Tuesday was a sad day for Miami Beach. The Design Review Board approved the complete demolition of 42 Star Island, a notable 1925 estate designed by Walter DeGarmo, Florida’s first registered architect. The home has a long history and is one of the most widely recognized homes in Miami Beach. It is the latest in a line of architecturally significant pre-1942 homes that have been approved for demolition in the past year - an eightfold increase over the prior year and an alarming number that threatens the unique tradition, aesthetics and character of our single-family neighborhoods.
To add insult to injury, the review board granted an allowance for the owner to build larger than expected: the new replacement McMansion will be 20,000 square feet. This allowance of 40-percent additional lot coverage was granted because the DRB agreed with the owner that the home was a "teardown in spite of overwhelming expert testimony to the contrary.
I started a petition in December to save the home, and 425 preservation-minded citizens joined the effort to stop its demolition. As one petition signer eloquently noted: "If those owners are prepared to demolish a structure that has significance to the fabric of this city, then their personal sense of importance must be superior to the importance of the city as a whole, and this is not a trait that should be lauded by the community."
Unfortunately, the DRB’s approval and subsequent size allowance did just that. This new home will tower over its next door neighbors’ homes - sitting significantly higher and at more than two times the size. It will become a permanent and visible reminder of the city’s failure to rein in out-of-scale development for generations to come.
I want to thank my fellow volunteers at Miami Design Preservation League, who spent a tremendous amount of time and energy during the past several months exploring every opportunity to save this home. We fought the good fight, and in years to come we will look back and be comforted knowing that we were on the right side of history in this matter.
An effort is now under way to fix the loopholes that allow such senseless demolition to occur and to add more incentives to save historic homes and to limit the size of replacement homes. To stay in the loop regarding these critical next steps, visit our website and add your email address to the "Join Our Newsletter" box on the bottom right. The website link is http://www.savemiamibeach.org/
Though we may have lost this battle, we have not yet lost the war to save Miami Beach from those who seek to exploit it for selfish short-term interests. Miami Beach’s extraordinary success is based on a history of people standing up and saying "enough is enough" before it is too late. We will not stop until our city has sufficient protections in place to prevent such embarrassing situations from happening again.
Daniel Ciraldo, member, Miami Design Preservation League, Miami