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Miami Beach may call temporary halt to demolitions of historic homes

Miami Beach city commissioners on Wednesday sent a recommendation to its planning board for a temporary moratorium on the demolition of architecturally significant homes.

The moratorium doesn’t kick in unless and until the Planning Board approves it, but would apply to any demolition applications filed after July 17.

Dozens of residents, architects, developers and real estate agents spoke for hours before commissioners approved the recommendation

On one side: residents who say the character of their neighborhoods is threatened by out-of-character “McMansions.” On the other: those who say property rights are at risk.

Mayor Matti Herrera Bower had proposed the moratorium, along with changes in the city’s development rules to require people who want to tear down “architecturally significant” single-family homes to first get approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Board. That second proposal is similar to what Beach preservationists have dubbed “the Coral Gables rule.” Coral Gables is known for its strict preservation laws, and requires almost all buildings to be reviewed for historic significance before being torn down.

Commissioners will debate the latter issue at a meeting on Friday. The moratorium will be in place until November and excludes properties that already have demolition applications pending, as well as properties bought within the last three months.

Land-use lawyer Michael Larkin, who often represents Beach clients, called the proposals “an architectural straightjacket.”

Miami Beach has been working on tweaking its laws regarding historic properties, partially because of a controversial, months-long fight to save the mansion at 42 Star Island.

The home is owned by plastic surgeon Leonard “The Boob God” Hochstein and his wife, Lisa, a cast member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami. The couple has won city approval to tear down the 88-year old mansion, but have had their plans delayed by preservationists who are now fighting in court to save the home.

The case has highlighted what preservationists say is an alarming trend: More potentially-historic homes are being demolished than ever before. As a result, preservationists have been working with city leaders to change the Beach’s development laws to provide more incentives to people who restore historic homes rather than knocking them down. An example of such an incentive would be allowing homeowners greater lot coverage to add onto historic homes.

Hochstein said a moratorium is “about punishment ...and nobody knows that more than me.”

The city will hold a workshop on the proposals on Sept. 23.

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