The developers of the proposed Aman Hotel and Residences in Miami Beach’s Faena District reduced the height of the new tower planned on the Collins Avenue site by almost 30 feet and reached agreement in a bitter dispute with the owners of the neighboring Faena House, but the City’s Historic Preservation Board was not swayed. At a hearing on Tuesday, the Board pushed the item to its February meeting over continued objections about the height and the new residential tower’s relationship to the historic Versailles Hotel which is proposed to be restored for hotel use.
City Commissioners approved a 250-ft height limit for the tower, an increase from the previous 203 feet, after the team for developers Len Blavatnik and Vlad Doronin argued a taller, slimmer building would provide greater view corridors and have less impact on the historic Versailles building. Noted Japanese architect Kengo Kuma created a concept for a modern building with 23 residential units to be built at 3425 Collins Avenue upon a tall pedestal that allowed views from Collins Avenue to the ocean.
Following strongly worded comments from the HPB prior to the Commission vote and staunch opposition from residents of the Faena House, Kuma revised his drawings to reflect a shorter pedestal and reduced penthouse levels on the 16th and 17th floors as suggested by City Planning Department staff as options for satisfying the concerns. The new proposed height is 29-ft, 9 inches shorter. Taking most of the height out of the previously 45-ft tall pedestal allows the developers to maintain the same number of residential units. The building is also proposed to shift five feet to the west from the original proposed siting. Doronin, the sole owner of OKO and the ultra-luxury Aman brand, is a Miami Beach resident.
Thomas Stern, president of the Board at Faena House which is directly south of the property, noted the Faena House Board and unit owners “strongly opposed” the changes to the zoning code to allow for a 250-ft tall building but, following discussions with the developers said, “We are pleased to announce that this longstanding conflict has been resolved.” With a “meaningful” reduction in height, the Association now gives its “enthusiastic and unambiguous support” to the project.
The development, Stern said, will have a “profound and positive impact on the Faena District, the Collins waterfront historic district, and Miami Beach broadly… It is truly a world class project and one that we at Faena House will be proud to have as our neighbor.”
Regarding the currently boarded up historic hotel, he said, “The developer is committed to recreating the Versailles structure in all ways true to the Art Deco era. Clearly little expense is being spared.” Stern noted the preservation of historic buildings “alongside new contextually appropriate architecture” is what made the Faena District one of Miami Beach’s “special places for residents and visitors alike.”
Earlier in the meeting, Neisen Kasdin, Akerman LLP Miami Office Managing Partner representing the developers, said the $4.8M construction costs per key for the 56 rooms within the Versailles Hotel “far exceeds the highest price per key” within the luxury hotel market in Miami which are just under $1.6M and across the U.S. a little over $2M.
The agreement with regard to the reduced height and shifting of the building “reflects a reasonable resolution of the dispute that, if prolonged, would serve no one’s interest including that of the public,” Stern told the Board. Calling the building “highly consistent with and very respectful of the character of the Faena District,” Stern said it would be the “final component if not the capstone of the revitalization of the Faena District and we strongly believe it is in the public interest. We urge you to approve the development application.”
Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) started his remarks by saying, “We are disappointed that the applicant has ignored our attempts to discuss the project.”
The new proposed tower he said, “would be a jarring addition to the beachscape that diminishes our postcard view.” Describing it as “overwhelming,” he said, “It really erases the art deco identity from this portion of the beach.”
“The new tower, as proposed, is smothering the historic Versailles,” Ciraldo said. “We all know it’s too tall,” and “is literally diagonally jammed up to the southern line of the historic hotel.”
Architect Richard Heisenbottle, known for his work on historic properties and a member of the development team, took issue with Ciraldo’s comments saying the team had made “numerous phone calls to MDPL” and its board members. “To say that we have ignored MDPL is incorrect… We would be delighted to work with them.”
To Ciraldo’s comments about the impact on the historic Versailles, he said, “We take real serious issue with the notion when someone exaggerates” claims. The notion that the new tower is “smothering the historic tower,” he said is a “ridiculous, unjustifiable, inaccurate comment.”
“This is not a jarring addition to the district. This is a highly compatible addition to the district,” he said. “We look forward to presenting this to the full board of MDPL at their convenience.”
Kicking off Board comment, Rick Lopez agreed that “The new building seems to get very, very close to the Versailles building,” but, he noted, “The developer is trying to manage a number of challenging things” including a very small setback of the Versailles from the sidewalk and trying to preserve the views of the historic hotel. Remarking on one of the obejctions from the Planning staff regarding the number of driveway access points at the front of the building, he said, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” With setbacks to preserve the Versailles, you end up with a “suburban condition with a big front yard and a lot of driveways.”
“In my view it is a very graceful design,” Lopez said. “I think it will make a nice contribution to the City’s architecture.”
Board member Kirk Paskal said he was eager to see the Versailles restored but said he wanted to see the big picture of how the new building fits in with plans for the old building. That project is running as a separate HPB application because of the desire to move it ahead faster due to concerns about it sitting vacant and, at one point, open to the elements.
“I do think that this building is elegantly designed,” Paskal said. He agreed with Ciraldo that the wood-like metal features aren’t “very Miami Beach… and yet I think it’s very elegantly done.”
However, he said, “I’m struggling with the height, particularly with the closeness between the Versailles and this tower. I would like to see that moderated somehow.”
“I do think that the new tower overwhelms the Versailles structure,” he said asking to see elevations of both buildings together.
Paskal took issue with the way in which the architect proposed to reduce the building’s height. The pedestal he said, provided “openness” on the site. Reducing it, he said, made the building “stout.”
“The opening [in the pedestal] does give the Versailles a little more prominence, less of a feeling of claustrophobia,” he said. “Ideally, I would like to see just the height reduced… the openness really contributes something to the Versailles, to the district, to the public passing by.”
Barry Klein said, “So often when architects come to us and they show us their work around the world, we see these great examples which I feel we saw today” when Kuma provided examples of his work that blended old and new architecture. “Something they all had in common was fitting in with their surrounding buildings and their surrounding neighborhoods and being good neighbors and I think they kind of missed the mark here.”
While he appreciated the color sensitivity, Klein said, “Massing and height forms and structure and fenestration are all parts of the neighborhood that I think need to be revisited here.” He agreed with Paskal that, in reducing the height, “You took it out of one of the nicest elements of the building. You didn’t give anything except lowering your building… You kept every single unit. You just chopped its legs off a little and I don’t think that was such a good idea.”
He also expressed concerns about the views of the historic building. Referencing the “postcard image” of the area, Klein said, “I don’t want to be part of destroying that and I understand people have a right to build stuff and I can relate to that [as an architect], but I think you have to be very, very sensitive to what you’re doing.”
Scott Needelman commented, “While this building is a very, sort of, elegant looking building and very nice, it’s not really Miami beach architecture… but we’ve seen that before in this city. We’ve seen buildings stand out, architecturally differentiate themselves from Miami Beach architecture and that’s okay. It’s not a huge big deal but the issue that I have with the building is its placement and how it overwhelms the Versailles Hotel.”
“Overall, the height is an issue,” he said. “It’s still a rather tall building.”
Given the odd shape of the lot, Needelman said, “It’s very difficult to build something there that doesn’t overwhelm the Versailles Hotel… I think this is going to look very awkward if this building is built as its being proposed.”
Board Chair Jack Finglass said, “I’m amazed that people would bring to us something that completely overshadows and overburdens the historic jewel that is our job to save and protect.”
“I find this amazingly offensive that this is brought to us again with the 30 feet chopped off,” he said. Recalling the approval of the new tower on the site of the historic Raleigh Hotel which was reduced 25 feet to get Board approval, he said, “Thirty feet or less seems to be the answer to chop off the tops of new buildings to placate the Historic Preservation Board and I don’t think we should be placated by that.”
The proposed new building “is jarring. It is smothering and inappropriate and it overpowers the Versailles,” Finglass said. It is a design more suited “for Aventura or Sunny Isles… It needs to be a similar height to the Faena House,” he said, in which case, “it would be more respectful to the Versailles.” The Faena House is 203 feet tall.
“It needs major surgery and not a 30-foot chop here and there,” Finglass said, objecting to the “constant drive to make things higher, bigger and make more money.”
Besides the height, other outstanding issues include concerns about resiliency and the structural integrity of the historic building with a proposed 145,000 sq ft subterranean level. The City has requested an analysis by a licensed structural engineer. To help mitigate flooding in the area, the developers have offered to install injection wells in the Indian Creek area as a public benefit.
The multiple access points on the site are also a concern and further evaluation is requested by the City “in order not to have an adverse impact on pedestrian safety and the character of the district,” Planning staff member Debbie Tackett told the Board.
Finally, the developers offered to donate and install on a City-owned property the “Apollo” mural by Jack Stewart which was removed from the site when the 1955 addition to the hotel was demolished. City staff said they believed there is an opportunity to reinstall the mural on the site “in a modified format” and have asked the developer to look at that.
The application is scheduled to come back before the HPB on February 9.
After the hearing, Kasdin wrote in a text message, "We will take into consideration the Board's comments and guidance and work to make sure that this project, which is so important to the City, is approved at the next meeting."
Renderings Kengo Kuma and Associates
Photo, Jack Stewart mural, courtesy City of Miami Beach
Updated, December 8 at 6:30 pm to include Kasdin's comments after the hearing.
Developers Propose Nearly 30-ft height reduction for Aman Tower, Resolve Dispute with Faena House Owners
Developers Propose Nearly 30-ft height reduction for Aman Tower, Resolve Dispute with Faena House Owners:
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