Six weeks after a national historic-preservation group called Bay Harbor Islands’ East Island “one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places,” two Town Council members questioned the need to preserve the island’s older buildings.
At their first meeting since the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation included the town on its list, council members discussed the claim for the first time on Monday.
Council member Solange Rousselot said she did not share preservationists’ appreciation of the “Miami Modern,” or MiMo, style buildings, which date from the late 1940s and 1950s.
“Historic buildings should not be measured in decades,” Rousselot said. “Historic buildings should be measured in centuries. With all of these buildings that are not very well maintained, it would be very irresponsible for us to designate them historic because they would not last 50 more years.”
Vice Mayor Jordan Leonard said the government should not be forced on property owners.
“If the county wants to come and designate your property, and you have no say, I have a problem with that,” Leonard said. “The problem that I have is if you want to educate them, that is fine but [not when you are] forcing them to the point that they are scared. . . . I have had residents that have even cried.”
Teri D’Amico, a longtime East Island resident who co-coined the term MiMo, has criticized council members for what she says is a negligent attitude about the town’s architectural history.
“You are not thinking about the criteria for harmony on this island,” D’Amico told the council. “You are not being thoughtful or sensitive to these older structures.”
Other preservationists championed the uniqueness of the town, whose buildings include work by renowned architects such as Morris Lapidus, Henry Hohauser and Charles McKirahan.
“Modernism was developing on the continent [Europe], but it developed very differently here,” said Clotilde Luce, a Miami Beach resident and travel writer. “If you start to just keep a few elements of it, you lose the ensemble and that is your ‘postcard’ and that is your identity.”
Some residents urged the council to look to Miami Beach and its preservation work.
“Miami Beach had a vision and did some good preservation work,” resident Hector Garcia said. “You should consider that vision. There is an irreplaceable charm in this town that you have the power to preserve.”
Council member Kelly Reid put the discussion on the council’s agenda because “when this comes out about our little town, then a discussion is in order.”
Historic designations fall under the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County, not the Town Council, but D’Amico says the council is aggravating the problem through a program of Transfer of Development Rights, or TDRs.
The program allows owners of smaller properties to sell the right to build more units on their land to developers, who can then build larger buildings elsewhere. D’Amico says this encourages construction of condo towers that dwarf the smaller, historic buildings.
“TDRs are a useful tool to preserve historic buildings and open spaces, and you are not using it that way,” D’Amico told the council.
Despite opposition from preservationists, the Town Council on Monday approved the transfer of development rights of 27 units to three new building projects.
The only TDR transaction that failed was the transfer of two units from 9300 W. Bay Harbor Drive Condominium Inc. to Island Club Towers, where Mayor Robert Yaffe is the condo board’s attorney. Yaffe recused himself and left the dais because of the conflict of interest.
Also on the preservation front, the town is waiting to hear from the county regarding a preservation study underway of the East Island.
“I think this is a discussion that will be ongoing,” Yaffe said.