Miami Beach

Residents want to stymie expansion after Bal Harbour Shops helps elect friendly candidates

This rendering shows the most recent expansion plans for the Bal Harbour Shops that keep the current Village Hall intact.
This rendering shows the most recent expansion plans for the Bal Harbour Shops that keep the current Village Hall intact. Zyscovich Architects

A week after two candidates backed by the Bal Harbour Shops were elected to the Village Council, a group of residents wants to make it harder for the Shops to pursue a large expansion.

The mall’s ownership, the Whitman family, and associates dumped more than $200,000 into the campaigns of Jeffrey Freimark and David Albaum, who beat council incumbents Martin Packer and Jaime Sanz — clearing a path toward at least a public referendum on an expansion plan.

During the campaign, Freimark and Albaum both said they believed voters should have had a say when the Shops presented an expansion plan earlier this year with hopes the council would send it to voters. Because the plan involved selling Village Hall to make way for the expansion, the deal would have needed voter approval.

But anti-expansion residents are trying to put up more barriers before a new plan is even submitted. On Wednesday, a group of activists submitted petitions for two changes to the village charter. One would raise the threshold required to approve a sale of public land. Another would require a referendum for any proposed commercial redevelopment plan that would increase retail space by more than 30 percent, with 60 percent needed for approval.

If the petitions are found to have enough valid signatures and certified, the questions will appear on a future ballot.

Lynne Bloch-Mullen, a member of the group, said she was disappointed with the election results and wants to make it tougher for any expansion plan to be realized.

“This is a bought and paid-for community,” she said on Thursday. “And even more so after the election.”

Freimark garnered 16 more votes than Packer to win the District 2 seat. Albaum bested Sanz by 72 votes for District 4. About 1,000 votes were cast in each race.

Now, the Shops will likely have two more favorable votes to get a plan to a referendum. When the new council members are sworn in Monday, Albaum will replace Sanz, who had recused himself from votes on the Shops because he is a manager at the Neiman Marcus in the mall. Freimark will replace Packer, the current mayor, who opposes the proposed expansion.

Freimark and Albaum will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Monday at Village Hall, 655 96th St.

The council in October denied zoning approvals for a scaled-back plan submitted in May. The Whitmans cannot submit the same plan for another year, but they can submit a modified plan at any time.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech