Owner of Shelborne Hotel Seeks to Reverse Miami Beach’s Approval of Raleigh Hotel Development

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Owner of Shelborne Hotel Seeks to Reverse Miami Beach’s Approval of Raleigh Hotel Development:

Preservation Board decision would allow a 175-ft tower to be built on the site

The owner of the Shelborne Hotel has filed a petition with the Miami Beach Special Master to reverse the Historic Preservation Board’s approval of development plans for the Raleigh Hotel. Michael Shvo intends to restore the Raleigh and the adjacent South Seas and Richmond Hotels and construct a new 175-ft luxury residential tower in the 1700 block of Collins Avenue. The Shelborne is located at 1801 Collins Avenue, the property directly to the north of the Raleigh. Throughout the process, Shelborne principal Mitchell Cohen has objected to the impact of potential shadows from the new tower on his hotel.

Shvo, Chairman and CEO of SHVO, and his partners purchased The Raleigh from Tommy Hilfiger in February 2019 for $103 million. When the City Commission approved a text amendment allowing buildings up to 200-ft on the site, they closed on the purchase of the adjacent Richmond and South Seas for a combined $140 million in August 2019 to create a unified development site and build a new tower behind the Richmond and South Seas. All of the buildings were designed by L. Murray Dixon in 1940-41.

Shelborne attorney Tucker Gibbs states in the petition that the developer failed to meet the criteria for Certificate of Appropriateness approvals, specifically not following the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings as required in the City’s code. The filing also states the developer failed to timely disclose and the HPB failed to determine the relationship of one of its experts who testified in support of the project after previously objecting to it. 

As part of the restoration, Shvo proposed demolishing later additions to the three buildings and returning the facades to their original L. Murray Dixon design while restoring the lobbies. There was some debate at several of the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) meetings at which the application was discussed about the significance of the additions on all three in the 1950s by noted architect Melvin Grossman and which “time the buildings were of.” In the case of the Raleigh, the later rooftop additions were approved for demolition. The demolition on the smaller hotels is more substantial including most of the 1954 seven-story additions at the rear of the Richmond and South Seas. The façade of the South Seas was more substantially changed than the others in the 1950s and the HPB approval would restore it back to its L. Murray Dixon design.

At the July HPB meeting, the petition states, Jean Francois Lejeune, University of Miami Professor of Architecture, “strongly objected to the project. But first he expressed surprise that neither the applicant nor any objector had retained his services given his well-known expertise in the historical development of art deco architecture in Miami Beach in general and architect L. Murray Dixon in particular. He reminded the board and audience that he is one of the authors of a book about Art Deco architecture in Miami Beach and Mr. Dixon, who designed the Raleigh, Richmond and South Seas hotels. Professor Lejeune then presented a report and testimony stating that the application was ‘an architectural and urbanistic blunder. It is one of the most manipulative attacks against a historic district and must be rejected.’”

As to the proposed residential tower, the petition states, Lejeune said his study showed that “the tower overwhelms the historic architecture and urban environment of the historic district.”

“He criticized the developer’s plan that would destroy more than 80% of the South Seas and Richmond hotels and use one of the remaining lobbies as a storage area and the other as a restaurant,” according to the petition. “Professor Lejeune’s report rejected the demolition of any portion of the two non-Raleigh contributing historic hotels and called for their retention and restoration as functional hotels.”

“As for the tower, the professor said it would be ‘too high, too long and too fat,’ and ‘inappropriate to the scale and character of the Raleigh’s hotel, garden, and pool… The tower’s architecture represents the lowest common denominator of pure real estate speculation to the detriment of the community and its history,’” according to the petition.

The following month, however, the petition states, after saying he was giving his “personal opinion” in July, “Now the professor opined that the revised design of the rooftop of the tower and other new design elements were praiseworthy even if the building still would be too tall.” In the August HPB materials, Lejeune was listed on the revised Raleigh Master Plan as an architect and was called as a rebuttal witness to the Shelborne’s preservation consultant Steven Avdakov.

