The character of the community of Bay Harbor Islands took center stage at a town hall meeting held on Monday, when the town council approved a site plan for the new Island House condo development, set to be built on the East Island on 9161 and 9201 East Bay Harbor Dr.
Although some residents tried to persuade the council to reject the project, a 3-1 vote gave the site plan tentative approval — leaving many Bay Harbor Islands residents up in arms and dismayed.
“We just don’t have the infrastructure to have a building on the island that is the size of a football stadium,” resident Sharon Leon said. “It’s not that residents aren’t for development, it’s that we’re not for a building of that size.”
The project is expected to total 1 acre in size — with 86 housing units among four buildings.
The project’s design wasn’t the only object of concern: Residents were upset that councilwoman Kelly Reid was asked to recuse herself from the meeting because of previous comments she had made regarding her disapproval of overdevelopment on the islands during a planning and zoning board meeting.
Councilwoman Stephanie Bruder also left the room on her own terms for conflict-of-interest reasons, leaving the council only four persons instead of six.
Throughout most of the meeting, developers, architects and residents debated back and forth over Bay Harbor Islands’ code.
According to town planner Michael Miller, the developers Island Club Towers LLC have met all of the required regulations and standards to have the building built based on decisions the community made over 60 years ago.
Developers have also included additional new revisions that other nearby buildings don’t have, such as an aesthetically pleasing breezeway, four guest parking spaces, and at least two parking spaces per unit.
The breezeway was prompted by a Planning and Zoning Board request after the public expressed disapproval of the building’s large-scale design.
Miller, however, said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Residents worry that the building will cause traffic congestion and will contribute to the parking problem on the east island, which they claim will double the area’s density.
Developers argued that a traffic study was not required for the island’s code, and they compared the island with other municipalities such as Miami Beach, claiming that not even Miami Beach has enough parking for residents and that at least they (the developers) had included four guest parking spots and two parking spaces per unit — a larger number than Miami Beach’s 1.5 parking spaces per unit.
However, town residents — some of whom are heavily invested in the welfare of the islands — were outraged and argued that Miami Beach is a different city altogether.
Susan Luck, who is the chairwoman of the town’s Environmental Impact Committee, spoke in front of the council and urged them not to approve the site plan.
“This is an environmental issue. We’re not obstructionists; we are for responsible development,” she said.
Some residents, however, urged the council to move forward.
“This is going to bring more money into the island,” resident Nadine Muller-Donna said.
Although a majority of the residents at the meeting said the new building violates the spirit of the town charter, Jeffrey Koster agreed with Muller-Donna and said that the building is moving Bay Harbor Islands into the 21st century.
“The ratio of the glass surrounding the building cannot be any more harmonious and contemporary,” Koster said.
Former longtime resident of New York City and current Bay Harbor Islands resident Victor Nieto disagreed with both Muller-Donna and Koster. He begged the council to reconsider and to think about the overcrowding that is already happening on the islands.
“I came here because of the ambience. As a New Yorker, I wanted to come to a place with low-rise buildings and a harmonious, peaceful environment. This is not Bal Harbor,” Nieto said.
Nieto, who has been a Bay Harbor Islands resident for four years, said he suspects that the project could create a domino effect, encouraging the building of more high-rises and large, oversized buildings.
The Citizens Coalition, a Bay Harbor Islands residents group, has already spent thousands of dollars on lawsuits against the design, scale and parking conflicts for several projects throughout Bay Harbor Islands.
In addition, the town has spent a total of $55,000 in legal expenses to fight a lawsuit, initially filed by Councilwoman Reid, alleging violations of building-height restrictions. A limit of 75 feet is part of the town charter.
Residents argue that they already pay enough in taxes, and that the money the town spends should be used for other purposes.
Leon said she pays over $8,000 in taxes for her 1,700-square-foot apartment and that she refuses to deal with more parking issues than she already does.
However, Town Manager Ronald Wasson said the town has no plans or intentions of reducing its parking requirements — some of the highest in the county — as they exist today.
Additionally, building planner Rob Curtis, who was an expert witness for the developer and who has been practicing for 30 years, said there was a trend toward fewer and fewer parking spaces and/or requirements.