The residents of Miami Beach’s Sunset Islands once drove Kim Kardashian from their neighborhood — refusing to let the realilty TV star film there.
Now, they’re taking on a developer backed by the legendary Disney family in a fight over a 150-foot, historically designated bridge.
SMG Management, with investments by the Roy E. Disney family’s Shamrock Holdings, wants to build a five-story condo building at the foot of Sunset Drive. The roadway includes a low-lying bridge, which leads into two of the four islands that make up Sunset Islands.
When it was unanimously approved, city planners called the Palau Sunset Harbour project, “one of the most significant residential projects that will be developed in the city for a long time to come.”
Yet residents have fought it every step of the way.
There have been 20 hours of hearings — and rehearings. Both sides have spent tens of thousands on filing fees and legal bills.
The whole mess (among other issues) helped spawn a new resident activist group. Armed with their experience dealing with Palau, the group, Miami Beach United, is fighting to change the way the city approves developments.
“The land use process in this city is so skewed for the developers, that residents literally have no chance,” said Terry Bienstock, president of the Sunset Islands 3 and 4 homeowner association. “And that’s if they’re not trying to screw you.”
Designed by local architect Kobi Karp, the planned condo building is expected to have about 50 units, ground-level retail, a public canal-front promenade and secluded inner courtyard. Eighty percent of the units have already been pre-sold, said Wayne Pathman, an attorney for Palau.
The development is slated to take the place of a defunct development site and an empty cleaners.
Pathman pointed out that developers changed 20 different aspects of their plans at the request of residents. Two different city boards approved the project unanimously, he said.
At a recent City Ccommission meeting, Pathman piled a foot-high stack of meeting transcripts on a lectern.
“This matter was vetted out,” he said.
For residents, their fight against Palau hinges on the historic designation of the Sunset Drive bridge.
Separated by narrow canals and Sunset Lake, four bridges connect the exclusive Sunset Islands to each other and the rest of Miami Beach. Three of those bridges are designated historic by the city.
Built in the late 1920s, the bridges are described as “a discrete image of wealth ... and the extravagance of the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ ” according to the city’s historic designation report.
A fourth bridge was replaced in 1994 with a more utilitarian structure: solid concrete walls and steel railing.
“A modern piece of junk,” one resident called it, back in 1996.
In a city known for preservation, outraged homeowners asked the city to protect the remaining structures by declaring them historic.
“Historic designation is a means of maintaining the special character of a place through increased architectural consideration when the construction of new buildings... are proposed,” the city wrote its historic designation report.
The residents of Sunset Islands learned how valuable — and stringent — historic designation can be when homeowners tried to redo their small guardhouse. The city rejected their first plans, Bienstock said.