500 Alton Road: 44 stories, 484 feet?

West Ave

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

500 Alton Road: 44 stories, 484 feet?:

Land Use Committee rejects request for 560 feet

Developer Russell Galbut this week presented his vision for his 500-700 Alton Road project which includes a 560-foot tower and a 3-acre park to be given to the City of Miami Beach. Despite neighbors who spoke in favor of the plan, City Commissioners on the Land Use and Development Committee weren’t willing to support a height above 500 feet, opting instead to recommend a 44-story tower rising no higher than 484 feet.
When the 560-foot number was placed into one of the draft zoning ordinances to allow the project to proceed, local activists who had reached agreement with Galbut and the City on a 44-story tower – and then expected a height of 440 feet – sprung into action. Item sponsor Mayor Dan Gelber was forced to comment on it, saying at an earlier Commission meeting that he would not support that height but that he wanted the Land Use Committee and Planning Board to weigh in with what they think the height should be. 

Galbut presented his plans (some of the renderings appear with this article) for a 3-acre park that the City will own but noted the area feels larger when viewed together with the adjacent privately-owned green space.
500-700 Alton Road proposed public green space

500-700 Alton Road proposed public green space and adjacent private space

The park, which Galbut would construct before turning it over to the City, would include a children’s playground, splash pad, dog park, and walkway around the periphery of the site. The path, in the future, can be used as a Baywalk connector over 5th Street. Funding for the Baywalk connector is in the General Obligation (G.O.) Bond offering to be considered by voters in November.
Part of the path would go through the tower proposed for the 500 block. Moving the FAR (floor area ratio or density) from the other blocks into the tower opens up the area for the park and is the basis for the zoning ordinances that the Commission would need to approve. Galbut noted the project does not require additional FAR, which would need to be approved by voters, but rather that the FAR be accumulated in the 44-story tower.
Rendering of 500-700 Alton Road proposed project with pink walkway

Galbut said he is creating the “largest permeable space in Miami Beach with embedded water management and retention solutions including the ability to retain water in the event of an acute shock, resilient landscaping, berms, and bioswales.
In presenting his argument for the height, he said, “Height is defined by the amount of floors” which, he said, in the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County is interpreted as 14 feet per floor inclusive of slab. His plans call for four floors of parking with 10 feet in height, an amenity floor/pool floor with 24 feet in height (“typical for Miami,” he said), 20 floors with 11-foot ceilings and 10 floors with 12-foot ceilings (with about another 8 inches for mechanical, etc.).

Proposed tower at 500 Alton Road viewed from the south

Galbut said “That is not an unreasonable building,” saying the design contained a smaller footprint at the request of the neighbors. “This wasn’t dreamt out of the sky,” he said. “You need 11- and 12-foot ceilings. You will not sell 10-foot ceilings, 9 foot ceilings. You will not sell 8-foot ceilings.”
“It will not be successful unless we have the height that is required,” he told the Committee. “We can make the floor plate [footprint] bigger, but we were told by our neighbors we needed a smaller floor plate,” that they didn’t care about the height, he said. “That floor plate has been designed to satisfy our neighbors.”
Gayle Durham, president of the West Avenue Neighborhood Associaton (WAvNA) and one of the founders of the Miami Beach Gateway Community Alliance which wanted to see a smaller development on the site, told Commissioners not to focus on the park amenities. “The tot lot and the dog park are not important. The height is important.”

