A long-awaited master plan for the northern third of Miami Beach received final approval this week — a plan that contains historic preservation initiatives that are already in progress.
But the designation of two local historic districts is setting the stage for a conversation about how preservation works in the face of sea level rise in a vulnerable coastal community.
And despite a warning in the master plan that short-term rentals can hurt housing affordability in the neighborhood, the City Commission approved legal short-term rentals along Harding Avenue in an effort to encourage renovation of old buildings.
Town planners at Dover, Kohl & Partners have spent a year developing a plan that incorporates input from residents, business interests, preservationists and city officials. The document, a sweeping vision for the future of North Beach, imagines a bustling town center along 71st Street lined with taller mixed-use buildings and the preservation of more modest, low-slung apartment buildings.
In a 5-2 vote with Commissioners Micky Steinberg and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez dissenting, the commission approved a regulated short-term rental program for a stretch of Harding Avenue and Collins Avenue from the city’s northern border, 87th Terrace, down to 73rd Street.
Supporters maintain that allowing the rentals, which already run rampant in Miami Beach through services like Airbnb, will stimulate the local economy and create an incentive for property owners to renovate their historic apartment buildings.
But opponents fear the short-term rentals will encourage landlords to evict current tenants, displacing renters in an area still considered affordable in the Beach.
Carolina Jones, a resident of the nearby Biscayne Point neighborhood, told the commission that small hotels have already opened on Harding, and the program will displace locals and hurt hotels that abide by the existing laws.
“From the working-class residents who will get priced out of their apartments on Harding and surrounding areas, to the big developers who have invested millions in Ocean Terrace and Town Center,” she said. “How about the small hotels along Harding who have been playing by the rules for years and creating jobs for our economy, creating points of interest for our community?”
Nancy Liebman, a prominent preservationist, praised the ordinance as an innovative way to encourage historic preservation.
“You’re giving these owners the ability to fix up their buildings, which you haven’t given them one piece of incentive to do that aside from this,” she said.
Steinberg adamantly opposed the measure, saying the city can find other ways to incentivize people to take care of their buildings.
“I don’t believe we can pilot something like this, because once you open the door, you can’t close it,” she said.
Two local historic districts, which provide protections against demolition, are in the works: one in the North Shore neighborhood, between Collins and the Tatum Waterway, and another on the east side of Normandy Isles.
Both areas have collections of Miami Modern and late-era Art Deco apartment buildings.
But there’s disagreement between the Beach’s planning department and the Historic Preservation Board on some of the boundaries for the local districts. Following the recommendations in the master plan, the preservation board last week approved boundaries that include waterfront buildings on South Shore Drive and Crespi Boulevard that the city planners consider vulnerable to sea level rise and difficult to adapt.
The planning department deemed 21 one-story buildings on both streets as particularly vulnerable in the face of rising tides.
“These one-story buildings present the greatest challenges when trying to adapt to flooding impacts from storms and sea level rise,” reads a staff memo.
Regardless, the Historic Preservation Board approved the wider boundaries last week and initiated the creation of a comprehensive inventory and study of each building in the proposed districts.
The City Commission briefly discussed the districts, but did not take any action other than leaving a demolition moratorium in place.
Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán said she wants to spend more time learning about why the planning department wanted to exclude the waterfront buildings and what restrictions would come with designation.
“I think this is a really, really important decision that affects what people can do with their own properties,” she said.
Matis Cohen, a developer and landlord in North Beach who strongly opposes local designation, pointed to a section in the master plan on sea rise as he explained his doubts over whether preservation can be reconciled with adaptation.
“I don’t think that 30 percent of the master plan can be ignored and thrown away based on this recommendation,” he said. “There are 37 pages in the master plan identifying approximately $2.5 to $3 billion in infrastructure investment. I’d like to know how they account for that and how the city will pay for it through their preservation plan.”
The City Commission has not yet considered the boundaries approved by the preservation board. It is expected to consider the districts within the next few months.