Sunny Isles Beach commissioners on Thursday approved the construction of two additional levels of parking for a garage at the Trump Towers condo complex.
The project, which requires variances to the building city code, is an issue some commissioners and Mayor George “Bud” Scholl campaigned against in the recent city election.
TDR Towers Master Association, the three-tower condo complex at 15811, 15901 and 16001 Collins Ave., requested a site plan modification that required three variances of the current city building code to increase the parking spaces from 1,050 to 1,390 in one of its two parking garages.
Gary Mars, attorney for TDR Towers, said the modification would allow for much-needed parking. He added that when the property was built between 2008-10, Sunny Isles Beach had a different city code, which had more limitations, and the developers agreed to a buy down of 244 parking spaces.
“We quickly realized the parking facilities fail to allow for adequate and often safe parking on the property,” Mars said. “The association has leased off-site parking, which has had a minimal and only temporary effect on the problem, creating hardship for … residents and, quite frankly, anyone driving on the east side of Collins Avenue.”
Jurgen Giesbert, board president of Trump Tower I, said he enjoys living in the building except for this ongoing problem.
“The only fly in the ointment is the horrendous parking,” Giesbert said. “If you have a dinner party with 6-8 guests and they have to park elsewhere, you have to pick them up and drop them off from wherever they are.
“It’s impossible to put 5 pounds in a 2-pound bag,” Giesbert said. “Our proposal will reduce traffic on Collins Avenue.”
Mars noted that they met with neighboring condo buildings Arlen House East and Marina Del Mar and received no objections to their proposed plan. But, according to Trump III resident Lynda Azima, no one met with residents who would be affected by the plan. Azima lives on the fourth floor of Trump III and says her current ocean view from her balcony will be obstructed.
“I will not be able to see the ocean at all from my apartment,” Azima said. “My balcony apartment will become almost a basement apartment.”
Azima believes there may be 24 condos that could be affected and have obstructive views once the project is completed.
“I only bought that condo because of the ocean,” Azima said. “Their own residents, who they haven’t even considered, are going to lose financial value and a view of the ocean.”
Scholl said he was surprised to hear the condo association hadn’t talked with the unit owners who would be affected and encouraged the association to do so. He said he was backing the variance because it would be a way to right a wrong a previous commission committed by allowing the buy down of parking spaces.
“I’ve been pretty tough on variances over the years and for good reason,” Scholl said. “When developers ask for variances, they are usually looking to make more money.
“Over the years, we realized we made a mistake,” Scholl said. “The unintended consequences … left buildings under parked and residents having a hardship. They aren’t asking for anything that we haven’t already admitted to ourselves is necessary.”
Although he was not a commissioner, Scholl said he attended the zoning hearing for the original design of the condo complex.
“They were asking for what they are asking for today,” Scholl said. “At that point, the pressure was on beach side zoning and the buy down of spaces was there. So the commission forced the developer to compromise the spaces that were really needed to support the three buildings to get site plan approval.”
Vice Mayor Jeanette Gatto was the sole commission member to oppose the project, voicing her concerns that approval would set a negative precedent.
“It opens up a Pandora’s box,” Gatto said. “I can only imagine what would happen if other buildings think they can jump into the fray and start to create more parking spaces.”
The commission voted 4-1 to approve the site plan modification. The next commission meeting is scheduled for March 25.