Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners overturn historic designation in Surfside

An historic photo of the Seaside Terrace complex and a more current one, as published in a report by Miami-Dade’s historic preservation board.
An historic photo of the Seaside Terrace complex and a more current one, as published in a report by Miami-Dade’s historic preservation board. Miami-Dade County

A low-rise condo building from the 1940s was blocked from Miami-Dade’s roster of historic properties after county commissioners overturned a designation by their preservation board.

Tuesday’s vote narrowly handed a win to some residents of Surfside’s 14-unit Seaside Terrace, a two-story oceanfront building constructed in 1948 and now occupying lucrative real estate amid South Florida’s latest high-rise boom. With a steady stream of seven- and eight-figure offers to buy the building at 9241 Collins Ave., some owners don’t want any barriers for would-be developers while others see more value in the historic designation.

Miami-Dade’s Historic Preservation Board sided with county staff in February to declare the building historic, saying it represented an important example of the architectural transition “from Moderne to Miami Modern (known as Mimo), two styles which together defined the historic character of Collins Avenue in Surfside.” But a long-time Seaside owner appealed, questioning why a post-war apartment building merited the strict construction rules that come with historic status.

“It was built in 1948,” Jesús López told county commissioners. “I’m older than that.”

The 6-5 vote to overturn the historic designation brought a setback to preservationists increasingly waging battles in Miami-Dade as more cities and developers push back on county restrictions governing older structures. Preservationists called the rare appeal vote a troubling precedent, with commissioners rejecting a decision by the board assigned to make the technical decisions on which properties merit historic status and which don’t.

“I hope in the future commissioners will rely on the Historic Preservation Board’s decisions,” said Daniel Ciraldo, preservation officer for the nonprofit Miami Design Preservation League. “Those are the people who really have the expertise. They’re appointed by the commissioners to really dig deep into each building and decide which fit the criteria to be historic.”

Voting to overturn the designation were commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Esteban “Steve” Bovo, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Audrey Edmonson, Sally Heyman, and Dennis Moss. Commissioners Javier Souto and Juan C. Zapata missed the vote.

Heyman, who represents Surfside, is a leading critic of what she calls over-zealous imposition of historic status across the county, and argued its leading to a wave of demolitions as owners race to avoid the restrictions of a potential protective status. “What you’re seeing is a battleground,” she said.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who voted to uphold the Seaside Terrace designation, said historic protections can also maintain the smaller structures that give neighborhoods the right mix of housing.

“When the development community moves in, home ownership becomes less affordable,” she said. “We have to protect the communities, and the value of the architecture that is there.”

On Wednesday, the county’s Historic Board is set to consider more protections for nearby Bay Harbor Islands. The small town is concerned enough about the issue that it sent a recorded audio message to residents and is providing bus transportation to shuttle people downtown Miami for the 2 p.m. meeting at the main library in downtown Miami.

With real estate inventory even scarcer for this high-rise boom, and Surfside’s new Four Seasons and Fendi condo towers signaling the creep of luxury high-rises, even humble properties like Seaside Terrace find themselves hot commodities. Correspondence included in the historic-designation appeal revealed some of the dollars at stake, as well as the urgency when it comes to a market some say is already over-heated.

A May 12, 2014 email from real estate broker Nestor Bromberg to a Seaside Terrace owner passed on a $4 million for the building from a developer named Marlon Gomez. The message from Gomez stated in part: “Being on the ocean is valuable but at last count thereare hundreds of units coming to the water so if there is ever a time to move a project forward it is now before all the resell units hit the market and we begin to see an overabundance of new supply.”

“If we begin the process now, we can be out of the ground by the first quarter of next year, starting any later increases our risk of missing the market,” the email continued. It noted another condo building nearby was in the process of selling to a developer. “[T]his is illustrative of the property owners sensing the height of the market is closing in.”

On June 13, the Seaside Terrace management company sent owners a letter saying the developer had upped his offer to $9 million.

Joel Thurston, the condo president, said the offer eventually climbed to $12 million, but characterized it as one of many flimsy bids to buy up units. “In the last year or year and a half, we’ve been getting a couple of letters a month,” he said.

Thurston pursued the historic designation that was overturned by county commissioners Tuesday, saying the status would make it easier to bypass local zoning codes in maintaining the building. In a Dec. 3 email to fellow owners, he also touted a financial upside to an historic designation, noting the sky-high value of South Beach condo units in smaller buildings with distinction.

“The buildings that were designated historic were more in demand and had [an] added premium to these prices,” Thurston wrote. “Remember rising tides raise ships, and with the designation we will all be better off monetarily.”

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