Local activist Frank Del Vecchio, co-founder and President of the Gateway Community Alliance, said “We had come prepared to support the staff report… a 440-foot high building.”
“We had agreement,” he said. “We are now surprised at the last minute… What we have seen is not what we expected nor is it precise. The public had no forewarning. Staff has not had the opportunity to review it… so this is a shock. We were moving forward expeditiously.”
“At this point we’re stunned with the developer taking advantage,” Del Vecchio said. “The park is smaller than 3.2 acres.” Saying they were “simply not ready” to vote on the new plan, he suggested the Committee “either go with the staff recommendation or table it until you have a staff analysis.”
Chief Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis said all the details including a survey and legal description of the park along with a detailed development plan will be included in the final development agreement which will travel with the ordinances and all will be considered at the same time. Boutsis told the Committee, "The mayor was looking for direction from you and the Planning Board what the appropriate number is [for the height]. My understanding, he’s looking in the 400s.”
Edward Martos, attorney for the Floridian Condominium which sits across West Avenue from the proposed project said, “We have no concern with regard to the height… We urge you to move it today.” 
“We’re comfortable with 44 stories,” he said. As someone who represents developers as well, Martos said he understands that 14 feet per floor is required in high-end developments. He said “We want a high-end product” for this project.  
Janet Silverman, representing the neighboring Bentley Bay Condominium Association also on West Avenue, said her Board supports a 44-story building. She said she would go back and ask for specific direction on the height but added, “I’m sure everyone would agree a higher-end project is better… and if they need the height to get a higher-end building, I’m sure everyone would be fine with that."
John Honker, a resident at the Icon which is across 5th Street from the development site, said, “From the resident perspective, we feel like the deal’s changed…  it’s a little bait and switch.” He noted his building is 423 feet tall with 42 floors. Monad Terrace, now under construction, he said, has “10 feet per floor” and he urged Commissioners to do “more due diligence on what the 560 feet would be used for.”
Ron Starkman, a South of Fifth resident said his building, the Portofino, a luxury building, is 44 stories with 10-foot ceilings. He urged the City to do more work on valuation of the taller tower and the benefits being proffered by the developer.
Seth Frohlich, president of the Mirador Master Association said, “All the immediate stakeholders are in favor of this,” saying “There are a lot of obstructionists from South of Fifth and WAvNA.” The empty lot is “an eyesore,” he said. “It adds nothing to our property values… Every single building that is directly impacted by this… we don’t care about the height.”
Citing the more than 100 meetings on the issue, Frohlich said it’s time to end the debate. “That time has been had. The time is past and it’s time to vote.”
Bernardo Sandoval, one of the founding members of the North of Fifth Neighborhood Association (NOFNA) which was formed out of the debate over Galbut’s project, said, “We’re tired of having this conversation.” Calling the opponents, “a small group of individuals who represent no one", he said NOFNA members “have no issue with the actual height.” The opponents he said are being “extremely disingenuous.” 
“They don’t come to the meetings. They don’t reach out to the developer,” he said. “The fact is they don’t represent West Avenue unit owners… They want to come here and pretend that they do… We implore you to move this forward today.”
Following the public testimony, Galbut said that during the more than 100 meetings only the number of floors was discussed, not height. The park, he said, was always 3 acres and not 3.2 which opponents were pointing to. [In reviewing the plans presented, RE:MiamiBeach notes the park is 3.02 acres which may be the basis for the misunderstanding.]
With regard to the 10-foot ceilings in the South of Fifth buildings, Galbut said they are on the water, allowing the buildings to get away with lower ceilings. However, he also noted with regard to the 10-foot ceilings at Monad Terrace, “It’s on the water and it’s not selling.”
Galbut also implored the Committee to move the project forward. “The more we postpone, the more interest rates go up, the less this becomes a reality.” 
Commissioner Michael Góngora said, “This is a unique project. It doesn’t matter where you live because it is at the gateway… It will be one of the most important developments we will see during our tenure on the Commission.”
“I assumed, probably wrongfully, that we were talking 440 feet,” he continued. “I understand wanting to have more height, but it’s too much.”
Galbut replied, “I appreciate your candor… but it puts this entire project at risk… We need to make this project work for everybody.”
Góngora said, while he was “not looking to slow it down or stop it… I would not vote for 560 feet under any circumstance.”
Committee Chair, Commissioner John Alemán, said Gelber, as the sponsor, had asked the Land Use Committee “to get it done today” to which Góngora responded, “Then Mayor Gelber should have come here today.”
After surveying the Committee on what was doable, Alemán put forth a recommendation for 44 stories at 11 feet “and no more than 484 feet” in height which the Committee agreed to send to the Commission for referral to the Planning Board, the next step in the process. Galbut asked for an additional 10 feet to allow for the tall lobby and amenity space but was rebuffed by the Committee.
The ordinances will require a 6/7th vote of the Commission.
Additional renderings below.

Renderings courtesy Arquitectonica

Rendering of 500-700 Alton Road project with commercial space along Alton Road

Proposed 500-700 Alton Road project aerial perspective

View from the north of proposed 500-700 Alton Road project

View from West Avenue of park and proposed restaurant

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