Miami Beach

Opposed by Beach Towing, Sunset Harbour project fails to win commission approval

This rendering shows what Deco Capital Group’s mixed-use building in Sunset Harbour would have looked like.
This rendering shows what Deco Capital Group’s mixed-use building in Sunset Harbour would have looked like. Deco Capital Group

A year ago, a nasty battle began over a proposed residential-commercial building in the once-industrial but now-hip South Beach neighborhood called Sunset Harbour.

Deco Capital Group, led by Managing Principal Bradley Colmer, wanted to build a 90-foot-high mixed-use building across a swath of properties on the east side of Purdy Avenue between Dade Boulevard and 18th Street.

Angry neighbors in the Lofts at South Beach Condominium and the owners of Beach Towing, one of two city-sanctioned towing operations in the Beach, adamantly opposed the development, which would have been 40 feet taller than the current 50-foot height limit.

At the Jan. 11 Beach commission meeting, the project failed to win approval on first reading, punctuating a year of bitter back-and-forth that included a lawsuit, unsuccessful negotiations and two different attempts to secure the height increase.

After Colmer withdrew his request last year, he returned with a proposed ordinance that would allow for a 90-foot building in Sunset Harbour for lots aggregated to have at least 150 feet of frontage, which Deco has on the site of the proposed building. Deco’s partnership team, which includes billionaire Marc Rowan, bought eight lots in 2014 for $14 million.

The ordinance cleared the city’s citizen planning board with a favorable recommendation. On Jan. 11, Commissioners Ricky Arriola, Joy Malakoff and John Elizabeth Alemán voted in favor. Michael Grieco, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Micky Steinberg voted against. Mayor Philip Levine did not vote because he owns adjacent property that could have increased in value if the Deco Capital building went up.

A group of neighbors did not want to lose views. Beach Towing, unpopular but politically powerful, cited an unusual deed restriction attached to three of the lots that prevents the properties from being used as a parking lot.

After the vote, representatives for Beach Towing were glowing. Attorney Kent Harrison Robbins said the vote was a “victory for residents against height increases.”

Disappointed after the vote, Colmer said the project may be redesigned within current regulations.

“Regarding this specific project, no options are foreclosed,” he said. “Given the political situation, however, it’s incumbent upon us to design other options.”

The fight has been messy. Last year, Colmer’s lawyers fired off a 14-page legal memo making the case that Beach Towing has been operating illegally for about 30 years because of a zoning violation. The tow company dismissed the claim, and so did City Hall.

The question of the deed restriction remains unresolved in Miami-Dade civil court after Deco Capital sued Beach Towing last year.

Any chance for mediation appears to be gone. Ralph Andrade, a lawyer for Beach Towing, and Nicholas Machado, the president of the neighboring condo association, both said negotiations were over.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech