It’s back to the drawing board for Bal Harbour Shops.
Following a split vote — which equates to a “No” — on the luxury center’s most recent proposal for expansion by Bal Harbour Village Council Wednesday, the shops’ owner plans to submit an alternative proposal within the next week.
Matthew Whitman Lazenby, president of Whitman Family Development, which owns the shops, said he had been “heavily encouraged and essentially instructed” by Bal Harbour Mayor Martin Packer to present only one of the two proposals the firm drew up for Wednesday’s meeting. The proposal presented included the sale of land beneath the Bal Harbour Village Hall.
Lazenby said he was “grossly disappointed” when Packer and Assistant Mayor Patricia Cohen voted “no” on the proposal. Had the council approved the sale of the Village Hall, the matter would have gone to public referendum.
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“If the people don’t want [the expansion] they don’t want it, but if people want it I can’t understand why an elected official would want to keep that from them,” Lazenby said.
Packer could not be reached for comment Thursday.
More than 100 gathered Wednesday night at the Sea View Hotel across the street from the mall for the often-contentious meeting.
The $400 million expansion considered at Wednesday’s meeting called for expanding the mall by 400,000 square feet over the area that Village Hall occupies and on the site of the former Church by the Sea, which was demolished in December 2015 and sold to Whitman Family Development in January. As part of the proposal, the Whitman firm would have built a new municipal hall.
The expansion plan for the shopping center, which turned 50 last year, has been in the works for about five years and the design was finalized last October.
Residents that opposed the expansion said they worried about the increase in traffic and the potential for years of construction. Some said they wouldn’t mind seeing the shopping center expand but wanted smaller growth.
Those that favored the expansion plan said it would give the village a notable new municipal center and would make the village competitive in the high-end retail market.
The meeting also included claims against Cohen, who was accused of bias against the expansion project by the developer’s attorney, John Shubin.
Shubin presented comments Cohen made at a meeting discussing the project in November and emails that Shubin said showed her opposition to the project. The developers asserted that Cohen’s friendship with members of the Soffer family, the developers of Turnberry and owners of the Aventura Mall, a Bal Harbour competitor, might have clouded her judgment.
Said Jackie Soffer Thursday via an email statement, "If the expansion of Bal Harbour Shops is at some point approved, it would not impede the continued success of Aventura Mall."
Whitman Family Development, Lazenby said, will refine its alternative proposal — which does not include the land beneath Village Hall — and submit it “as soon as possible.”
Shubin said the council has “a legal and moral obligation to expedite [the alternative] plans, which they’ve already seen and presumably reviewed.”
Bal Harbour Village manager Jorge Gonzalez said there is no set procedural time frame for the review process of proposals.
“Depending on what it is they submit, we’ll have to review and determine the next appropriate steps,” he said.
The rejected design called for increasing the size of the shops by about 400,000 square feet, larger sidewalks, outdoor fountains and the anchor of the state’s first Barneys New York store, along with new stores, restaurants and facades.
The potential agreement called for the developer to contribute $1 million a year toward parking and transportation improvements, pay $250,000 a year for police patrol, give the village ownership of land that has a bank as a tenant (the village would collect $700,000 in rent annually) and build a new waterfront public park spanning about two acres.
Bal Harbour Shops estimated the village’s benefits would total about $127 million, mostly from taxes, the bank’s rent and the new village hall.
TD Bank senior economist Michael Dolega, a retail analyst familiar with Bal Harbour, said that traffic aside, “if [the expansion plans don’t] go through, from an economic standpoint, it will be a loss of output, given that . . . construction, retail jobs . . . and economic activity would be greatly reduced. There certainly is demand for [the Shops.]”
Follow Debora Lima on Twitter @dtdlima