Planning Board Recommends Closing Loophole Allowing Apartment Hotels in South of Fifth Neighborhood

South of Fifth

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Planning Board Recommends Closing Loophole Allowing Apartment Hotels in South of Fifth Neighborhood:

Miami Beach commissioners will consider ordinance next month

Residents of the South of Fifth neighborhood say a loophole in the Miami Beach City Code allowing apartment hotels has negatively impacted their quality of life. At a Planning Board meeting considering new legislation before the City Commission, residents relayed stories of people urinating in the streets, gun violence, and prostitution – behavior they say is caused by transient rentals.

Hotels, suite hotels, and short-term rentals of residential apartments are currently illegal in the R-PS1 and R-PS2 districts South of Fifth, but apartment hotels are allowed. The districts, bounded by Michigan Avenue on the west, 4th Street on the north, Washington Avenue on the east and 2nd Street on the south, “consist largely of residential apartment buildings and have maintained a strong residential character,” Planning Director Tom Mooney wrote in a memo to the Planning Board.

After hearing complaints from constituents, Commissioners Mark Samuelian, Steven Meiner, and Michael Góngora and Mayor Dan Gelber sponsored an amendment to the City’s Land Development Regulations that would close the loophole allowing the apartment hotels.

According to Mooney’s memo, the Code defines apartment hotels as buildings with “a combination of suite hotel unit[s], apartment units and hotel units, under resident supervision, and having an inner lobby through which all tenants must pass to gain access. An apartment hotel must contain at least one unit apartment.”

“Apartment hotels were included as a definition in the LDR’s some time ago in order to better identify buildings that had a balanced mix of apartment and hotel units,” Mooney wrote. “When areas of the City were more seasonal, these types of buildings were popular as some of the units would be occupied during the late fall, winter and early spring months, for seasonal visitors. Now, however, the use is being exploited in primarily residential districts by only including a single residential unit, thus circumventing prohibitions on hotel and short-term rental uses.”

“Apartment hotel uses have provided options for older, historically significant buildings to be renovated, preserved and restored,” Mooney continued. “However, the number of apartment hotel conversions over the last couple of years within the RPS-2 district has negatively impacted existing residential apartment uses, as well as the residential character of the RPS-1 and RPS-2 districts. In this regard, the transient nature of apartment hotels is incompatible with a low-scale area composed primarily of residential apartments as the apartment hotel use has become a defacto hotel. Specifically, by having only a single residential unit within a building, an apartment hotel has the potential to change the character of the neighborhood as most of the units are hotels, which can be leased daily. Additionally, given the scale of the neighborhood, apartment hotels have begun to negatively impact the quality of life for residents who reside in these districts on a non-transient basis.”

Residents who spoke in support of the legislation said not only has the quality of life deteriorated but they feel unsafe, citing shootings, stabbings, drug dealings, and prostitution in the area. Two said they had taken to carrying concealed weapons.

Keith Marks, a member of the South of Fifth Neighborhood Association (SOFNA) Board said, “Hotels have front desks. They have liability. They have security. They have some form of rules [but] there is no law, no rules on apartment hotels” which, he said, have “no liability to the owners, no security, no safety for the community.”

SOFNA president Alyson Herman said the proposed legislation would eliminate a loophole that the Association believes “is a crucial step to preserve the quality of life in our residential neighborhood and it needs to be done as soon as possible.”

Sylvia Xistris said she “noticed a significant decline in the quality of life of our neighborhood” since moving to the area five years ago. “We can’t walk our dogs on the boardwalk after dark. There’s been a significant change.”

Steve Russell, a 17-year resident South of Fifth, said, “We have a very unique and special neighborhood. We have an elementary school. We have playgrounds. We have local eateries. We have places of worship. Violent crime – dangerous anti-social behaviors – are quickly on the rise and is associated with these kinds of buildings and with the people coming to them. We cannot allow unregulated flophouses with hundreds of nightly partiers, unmanaged, and in properties that are unaccountable for their behavior. Please close the loophole.”

Mooney noted in his memo, “There are a number of other districts within the South of Fifth neighborhood that permit apartment hotel uses, including the R-PS3 and C-PS2 districts. [T]hese districts also permit hotels and the short-term rental of apartment units. As such, the removal of apartment hotels as an allowable use in the R-PS1 and R-PS2 districts will not have any negative repercussions in terms of a balance of uses in the larger area.”

The proposed legislation would not apply to any currently operating apartment hotels as they would be grandfathered in under the old regulations, but it would prevent any further apartment hotel uses in the area.

With two members absent, the Board voted 5-0 to send a favorable recommendation back to the Commission which will have two readings of the legislation before it can be finalized. In the meantime, the Planning Board’s recommendation starts “zoning in progress” meaning the prohibition is in effect now pending Commission action.

The Board also asked for a future discussion of the issue citywide.

Full details on the Planning Board item are here.