Miami-Dade County

Public may be hindered in seeking historic preservation in Miami

Rick Zelman (front center with the tie) and Jennifer Beber (front and center next to Zelman in black) are among a group of neighbors who have sought to save a 1920s house in Coconut Grove by having it declared historic.
Rick Zelman (front center with the tie) and Jennifer Beber (front and center next to Zelman in black) are among a group of neighbors who have sought to save a 1920s house in Coconut Grove by having it declared historic.

One month after a group of neighbors convinced a Miami board to stave off the demolition of a potentially historic 1920s home, Miami commissioners took steps to bar the general public from directly seeking historic designation for properties they don’t own.

Currently, pretty much anyone can apply for Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board to review a property and consider whether it is historic. A request prompts an automatic hearing. But legislation proposed by Miami’s planning department and passed on first reading Thursday would largely take that ability out of the general public’s hands.

Under the proposed law, individuals who don’t own the property in question would have to go to commissioners, the mayor, the city’s planning and zoning board, the county’s historic preservation board, or an established non-profit to get someone else to take up their cause. The legislation — part of a broader preservation package — received tentative approval Thursday.

Planning Director Francisco Garcia described the change as a “screening process.” Laws in Miami Beach, for instance, don’t allow just anyone to request historic designation. He did not explain who, if anyone, suggested the change or why it should be made.

“I think this serves to put in a little bit of a screening process so that requests for [historic] designation are valid and aren’t used for purposes other than historic preservation,” said Dolly McIntyre, advocacy chairwoman for the preservation group Dade Heritage Trust.

But some preservationists and activists worry that the city is needlessly stripping individuals from participating in the process at a time when redevelopment is rampant. Elvis Cruz, an activist from historic Morningside, told commissioners that he had gone by himself to the city’s planning department back in the 1980s to request that the city consider his neighborhood as a historic district.

“I understand the concept,” he said. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”

One thing is clear: recent requests made to Miami’s preservation board, the entity with the power to approve and reject historic designation, would not have been possible under the proposed legislation.

Last month, the city’s preservation board agreed at the urging of Coconut Grove neighbors to study whether the 1920s home at 3259 St. Gaudens Rd. should be declared historic. By doing so, the board at least temporarily halted demolition plans by the property owner, pending a final vote on the report. If the home is eventually declared historic, the owner would have to seek approval from the board to make modifications.

Under the proposed law, those neighbors would have had to seek a sponsor to pursue their efforts. On the other hand, another recent designation request that was criticized as being politically motivated — to designate historic the Brigade 2506 museum in Little Havana — likewise would not have been allowed.

Also on Thursday, Miami commissioners gave tentative approval to an amended development agreement with the Miami Worldcenter, a 27-acre project worth more than $1 billion in blighted Park West. The hearing came at the request of the project’s developers, who had already won approval in September for the project.

Concerns related to an ongoing lawsuit prompted the re-hearing. A final vote will come Feb. 26.

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