West of West Vision on Hold

West Ave

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

West of West Vision on Hold:

Developer Todd Glaser withdraws proposal for comprehensive development plans

Just four months after going public with his proposal for a comprehensive vision for 15.5 acres in Miami Beach’s West Avenue area, developer Todd Glaser has withdrawn the plans from consideration. Glaser wanted to build a resilient residential area with small cafés, retail stores, and art galleries, “a city of the future” dubbed WoW for West of West Avenue, but he pulled the plug for the time being after a less than enthusiastic response from City staff.

At this month’s Land Use and Development Committee meeting, Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who had been working with the developer to explore the concept, said Glaser decided not to proceed.
“The proposer has withdrawn this item and, I think, was kind of frustrated that staff just shot it down,” he said. Arriola said the frustration seemed to stem from two concerns, a lack of support in the initial staff memo which indicated “as a policy matter we didn’t want to see commercial coming into that residential area and then the other one is that politically this wouldn’t sell. That’s what I had heard.”
Miami Beach Planning Director Tom Mooney said, “Our evaluation was based strictly on what was proposed by the developer.” After the Land Use Committee indicated last month that it wanted to have further discussion on the item this month, he said staff “came up with some other potential recommendations.”
“Our biggest concern with the initial development proposal was twofold,” he said. “One we thought that the proposal to unify all these different blocks, particularly with the second level spine, was very intriguing. We liked the bold vision. We thought that as drafted initially that there was too much of a loss of landscaping. We had concerns with how the first level was being treated but our biggest concern was since it involved right of way vacations and a development agreement, we thought that all three should travel together.” The proposal was in the concept phase and not at the point of a formal agreement.
“Our concern with the introduction of commercial uses was twofold,” he continued. “One, there was an active commercial corridor a block away [on Alton Road] but, two, we also had a concern with commercial uses as a main permitted use because as a main permitted use, basically all the buildings could become commercial, so in our revised memo, we suggested that as this moves forward the developer take another look at how the landscaping might evolve, how the setbacks could evolve and how the particular overlay might develop on a block by block basis in the event that it can’t move forward in a comprehensive way because of ownership.” Glaser owns several properties in the area but a small percentage of the total number.
The area included spans West Avenue to Bay Road between 14th and 16th Streets.


“The other thing we suggested was, perhaps, rather than looking at commercial as a main permitted use, perhaps it becomes an accessory use to residential and that might be something that would be less impactful,” he said.  
After Mooney’s explanation, Arriola said, “The developer who brought this forward is withdrawing this item but I wanted to have a discussion amongst us and with you,” he said to Mooney. 
“I had heard that there’s a concern from staff that politically this isn’t going to fly and we’re not going to recommend it. Leave the politics to us,” he said.
“The other thing is, with respect to the commercial mixed-use, we do this all over the city. That should not be, as a policy matter, a reason to kill a project,” Arriola added.
“I’ve seen the evolution now from your recommendation which is good. I would concur with you that commercial being the main permitted use is not the intent of this,” he continued. “I’ve walked the area now three times with neighbors and the developer to talk about the vision. There is some good strong community support for this and even some of the folks that were hesitant on my last walk, they were starting to see the vision and they were more open to it.”
“Unless the developer wants to bring this back, it’s dead,” Arriola said. “But there is community support for this, for a lot of reasons, some of it being economic. Some folks are homeowners there who feel like they’re kind of trapped because nobody’s going to buy their property given where it’s at now from a flooding perspective."

