says, “Over 24 years, clearly, I have seen changes and totally understand there is always going to be progress being made.” She cited the trolley system and the City’s efforts to deal with flooding as examples, “but then I see the plans for this development that will create what I think will be a very big shadow across Collins Avenue, not just for the residents of the Royal Embassy but our neighbors.”
“I’d hate to see this development go as planned and cause the shadows and eliminate the ocean breezes,” she said. “The design seems to be totally out of whack with the buildings around it.”
“I understand they want a certain number of units and they are required to have a certain number of parking spaces but I believe they can accomplish something similar by redesigning the building and increasing the setbacks,” she said. “This is an area of Miami Beach that I think is unique and different and I would hate to lose that.”
Ryan Barras is another Royal Embassy resident who purchased his unit four years ago. He says he’s not opposed to new development. “That’s how a neighborhood progresses and stays lively and fresh but the center point we need to ask ourselves is what type of community we want to be, what type of city do we want to be?” He believes there are ways to ensure a balance between profit and what’s good for the neighborhood. He suggested the building be taller with greater setbacks but is supportive of the staff suggestion to reorient the building.
“It’s not that we said ‘let’s stop construction,’” he said. “Let’s do it in a way that everyone can gain from this and not just a handful at the expense of the neighborhood.” He reflected on the “Condo Canyon” term and said, “Is that what we want, a slab of concrete on both sides?” Answering his own question he said, “Allow for spatial orientation and quality of life and that ‘hey we are aware there is a beach’ on the other side of this concrete. Let’s build with a conscience.”
He said he is encouraged by the lively conversation that has sprung up around the issue and is looking forward to next week’s Meet and Greet which he says will give people the opportunity to voice their concerns about the project and be sure it's on the radar of Commissioners and candidates.
And he is optimistic. “We can come together as a neighborhood for a solution where everyone can win.” With all the “divisive issues that we’re facing in this country” he said he believes this effort is about “coming together and finding that common goal. I know it can be found. I know we can find a space where the developer gets their returns and the neighborhood is happy.”
In his letter to the Board, Larkin wrote, “The Applicant has worked with City staff and area stakeholders to ensure the Applicant’s proposal will not adversely affect the immediate neighborhood. Instead, the proposed redevelopment will be a much-welcomed enhancement to the neighborhood in a manner that is more consistent with the area.”
Meanwhile, the City staff memo released today said, “Staff has met with the applicant and the design team on numerous occasions, yet no design consensus has been reached on the fundamental issue of building orientation.” They recommend continuance until December 5th “in order to address the concerns noted herein.”
This one may take a while.
Thursday, August 24, 7:00 pm
Royal Embassy Condominium
5750 Collins Avenue Lobby
Design Review Board
Tuesday, September 5, 8:30 am
City Hall, Commission Chambers
(This item will be heard first on the agenda due to the high level of interest.)
Application, plans, City staff memo