A year or so ago, you had an occasional game of softball, William Cary, Miami Beachs preservation director, said during a November hearing in which eight homes were approved for demolition. Now it seems as if every application is hardball as more and more money comes into the city and more and more of these pre-42 properties are purchased. More and more are becoming the subject of complete demolition.
Despite claims by preservationists that the new homes are the work of speculative developers buying up homes and razing them to sell new McMansion, many asking for permission to tear down and start fresh are actually couples and families.
• Are Traasdahl, a businessman who, after trying to designate his 1933 Mediterranean Revival home historic, now wants to build an Asian-themed home on Rivo Alto Island.
• Wayne Boich, a wealthy coal mogul from Ohio who recently demolished three homes two of which were abandoned and badly dilapidated to make way for a North Bay Road estate on more than an acre of land.
• Cindy Melk, a Chicago skincare executive who wants to take down what she calls a bastardized 1938 home on Di Lido Island to create a larger backyard for her kids.
• Abraham Schaulson, who wants to build a Pine Tree Drive estate with nine bedrooms, separate meat and dairy kitchens, and an atrium to protect a sukkah, a hut used during the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, for his wife and nine kids.
Like the Hochsteins, most homeowners who have chosen to tear down their old homes argue that problematic additions stripped the structures of their historic value or that deterioration and age have rendered their properties dangerous or beyond repair.
Just to restore and bring back the importance of what was there before would be a crazy burden, Schaulson said during a hearing.
But there are some who would rather restore old homes, like Susan Richard and her husband, Dennis.
The couple has owned a 1936 colonial home on a sprawling lot on the northwest corner of Sunset Island III since the 1980s. They have painstakingly restored the two-story, L-shaped home, which has walls coated in greenery and a living room that is just 22 feet deep.
Down Bay Avenue, a neighbor, is tearing down his home to build anew. Across the water, on the corner of Sunset Island II, a new home has replaced an old Howard Hughes estate.
Richard said she understands the desire to start from scratch. She says the choice is personal and should belong to property owners only.
You have to really love the home, she said.
There remains a strong, albeit niche market for those who feel as Richard does, said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger-Wooten Maxwell Realtors.
Shuffield said that since January, a little more than 10 percent of Miami Beach homes sales have been single-family homes. Thats 243 dwellings, out of which 119 were built before 1945.
Shuffield said the buyers who purchased those are often Europeans interested in second homes. He said speculators are once again looking at homes, but few are purchasing right now.
Single-family homes on the Beach have become collectors items because there are just so few of them now, he said, doubting that stronger preservation laws would have any impact on the market.
But with nearly 2,500 pre-1942 homes left on Miami Beach, that leaves a lot of room for friction with homeowners if the Miami Design Preservation League aggressively pursues its new agenda.
Kinerk, the league official, said one of founder Barbara Baer Capitmans last directives before dying in 1990 was that the league should focus on preserving single-family homes. He said that while cities like Coral Gables have crafted laws to do so, so far Miami Beach has failed.
We have failed Barbaras directive so far, he said. Its embarrassing.
Kinerk said the league will act quickly to try and designate residential homes historic in order to try and avoid after-the-fact fights like the ongoing battle with the Hochsteins. He said an important home worth saving should be protected regardless.
When should we act? he asked. When theyre all gone?