Miami Beach

Amid controversy over waterfront properties, Miami Beach outlines new historic districts

A man bikes toward the Ocean Surf and Days Inn at Miami Beach's Ocean Terrace on Oct. 23, 2015.
A man bikes toward the Ocean Surf and Days Inn at Miami Beach's Ocean Terrace on Oct. 23, 2015.

Capping a fiery debate this week over the fate of a slice of waterfront properties in the northernmost part of Miami Beach, commissioners voted on Friday to begin creation of two new local historic districts that exclude those low-lying properties.

For a few years in North Beach, activists have discussed the creation of local historic districts, which grant protections against demolition. Elected officials waited to act on the recommendation of a long-awaited master plan for North Beach, which suggested boundaries that include a collection of low-lying Mid-Century Modern apartment buildings.

Friday’s vote also initiated the creation of neighborhood conservation districts, which will abut the historic districts and have design guidelines to maintain the scale and style of the neighborhood with fewer barriers to demolition.

Preservationists scored a long-awaited victory Friday, including a disputed stretch of buildings along South Shore Drive on the Normandy Waterway that were not recommended to be included by city staff. Property owners concerned about the future of structures along the Tatum Waterway that flood during king tide and face rising flood insurance rates also got their wish when a majority of the commission voted to exclude 104 low-lying buildings from the historic district.

The vote to exclude the Tatum Waterway buildings was 5-2, with commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Micky Steinberg opposing.

Friday’s vote gives a green light for city planners to inventory the stock of historic buildings in the designated areas, which include Harding Avenue from 73rd up to the northern border of the city at 87th Street, a section from Harding to Dickens Avenue between 73rd and 75th streets, and buildings on Bay Drive, Marseilles Drive and South Shore Drive on the eastern edge of Normandy Isle. The study will produce a designation report that will later serve as a basis for a final vote to designate the local districts.

Kirk Paskal, a preservationist and resident who worked on the citizen committee who oversaw the development of the master plan, was happy to finally see two districts move forward but disappointed to see the waterfront properties — one of which he owns and lives in — left out. He considers those buildings a missed opportunity for the city to develop a strategy for preserving the Beach architectural heritage in the face of sea-level rise.

“The well-being of our city is absolutely counting on us getting this question right,” he said.

That question has also been raised by a critic of the preservation model, property owner Matis Cohen, who has urged the city to not restrict property rights for buildings that will take on water if sea-rise predictions hold during the next few decades. He has pointed to increasing flood-insurance rates, while arguing that there are no economic incentives in place to encourage costly adaptations of historic buildings that could flood in the future — as opposed to having the right to demolish and build higher.

“These are important decisions,” Cohen said. “And they do have funding and quality of life ramifications.”

The complicated conversation of how to safeguard the Beach’s rich stock of historic buildings amid sea rise is happening at City Hall, where planners are researching solutions.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech