500-600-700 Alton Road Project Gets More Support

West Ave

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

500-600-700 Alton Road Project Gets More Support:

44-story tower, public park compromise received favorably by commissioners

A resolution for developing the old South Shore Hospital site may finally be at hand. After developer Russell Galbut reached a tentative agreement with neighbors and the Commission’s Finance Committee to build a 44-story tower on the 500 block of Alton Road and build and deed a 3.2 acre public park to the City of Miami Beach on parts of the 600 and 700 blocks, he was back in City Hall to present the updated agreement to the Land Use and Development Committee where it was well received by Committee members. 
The Land Use Committee will formally vote next month on changing the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs) to give Galbut the right to combine the FAR (floor area ratio or density) on the property to build the tall slender tower and allowing the area for a park. Currently, the height limit on the site is 75 feet and 7 stories. Galbut has approved plans (below) to build a large low-rise development that would cover most of the area and leave little room for green space. 
Currently approved project for 600-700 Alton Road

In what he said was his 96th meeting on the project, Galbut said the taller tower and reduced retail space represents a reduction in intensity and density going from 504 approved residential units to 410 and from 75,000 sq ft of retail to 15,000 sq. ft.
As the City looks for aesthetically pleasing blue and green solutions to the sea level rise problem, Galbut said The Park on Fifth development will have “the largest amount of permeable space in Miami Beach. I think that’s turning out to be one of the biggest benefits of this entire task. That is priceless. It’s a down payment on true resiliency.” It will also include “subterranean parking capable of holding water in the event a major [flooding] event were to occur." The retail space will include a green roof.

Rendering of proposed green space for 500-700 Alton Road

The donation of the park, he said, will increase the City’s total parkland by over 1%. He noted there are 250 acres of parks in Miami Beach, excluding golf courses. The development also includes the ability to build an extra lane leading to the MacArthur Causeway.
To build the park, the City needs to “vacate” 6th Street which means the allowable FAR from both sides of the street can be combined for the taller tower on the 500 block. There is no physical change to the street, the vacation is a technical term allowing the density to be combined. The Land Use Committee will take a formal vote on the item in September which will then go to the full Commission where it requires a 6/7th vote.
Frank, Del Vecchio, president of the Gateway Community Alliance which has fought for a smaller tower and more parkland, asked Committee members to ensure “the City is obtaining a fair return on a zoning action of this kind" saying it was the “largest such action in the City’s history” allowing a height increase of 5.6 times and increasing the maximum building size “by more than 3.2 times.”
He asked Assistant City Manager Eric Carpenter, who has been negotiating the agreement, if the park was “a functional City park” which he described as surface level. Del Vecchio questioned if “the rooftop of buildings qualifies as a resilient real City park.”
Carpenter responded that there was some confusion created by the overhead rendering (above) which shows the green roof on the proposed retail space but he confirmed that the actual 3.2 acre park that will be deeded to the City will be at surface level.
Daniel Ciraldo, a community activist who has been making a strong push on social media for the City to acquire the property and build its own larger park, asked about the true value of the donated land given that it would no longer have development value.
Carpenter explained that an outside professional appraiser had determined the additional value to the developer between the currently approved project and the tower was $50m. The appraiser also considered “how much revenue would be generated by the increase in value…  there is an increase in the tax base with a highest and best use development on the site,” he said.
“The challenge is what is the value of a park,” Carpenter continued. “What would it cost us to acquire a piece of land from an unwilling seller in this area of the City… typically there’s a 25% premium to acquire that type of land.” He said the property “might end up costing us $62m to acquire it.”
As to the final details of the agreement, Carpenter said, “We’re getting close. We’re not there yet but we’re getting close and we’re making a lot of effort to bring the community along.”
Still, not everyone was happy with the proposal. Tensions flared between residents who live in the neighboring buildings that overlook the site, which currently is a combination of vacant lots and the shell of the old hospital and residents who live further away.
The shell of the old South Shore Hospital at 600 Alton Road

Clotilde Luce took exception to those who say “It’s not our neighborhood. I would say this is such a gateway branding spot in the City… it defines the City. It’s an exceptional opportunity for branding in the City.” Noting what she called a “huge inventory of empty luxury inventory,” she told the Commissioners, “You could do something much better.”
Ocean Drive resident, Jo Manning, said, “This is my City… how dare you say this doesn’t impact me as a resident of Ocean Drive… this is a Citywide issue.” 
After Manning and Luce spoke, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez explained her position. “One of the reasons I’m willing to accept the tower is because we got these studies back from Harvard and ULI, and when you see these studies, what it does is it envisions the City a little differently… if we go taller and skinnier there and the residents do get this park, assuming they get the 3 acres that were promised which I’m operating under the assumption that that’s going to happen, I have no opposition.”
She said she was willing to discuss ways to make the project better between now and formal votes this fall, but added, “We’ve had so many meetings about this already and I feel like we have to do something.”
A South of Fifth resident (who did not provide her name) told the Committee the South of Fifth neighborhood does have an opinion on the project, “but we’re trying to respect the neighborhoods that are closest by, that are most affected. I certainly don’t want somebody telling me how to run South Pointe Park… I just want you to continue to make it happen. We all need this project.” 
Edward Martos, the attorney for the Floridian, called the building “the most affected” by the proposed development. He said the 334 residents there have been working with Galbut for over five years and are “strongly in support” of the project.
Martos and Allan Kleer, a member of the Bentley Bay Board of Directors, have been a consistent presence at the public meetings. Kleer said there are “2,000 condo owners and voters” at Bentley Bay. “The vast majority of us feel this is a great deal for the City. Move this project forward and solidify this great deal,” he told the Committee.
Seth Frohlich, a member of the newly formed NOFNA (North of Fifth Neighborhood Association), president of the 1100 West Condominium and the Mirador Master Association, asked, “How much is Flamingo Park worth? How much is Central Park worth? I mean if you were to try to sell Central Park right now, what would it be worth? So, to say that you’re taking away the FAR and therefore there’s no real value [to the parkland that is being donated],” he said is incorrect. “There’s actually immense value. You can’t place a value on a park in a city like this… What other project are you going to be able to find that you’re going to be able to get a park right now? I think it’s important the neighborhood get as much as we can and I think that’s very important for all the immediate neighbors. Like my fellow presidents around me, we are fully engaged in this process. We want to get a park. We want a great park.”
West Avenue resident Jefferson Brackin was brief and to the point. “I think we can all agree that we must accurately price the cost of inaction in regard to this project and that’s straight out of ULI,” he said referencing the Urban Land Institute’s recommendations for the City to utilize more blue and green infrastructure in its resiliency efforts
Bernardo Sandoval, president of Mirador 1035 and one of the founding members of NOFNA, said, “We’re here to echo the sentiments of my neighbors and other fellow board members from the Bentley, South Bay Club, Floridian, ourselves the Miradors. We’re all strongly in favor of this project. We need to get something done sooner than later. The saying goes 'the best way to get nothing done is by committee.'” He acknowledged the views of the residents who came to speak against the project. “They all give their opinions and they’re valid opinions but the reality is that we cannot… do nothing. We cannot just keep sitting on this having meeting after meeting. Enough is enough. This is the 96th - 97th meeting that we’ve had.”
“We’re ready to go. We have something in place. Let’s move forward,” Sandoval pleaded. “The major stakeholders, we’re certainly not trying to put ourselves above anyone, but we’re not going to take second place to anyone else either. And we are the major stakeholders. We represent 2,000 plus unit owners on West Avenue, legally as fiduciaries on a Board level. That has to count for something… Weigh that properly against what you’re listening to. We want this project.”
Committee chair John Alemán noted two requests she made that were incorporated into the draft agreement, one to ensure the Certificate of Occupancy would not be issued for the project until the park is complete. “That makes sure the park gets completed with the building,” she said. She also asked that the development rights not be transferable until the Certificate of Occupancy is received. “Both of those terms have been agreed to,” she said.
Commissioner Michael Góngora told those in attendance, “I think there’s an interesting argument made about turning it into something else, buying the parkland. We don’t have the money. You all sat through the GO bond hearings and you know how hard it is to find money to do projects. That is not a realistic argument.”
“What we’re really looking at,” he said, “is this shorter, denser, less attractive project that everybody in this room seems to agree is worse for the community.” He commended all sides for working together. “We’re very, very close together so I’m not really sure why there’s all of this anger or somber moods at this meeting. This should be a happier meeting. We’re working toward something very good for the community.”
“We’re not going to go back to the shorter denser project. We’re on this road and the Commission sees it as good for the City,” Góngora said. “Whatever we do, we need to make sure the developer’s feet are held to the fire to make sure that the promises made are delivered.”
“People are out there saying the developer’s getting a huge building, getting a huge opportunity,” he continued. “And he is getting a more attractive and, perhaps, more valuable project, but he’s giving something in return. There’s very few developments that come before the Commission where you’re getting a 3-acre park, where you’re getting a huge public benefit as part of that development. I can’t recall one during twelve years being involved on and off the Commission so there is something major that’s being given back that we need to be conscious of.”
Regarding a request by Del Vecchio that there be no nightclubs and entertainment establishments, no outdoor liquor service after midnight, and no indoor liquor service after 2 am, Chief Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis said there are already regulations in place that cover hours of operation for the area including a requirement that outdoor liquor sales end at midnight and at 2 am indoors. She said, “The developer has already agreed to abide by what’s in the Code.”
As noted, the LDR changes require a 6/7th vote of the Commission. While none of the Commissioners are bound to their votes when the project gets to the full Commission, at this point, all but one have either voted in favor of the deal at the Commission’s Finance Committee meeting or expressed support in other ways from the dais. Commissioner Micky Steinberg is the only member who has not opined. Discussions began earlier this spring when Mayor Dan Gelber challenged the community to find a solution to developing the long-vacant site.
Note: The photo above is a rendering of the previously proposed 42-story tower. New renderings at 44-stories have not yet been provided.
Renderings of proposed project courtesy Arquitectonica
Rendering of approved project courtesy Urban Robot

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