Miami Beach

Miami Beach preservation board asked to reconsider approval of church’s development request

The Miami Beach Community Church won approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Board to lease a piece of its land for retail development, but a local preservation group is asking the board to reconsider.

Facing a dire financial future, the church wants to lease its courtyard, which fronts the Lincoln Road Mall, to Tristar Capital for construction of two-story retail building.

The nearly century-old church at the corner of Lincoln Road and Drexel Avenue is down to about 170 members and struggling financially. The 50-year lease would bring in a much-needed $100 million.

But groups like the Miami Design Preservation League oppose the plan and want the church to consider other spaces on its property.

The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board unanimously approved the plan in May, and the church’s own congregation held a vote on a Sunday in December that saw 79 members approve and only nine vote against the plan.

But concerns raised at the City Commission meeting that month led the commission to ask the city manager to petition for a rehearing, a right given to the manager per the city’s code of ordinances.

“Most of us had not had a chance to look at the historic preservation hearing,” said Commissioner Deede Weithorn. “In an abundance of caution, we asked for this petition.”

Within a week, the commission rescinded its request. Weithorn, a certified public accountant, met with church leaders and examined its financial records in addition to reviewing the preservation board’s hearing. She said given the tough long-term financial outlook for the church, she understands why the church wants the project to move forward.

“They were down to their last million dollars,” she said. “For a property like that, a million dollars is really not a lot of money.”

She added that she felt the Historic Preservation Board had done an adequate review of the application.

The Miami Design Preservation League also has the right to ask for a rehearing, and they have. The city preservation board will consider this request at its Aug. 12 meeting, where they can accept and hold the hearing, then schedule it for a later date or deny the petition.

Daniel Ciraldo, a member of the Miami Design Preservation League, said the group wants the church to consider other areas on the church’s campus because the new building would obstruct an important view of the church.

“It would block the view of the church from Lincoln Road,” he said.

Senior Pastor Harold Thompson said the site of the current plan is the best for keeping the rest of the church’s campus running smoothly.

“One of our great concerns was having a campus that was divided, where part of a corporate entity would be somehow buried or incorporated into the internal structure of the church,” he said. “[The plan] helps us to manage that space in way that we can have our services and not be interrupted by commercial traffic.”

If approved, church leaders plan to use the infusion of funds to grow the church’s membership and provide more services to the community.