Miami-Dade County

Coconut Grove architect fighting developer’s plan to build on waterfront

A Coconut Grove architect who is outraged over the scope of a plan to overhaul the waterfront next to Miami City Hall is leading a campaign to stop the project at the polls.

Miami commissioners voted last month to let the public decide in November whether to support a plan by developer Grove Bay Investment Group to tear down Scotty’s Landing and the Chart House and rehabilitate a historic boat hangar in Coconut Grove. In its place would be three new restaurants, including a Shula’s Steakhouse, a Peruvian seafood restaurant and another with outdoor seating similar to Scotty’s.

If voters accept the proposal, the city would lease the property to Grove Bay for a minimum of $1.8 million a year, and the developer would spend $17.9 million to improve the existing marina property. The lease would be for 50 years, with two 15-year options.

Along with a baywalk and a public pier, the plan also calls for event space and a banyan-tree park in what would be called The Harbour. Commissioners voted unanimously for the plan on July 25, with Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones absent.

The crux of architect Charles Corda’s argument is his contention that the Miami Parking Authority would need to double the projected size of the parking garage from a promised four to eight floors to accommodate the 671 parking spaces the authority has said could be needed. Corda also says the plan’s square footage is larger than the developer is letting on, and he believes the Grove Bay plan strays from a 2008 waterfront master plan put together by the planning and design firm Sasaki Associates.

“We’re doing what we can to inform the people of Miami,” said Corda, who started a petition against the plan on about three weeks ago and who spoke out against it during the July 25 vote.

But Grove Bay and its main advocate, Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, say the parking garage will be no taller than 42 feet and will have only four levels. They also say that although the five main components of the plan will reach close to 100,000 square feet, the number is misleading.

Sarnoff maintains that the development falls in line with the Sasaki plan and that he has a letter from the company’s managing principal as proof. The commissioner said the seven-acre site adjacent to city hall is badly in need of a makeover.

“The waterfront is just a parking lot with a couple of places to eat,” he said.

Others are joining Corda’s fight. Meetings at his Coconut Grove home have attracted local activists. About 1,500 people have signed the petition, including Matheson family member Bruce Matheson and developer and child advocate Pat Sessions.

Sarnoff and his supporters say Corda is gathering steam by misleading the public.

The architect says he was told by Miami Parking Authority chief executive Art Noriega that 671 parking spaces would be built. Corda says that would require a garage of eight levels or more. Noriega disputes that, saying the authority — which would build the structure — would put 211 spaces on the second floor and 230 each on the third and fourth.

Critics complained that there was no blueprint for the parking structure when the vote took place. Noriega says that’s because when the city asked for bids, it wasn’t specific about what was to be built on the property. Noriega said he needed to see the developer proposals before determining the garage size.

Now, he said, it might be even smaller than 671 spaces. “I don’t think we’re going to need to build that big,” he said, adding that drawings could be available in about 10 days.

Corda also argues that the 100,000-square-foot plan will take up property that could be used as waterfront green space instead. But Sarnoff and Grove Bay principals say the footprint of the planned restaurants will be almost identical to the two restaurants there now. They call Corda’s number misleading because he is not explaining that it includes 12,000 square feet of outdoor seating on the restaurant rooftops, which the waterfront plan said the public craves.

A rehabilitated hangar in the old Pan American Airways building — a structure on the national historic registry — would take up another 23,000 square feet. The parking garage will have 40,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

Corda also argues that the Grove Bay plan strays too far from the 2008 Sasaki waterfront plan, which calls for more green space along the water and says waterfront retail should not compete with Center Grove stores.

Yet Sasaki managing partner Mark Dawson lauded the Grove Bay plan in a letter to Sarnoff on Tuesday.

“In my initial review, I am encouraged by the proposal, it seems to have evolved the thinking and detail beyond the master plan,” Dawson wrote.

Also weighing in on the developer’s behalf was Michelle Niemeyer, a Coconut Grove attorney who lost a heated election to Sarnoff two years ago. She campaigned, in large part, on her efforts to help Sasaki create the 2008 master plan. Niemeyer said the Grove Bay plan going to voters includes all the elements of the Sasaki plan.

“They are misrepresenting the facts and pushing for a ridiculous, pie-in-the-sky vision of replacing even the part of the plan dedicated to the marina and restaurants — that people want — with open park space,” Niemeyer said of Corda and his supporters. “That conflicts with the plan and what Grove residents asked for.”