Miami Beach

North Beach’s new main street will allow taller buildings and micro-units

This rendering shows a vision for a redeveloped “Town Center” along 71st Street in North Beach.
This rendering shows a vision for a redeveloped “Town Center” along 71st Street in North Beach.

North Beach’s new main street will include tiny apartments, 200-foot towers and homes that double as businesses — features the city hopes will revitalize an area that has historically seen little development.

On Wednesday, the City Commission passed two ordinances setting development guidelines for an area along 71st Street known as “Town Center.” The new regulations, which were developed based on recommendations from the city’s planning department, also allow artisanal retail where goods like artwork, food and beer are produced and sold on-site, and neighborhood fulfillment centers where shoppers can pick up goods they order online.

“A better Town Center will make North Beach a more desirable place to live,” said Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán.

Developers will be allowed to build up to 165 or 200 feet in most cases, depending on the building’s square footage, if they meet certain requirements — including pushing the tallest sections of the building further back from the street — and provide a public benefit, such as affordable housing or a contribution to a fund that could be used for a variety of neighborhood projects.

For buildings that don’t meet these requirements or that are built on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet, the height limit will be 125 feet. Planning director Thomas Mooney has argued that limiting the height of all Town Center buildings to 12 stories (125 feet) would generate “static” buildings and wouldn’t leave much room for creativity.

Under one narrow exception added on Wednesday, developers could get a waiver from the city’s Design Review Board to build 220-foot towers on lots greater than 50,000 square feet that are north of 71st Street between Collins Avenue and Indian Creek Drive. Practically speaking, the exception would only apply to two blocks

The public benefits requirement will be waived for projects that obtain a building permit within the next 21 months, however. Alemán, one of the ordinance’s sponsors, said that she believes this provision will provide an incentive for developers to break ground quickly. The city has been trying to revitalize North Beach for 30 years without success, Alemán said, and some developers may be wary of investing in the area before they’re sure Town Center will succeed.

“Part of what we’re trying to accomplish is development sooner rather than later,” she said. “The public benefit is you going first. North Beach is arguably the riskiest place to invest development dollars in Miami Beach. South Beach is a sure thing, Mid-Beach is a sure thing, but North Beach is not.”

On Wednesday, a litany of North Beach residents and developers asked commissioners to approve the new guidelines and implored the city to strip away any obstacles for new construction. Among the suggestions: the waiver to permit 220-foot buildings on larger lots north of 71st Street. After some debate, the waiver process was added to the new regulations.

Some objected to the imposition of fees unless developers start quickly, an idea some commissioners called incentive, while developers called it obstructive.

“You need to at least partner with them and not put impediments in their way,” said Jerry Libbin, president and CEO of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and a former commissioner.

Commissioners added a provision to give themselves power to extend the 21-month timeline if developers can prove their projects are being slowed down by slow approvals from outside agencies, such as Florida Power & Light or the county’s environmental regulation department.

The ordinance also allows a total of up to 312 micro-units — tiny, furnished apartments — in Town Center as long as at least 20 percent of the building is used for shared amenities like community kitchens, business centers and gyms.

The redevelopment of the area, which stretches between Collins Avenue and Indian Creek Drive/Dickens Avenue from 69th Street to 72nd Street, was approved by voters last November when they authorized an increase in density. Voters authorized an increase in the overall size of buildings in the area, but specifics were left up to the planning department and the City Commission.

After two years of construction and development, the first wave of tiny apartments known as micro-units are finally arriving to Miami-Dade.

Some North Beach residents don’t agree with the new regulations for Town Center, however. They object to allowing 200-foot or higher towers, which they say aren’t what voters had in mind when they cast their ballots in 2017. The height increase wasn’t included in a 2016 master plan for the area. Some residents also worry that micro-units will be used for short-term rentals, which are legal in the Town Center area, rather than to provide housing for residents.

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez echoed some of these concerns during the discussion while acknowledging that height is a minor issue compared to the density increase, which she believes will lead to larger buildings that won’t attract tenants. She said it was too late to “squabble” over height.

“At this point, we might as well suck it up and get big towers,” she said.

Alemán disagreed. She said the new rules will create attractive, affordable micro-units, and she doesn’t think those units will be used primarily for short-term rentals. “You can already build a hotel with a room size of 300 square feet and people could build thousands and thousands of hotel rooms like that and no one has,” she said. “There’s no market for that.”

Alemán also rejected the idea that the whole area will be filled with towers that are 200 feet or taller. The square footage requirements in the ordinance will likely make it difficult for developers to build such structures in more than a few areas, she said.

Although North Beach isn’t known for tall towers, some buildings near Town Center are close to 200 feet or higher. The Carillon east of Town Center, for example, is 350 feet tall, according to the city’s planning department, and to the north the St. Tropez is 245 feet high. Unlike Town Center, however, both properties are on the water.

The ordinance also includes a number of other provisions, including limits on the numbers of hotel rooms and noise reduction requirements for businesses that provide entertainment.

Both ordinances passed 6-1, with Rosen Gonzalez voting no.