"But, also, one of the things that intrigued me about this the most was... everyone wants to copy Sunset Harbour and the success of that." Noting Sunset Harbour, where he lives, “is a great community,” he added “but Sunset Harbour largely has been a gray infrastructure project. You know, it’s very, very heavy concrete, pumps and all that. And it works for flooding. This would be the first Sunset Harbour-like mixed-use project that I’ve seen that is actually very green in nature… I hope that this comes back to see where this evolves.” 
Given the City’s focus on incorporating more green infrastructure in its resiliency program, he said, “This might inform us as we do this long-term throughout our city, so I hope this does not die… the thing that got my eye the most was the amount of green infrastructure that was embedded in this project.”
Committee Chair, Commissioner John Alemán, agreed. “I’m disappointed to see this die on the vine because it was very innovative and creative. It was going to be an opportunity for us to explore what another possible evolution of mixed-use in Miami Beach could be. It was going to be highly resilient and I concur with you,” she told Arriola. “Sunset Harbour’s a wonderful neighborhood so I hope no Sunset Harbourites are discouraged by what I’m going to say right now but you’re right. It’s not very green. It is road and then sidewalk and then commercial building and there’s only tree pits... You don’t look at it and see anything lush and, for me personally, I don’t think that that’s the best possible ultimate evolution of what we can be.”
Alemán referred to the Urban Land Institute's review of the City's resiliency efforts. “They said 'We commend you for your bold steps on the gray infrastructure. You’re doing all the right things there, however you’re not doing enough with blue and green infrastructure' and I thought this project was the first time we had somebody really start to think creatively about what blue and green infrastructure could look like in a mixed-use setting, so I’m disappointed, I guess, to see it being withdrawn by the developer at this stage.”
Mooney said he and the City’s Chief Resiliency Officer, Susy Torriente, recently walked the area block by block. “One of the things I pointed out is the area is evolving already and will evolve because those areas that are single-family homes, those are pretty vulnerable properties and you will see those replaced with multi-family.”
“One of the things we suggested in our revised memo was that if this can’t be conducted in a more monumental way because of property acquisition, maybe there’s a way to evolve this on a block by block basis so that we look at how that could be developed because it is going to change over time,” Mooney said. “It’s changing now and it is going to continue to change over time because with an RM-1 zoning, people are not going to rehab a single-family home that’s vulnerable. They’re going to replace it with a new home. That’s pretty evident.”
Arriola said the homes in the area are “vulnerable to sea level rise and they’re just vulnerable to economics. I don’t want to insult anybody but they just don’t have a whole lot of value. Who’s going to buy those single-family homes for a premium if they have to remain single-family homes? They have too many choices just in Miami Beach let alone across the Bay.”
Homes in the area were “built to last 30-40 years" and are not historic, Arriola said. At some point, property owners will want to sell their homes and this proposal, he said, would help them get value from them. Being able to help those homeowners was one of the attractions for him “but the other thing was just the amount of green infrastructure that this project envisions. If this project were to happen, this could be the model that the City uses for future overlays. That could be a really good thing because, like I said, Sunset Harbour, I love it, but it is a perfect example of gray infrastructure and but for the building heights that are there, there would be no shade, but for all the amount of heavy equipment that we’ve invested there, it would flood.”
RE:MiamiBeach spoke with Glaser about the withdrawal. He, too, thought the development could be a global example of a coastal city that combined commercial and residential uses in a way that is highly resilient. 
Having watched the discussion on potential hotel use on Lincoln Road prior to the West of West discussion, he said the thought process is “Let’s bring more tourists because tourists bring tax dollars and we get a lot of taxes from the hotels when you stay.”
In his vision, WoW is a residential area where people just go downstairs to have coffee or to shop. “They don’t have to trek across town. This town is going to be gridlocked like Japan,” he said.
Glaser called the 15.5 acre area he targeted “probably the most valuable real estate in the U.S. that’s underdeveloped.” He heard there was some move to designate the area historic, noting at the same time some residents of the Palm View area which is also vulnerable to flooding are looking to reduce restrictions placed on their homes by its historic designation.
“It’s a disaster,” he said. “I’m pulling out indefinitely.
The block by block proposal isn’t feasible, Glaser said while asking why he and his investment partners would spend millions of dollars to risk having the City say “no” to any future proposed plans.
“It is it what it is,” he said. At this point, he’s renting out his properties. In December, he told RE:MiamiBeach that he and several other investors including brothers Sean Posner and Jarrett Posner, Charles Ratner, and Fred Carlton, had purchased a total of six properties. 
In the meantime, he said, “Let’s see if the sentiment changes from the people who live in the area when they slowly but surely realize the developer that was going to buy everything and pay market price” is now out of the mix. 
“The most important thing is we need to get the public in this area behind it and sending emails to the Commission and the City Manager," he said "This the dream of a lifetime" that could become "a missed opportunity."
Background materials and the City staff memo on the project can be found here.

If you’d like to send comments to Commissioners, addresses can be found here.


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