The battle over a proposed retail building to be built in a courtyard of Miami Beach’s oldest church may not be over.
The Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) has appealed a city board’s decision that would allow the Miami Beach Community Church to lease its courtyard to a developer to build a two-story retail building in one of the few remaining green spaces along the Lincoln Road Mall.
The plan for the courtyard, at the corner of Drexel Avenue and Lincold Road, has been a source of angst from the supporters and opposition. The church leadership has maintained it needs the deal to ensure its survival because of its dire financial situation. Preservationists have said the retail development would hurt the historic nature of the property and block important views of the church, which was built in 1920 by Miami Beach pioneer Carl Fisher for his wife, Jane.
The MDPL appealed Friday in hopes of overturning the Historic Preservation Board’s approval of the project in May, as well as the board’s denial of a petition by the MDPL to re-hear the case on Aug. 12. The appeal was made to the city’s “special master,” a city-appointed judge who hears matters related to code compliance and land use. It’s the last appeal a party can make before going to court.
A statement released Monday by the MDPL says the appeal focuses on a $500,000 payment made by the developer to the church before the congregation’s vote on the proposed project in December.
“The payment was not publicly disclosed to the historic preservation board even though a long-standing city ordinance requires that payment for an agreement to support a development project must be disclosed at the start of the public hearing on the application,” reads the statement.
The payment came to light the day before the Aug. 12 hearing when it was reported in a Miami New Times article. After the Aug. 12 hearing, the church told the Miami Herald the the money was part of a $3.5 million initial rent payment, and $3 million of that was placed in an escrow account and not to be paid until final approval from the Historic Preservation Board.
In a prepared statement Monday, the Rev. Harold “Hunter” Thompson said the the church is confident it will be able to move forward with the project even if an appeal delays it.
“While the church fully respects the approval process and the right of the MDPL to appeal the special master, we see their appeal as a last ditch effort by a group that has been unsuccessful in arguing its case, is unhappy with the outcome, and would prefer to disrupt and delay the project than accept the HPB’s decision,” he said. “Regardless of the time it takes, the preservation and survival of our church is worth the wait.”