“During his rebuttal testimony the professor stated that he was not a registered architect and that his earlier testimony at the hearing was ‘personal.’ He then proceeded to retreat from his July 14, 2020 report and testimony regarding the demolition of the non-lobby portions and restoration of the remaining portions of the South Seas and Richmond hotels.”

The petition claims the Raleigh development fails to meet six of ten standards set by the Secretary of the Interior including: 
  • Standard 1: A property shall be used for its historic purpose or be placed in a new use that requires minimal change to the defining characteristics of the building and its site and environment.
  • Standard 2: The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.
  • Standard 3: Each property shall be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or architectural elements from other buildings, shall not be undertaken.
  • Standard 4: Most properties change over time; those changes that have acquired historic significance in their own right shall be retained and preserved.
  • Standard 9: New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.
  • Standard 10: New additions and adjacent or related new construction shall be undertaken in such a manner that if removed in the future, the essential form and integrity of the historic property and its environment would be unimpaired.

“The failure to present any relevant factual evidence to show that the application complies with the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation is a failure to follow the essential requirements of law” and “warrants reversal” of the HPB approval, the petition states.

The petition also claims the approval of the new tower failed to meet several of the City’s own criteria “with regard to the aesthetics, appearances, safety, function of any new or existing structure, public interior space and surrounding community” including its compatibility with its environment and adjacent structures, impact on the historic character of the neighborhood, and the impact on important view corridors.

With regard to Lejeune, the filing says his change of position created “confusion.” The petition states the developer’s team failed to disclose as required by City Code any monetary consideration it provided to Lejeune “to support or withhold objection to the certificate of appropriateness application” and, while there was discussion of Lejeune’s role, the HPB “neglected to make the necessary ‘determination’ of whether the applicant ‘timely satisfied’ the disclosure requirement” of his relationship with the developer. 

A separate filing was made in Miami-Dade’s 11th Circuit Court to quash a variance approval. Under the City Code, HPB Certificates of Appropriateness are appealed through the Special Master and variances via the court system. In this case, the action seeks to overturn the granting of a lesser setback – from 100 feet to 86 feet 4 inches – for a driveway to an expanded subterranean structure that will include “back-of-the-house and service areas, residential reception area, and an approximately 15,000 square-foot spa and screening room.”

“These changes to the already-approved and smaller underground structure triggered the owner’s variance request,” the court filing stated referring to a 2015 approval for prior owner Tommy Hilfiger’s plans for the Raleigh which would have turned the Raleigh into private residences. Shvo's plan involves maintaining all three buildings as hotels open to the public.

To get a variance, City Code requires applicants show “hardship.” The court filing states, “The applicant’s own actions created the special circumstances claimed as the need for the variance. The applicant failed to demonstrate any legal zoning hardship. The applicant also failed to establish that the entire property was virtually unusable without the variance. Therefore, the applicant failed to show that absent the variance it had no reasonable use of its property.”

“The ‘special circumstance’” needed to prove hardship “is the applicant’s desire to build a larger-than-allowed subterranean structure to serve a 200-foot high condominium. That desire and any hardship that arises out of it is self-created and thus fails to meet the variance criteria,” the suit states.

Cohen who testified before the HPB about the potential shadows created by the taller building, provided this statement to RE:MiamiBeach regarding the legal actions:
“I am so appreciative of the work and time that the HPB, City Staff and the public unselfishly offered concerning the application at The Raleigh. They should be commended for their dedication.
“Our issue has always been the protection of the heritage elements associated with The Shelborne. The #1 concern that we have always had, and continue to have, is the shadowing of The Shelborne and its one of a kind magnificent heritage elements. I am sure that Igor Polevitzky and Morris Lapidus are still watching.”

Polevitzky designed the east tower of the Shelborne, Lapidus, the west tower.

Shvo’s attorney Alfredo Gonzalez of Greenberg Traurig said he did not want to comment on pending litigation.

Assistant City Attorney Nick Kallergis said, “While we do not comment on pending litigation, we will defend the actions of the HPB in both proceedings.”

Rendering: Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design

[Corrected to reflect Morris Lapidus' role in designing the Shelborne.]

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