Miami Beach Design Review Board Denies AIMCO’s Proposal to Build New Tower at Flamingo Point Development

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Design Review Board Denies AIMCO’s Proposal to Build New Tower at Flamingo Point Development:

Resident complaints weighed heavily in decision

Miami Beach’s Design Review Board rejected an application from AIMCO Holdings to build a new 140-ft, 14-story tower at its Flamingo Point development. AIMCO decided to move forward with its proposal for a shorter tower following the City Commission’s refusal in June to consider an increase in height to allow a 300-foot, 24-story tower on a narrow parcel on the northern end of the 16-acre community located between 14th and 16th Streets on Bay Road.

Having considered recent applications for changes to previous Design Review Board (DRB) orders for construction on the North Tower and a new restaurant on-site, Board members were very familiar with complaints about AIMCO’s operation of the rental buildings which share common elements with the South Tower, the lone condo building on the site. Initially, the entire development was slated to be converted to condos but after the real estate crash, AIMCO opened the majority of the buildings as rentals and signed an agreement with the South Tower Condominium Association for the operation and maintenance of the overall development. Over the years, that relationship has turned bitter with South Tower residents complaining about unequal treatment regarding the upkeep of the rental and condo buildings, traffic management, lax security, and flooding, among other complaints.

At this week’s hearing, residents told Board members AIMCO has filed suit against the South Tower to compel them to support the proposed new tower. Resident Jason Savitz told the DRB there are many “unkept promises [AIMCO] made to this Design Review Board” when it gained approval for previous projects and he urged denial until those promises are met.

Resident Joe Sutton emphasized the North Tower which remains under construction is not fully occupied and the new restaurant has not had time to be fully evaluated on how it operates. “Let’s have AIMCO prove that they can make things right before approving another building.” Sutton asked AIMCO to talk with the South Tower residents to come to a “meeting of the minds” while also giving everyone time to see how a fully occupied North Tower fits into the overall operation and maintenance of the development.

“Let us live in peace for a little bit and iron out our differences before approving another tower,” Sutton said. “We want to live in harmony with AIMCO. Let’s get things right first.”

To the north of the community is the Capri Condominums. Attorney Tucker Gibbs said his client had “deep concerns” about the mass, scale, and compatibility of the proposed tower with the adjacent seven-story Capri building and neighboring two-story apartment buildings.

While the maximum allowable height on the site is 140 feet, Gibbs said the Flamingo was not “entitled” to that. He read an excerpt from an earlier court ruling on another development in Miami Beach: “The maximum height allowable in the zoning code is not an entitlement but rather may be modified to comply with the compatibility requirements in the design review criteria.”

Gibbs urged AIMCO to continue to meet with the Capri and the South Tower residents and come up with a building that is “less massive and more in scale” with the surrounding neighbors which, he said, could be accomplished through a lower building height or stepping back the floors on the east and west sides of the building.

In his rebuttal AIMCO attorney Michael Larkin of Bercow Radell Fernandez Larkin & Tapanes said his client had negotiated with the Capri for over a year on the initial proposed height increase and were “told the entire time ‘Just abide by the Code’” which is what the proposal for the shorter tower does, he said. 

“We’re in compliance” with the Code and not seeking any variances. “What do they want from us?” he asked. Larkin pointed out the 140-ft proposed tower is “exactly the same height as [the Capri’s] center tower.”

“Staff found our project to be in compliance,” Larkin emphasized.

“We may disagree,” DRB Chair James Bodnar interjected.

Larkin concluded by noting that AIMCO’s litigation counsel “has advised us not to meet with the South Tower residents,” one of the directives given by the DRB at its August meeting. The Board heard a presentation on the application last month but due to a “short” board, AIMCO sought feedback only and came back this week for the formal presentation and vote.

Regarding the objections of the South Tower Condo Association, Larkin told the Board, “This is a private dispute not subject to the purview of this board… You cannot act as a condominium mediation board… The issues simply are beyond the scope of this application.”

Following a question from Board member Sam Sheldon, Jason Savitz said Larkin’s earlier contention that the residents did not want to pay a special assessment for further work at the property “is a red herring. It is candidly insulting.” Savitz said he has paid all of the $60,000 in assessments he’s been asked to pay so far.

“What this is about is us not being heard,” Savitz said. “We have no one else to go to because the situation is so horribly conflicted and we are being treated so badly. We are looking to somebody to help us.”

Sheldon said he agreed with Larkin that the DRB “is not the forum for mediating these issues.” However, he said, “I think it’s pretty clear that AIMCO has used its position to abuse the residents of the South Tower” adding, “I have not had as many aggrieved people as I have had on this application” in his two and half years on the Board.  

“AIMCO has not been a good corporate citizen, frankly.” He urged AIMCO to “Go and speak to the residents of the South Tower.”

“This Board has always considered neighbor input in making these decisions,” Sheldon continued. “And what you are hearing, universally, from the people that live in the complex, from the neighbors to the south, from the neighbors to the north is that AIMCO does not care about their rights.”

“AIMCO acts contemptuously towards it neighbors and, frankly, this Board because the directive was to go and speak to the members of the South Tower and, instead, AIMCO is suing the South Tower Condominium Association to compel their consent to this application,” he said angrily.

Saying he recognized the Board’s decision “has to be within the context of design criteria,” he raised an issue with compatibility – “the compatibility of this project relative to all of the properties around it and I am not satisfied at all that AIMCO has done what it needs to do to satisfy its neighbors that this project is compatible with the surrounding properties.”

New Board member Alexander Gorlin cited a statement by architect Andrew Burnett of Stantec that the design was based on a “single campus” perspective. Using that lens, Gorlin said, “It’s worrisome to see a North and a South Tower that apparently are not equally maintained.”  

“The design and Design Review Board [consideration] includes safety,” he said. “I would not even consider another tower until I’m satisfied to see the maintenance and safety of the South Tower has been investigated property.” 

Sarah Giller Nelson who offered a suggestion last month to make the top of the proposed tower more symmetrical was disturbed by Larkin and Burnett’s efforts to ensure that she was aware they had heard her comments and incorporated them. “I’m really tired. It seems like I’m the only one that was listened to. I’m such a minor player in this whole thing,” she said, citing community concerns.

“I’m concerned about these traffic issues, the framing about compatibility with the other buildings on the entire property. I don’t believe this meets the design criteria,” Giller Nelson said. Responding to another comment suggesting a continuance of the application to a later date, she said that would only push it further into the future. “We’ve given them so many opportunities” to address what she called “fundamental problems.” 

“We’ve given them enough information about what they’re doing wrong,” she said. “I feel like I’ve heard enough… I think we need to move forward.”

The Board voted 6-1 to deny the application with Jason Hagopian opposed.

Rendering: Stantec
 

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