Miami-Dade County

For now, cities can’t opt out of Miami-Dade’s historic-preservation authority

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman Miami Herald staff

A committee of the Miami-Dade County Commission on Wednesday tabled a controversial proposal to allow municipalities to “opt out” of county jurisdiction for historic preservation, a measure that activists said would have weakened protection of historically or architecturally significant buildings.

The 4-0 decision by the cultural affairs committee effectively kills the measure for now, meaning it won’t progress to the full commission for review. Its sponsor, Commissioner Sally Heyman, could bring it back to the full commission for a first reading in three months in its current or in a different form.

Commissioner Barbara Jordan asked Heyman to withdraw the measure — which was strongly backed by officials in the midst of preservation battles in the small towns of Bay Harbor Islands and Surfside — after two dozen preservationists, including former Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower, spoke against it during a public hearing.

But Heyman declined, instead requesting a deferral to allow her time to refine it in what she called a “working study” — a proposal that caused preservationists in the audience to gesture thumbs down. The committee failed to approve a deferral on a 2-2 vote, after which Commissioner Xavier Suarez proposed it be tabled.

Preservationists, who contend the measure would have gutted historic preservation in Surfside and Bay Harbor by turning the job over to town officials generally hostile to it, called the tabling a win. Town officials argued they should have a chance to make their own preservation decisions.

“This was a good victory,’’ said Daniel Ciraldo, an officer with the Miami Design Preservation League. “It’s over for now. We didn’t want this dragged out with committees and studies.”

The vote, however, doesn’t resolve lingering preservation battles in either town. On Thursday, the county preservation board will consider historic designation of three architecturally significant buildings in Surfside.

Under the Miami-Dade preservation ordinance, the county preservation office and board have jurisdiction over towns without their own programs. The county office initiated preservation efforts in Surfside and Bay Harbor to protect a trove of significant Miami Modern and Art Deco buildings, prompting complaints to Heyman from town officials and condo developers who have targeted some for demolition. Heyman’s district includes both towns.

Heyman and town officials say county staff did not fully inform them of the preservation efforts. After hearing testimony from preservationists Wednesday, Heyman said she wanted to revise her proposal to improve communication and notice of preservation actions while ensuring protection of significant properties.