Miami-Dade County

Miami zoning board OKs considerable increase to Design District plan

After more than three hours of discussion, testimony, and power point presentations, Miami’s Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board voted Wednesday to accept a revised plan for the overhaul of the Design District, changes that will considerably increase the number of commercial properties, residential units and parking spaces developer Craig Robins would like to build.

Board members voted 11-0 to pass on the recommendation to city commissioners ultimately responsible for accepting a plan that could turn what is now a sleepy retail and office intensive neighborhood just north of Midtown Miami into a more walk-able destination filled with green space, living space and high-end retail outlets.

The board accepted adding 12 parcels to the overall plan mostly along its western edge near North Miami Avenue, but turned down a zoning request that would have allowed a condominium on Biscayne Boulevard just north of I-195 known as Parcel 9 to build as high as 48 floors or 592 feet. Now it can only be built to 20 floors.

When complete, the project would cover 21 acres just north of Midtown and west of Biscayne Boulevard, and create more than one million square feet of retail, residential, green space, and parking structures.

David Holtzman, vice president of Robins’ development company DACRA said the goal is to unify the Design District and that nearby residents shouldn’t be concerned about any impact.

“Everything but Parcel 9 has existing zoning,” he said.

The vote was only a recommendation that can ultimately be changed by city commissioners, who accepted the original plans last summer.

A standing room only crowd composed mostly of Buena Vista, Brentwood and Baypoint residents who live east, west, and north of the planned project packed the chamber Wednesday night with dozens taking to the podium to support and oppose the plan.

Their main issue: The plan to increase the height of the building on Biscayne Boulevard..

The meeting began with attorney Neisen Kasdin outlining the overall plan and his clients’ requested changes, mostly the addition of several parcels on the west edge of the project.

Kasdin called Robins’ plan “revolutionary in terms of American retail,” and promised it would be “low-scale, pedestrian oriented.” His power-point presentation included a colorful picture of a tree being airlifted onto the Robins property.

Then came dozens of public speakers, each allowed two minutes to state their case, though many exceeded the time limit.

Dr. Robert Apfel called the Robins plan a “beautiful project, but called plans for the building on the boulevard “totally inappropriate,” and “an eyesore out of context with the neighborhood.”

“If you drive down Biscayne Boulevard you don’t come to anything of that size until you come to 11th Street,” he said.

Frantz Eloi, president of the Buena Vista Heights Homeowners Association, which sits just north of the planned project, expressed strong opposition because of its scale.

“Right now we don’t have any infrastructure to handle what you want to do,” he said.

Then it was on to questions from the board, with member David Young asking Kasdin if stores like Prada and Gucci might be a bit too high-end for the neighborhood.

Kasdin said to look at Robins’ track record. “He was one of the people primarily responsible for the revitalization of South Beach,” said Kasdin.

Board member Jennifer Barnes was concerned with traffic from the planned Biscayne Boulevard building, which now backs up several blocks north of 36th Street during the morning rush our. Kasdin told her the new plan to build taller and slimmer actually lessens density.

“So it can only get better,” he said of the traffic.

Last summer Robins announced plans to turn Miami’s Design District into a high-end retail destination with a four block pedestrian promenade anchored by department stores. Other amenities included rooftop gardens and extensive green space.

The plan for the area mainly between Northeast 38th and 42nd streets just west of Biscayne Boulevard would create a mini Lincoln Road Mall lined with luxury shops, cafes, and public space covered by shade trees. Under the Miami 21 zoning code the plan also left room for a hotel and about 100 housing units. The proposal would cover 51 properties that were owned by DACRA.

The $312 million project would encompass 540,000-square-feet of construction. City commissioners approved the initial plan with the recommendation of the PZAB.

Wednesday, Robins returned to the PZAB asking for the acceptance of 12 new parcels near N. Miami Avenue, and increasing the projects size to more than 21 acres.

Among the changes Robins received approval for included increasing commercial space by 423,000 feet to 1.37 million feet, adding 489 residential units and increasing the number of parking spaces from 1,181 to 3,752.

The same requests were placed before the board last month, but the meeting was derailed when a host of neighborhood groups showed up complaining they weren’t part of the process. The board ultimately deferred a vote, telling Robins to meet with the groups. Wednesday, Kasdin handed out packets to board members listing who his client met with over the past month, when and where the meetings took place.

“We’ve had extensive community outreach,” he said.