Miami Beach

Miami Beach agrees to let developer build at higher density — in exchange for $15M park

The two-block stretch of Miami Beach’s Ocean Terrace is now the future site of a $15 million public park space.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and city commissioners gave unanimous approval Wednesday to a deal involving a notable trade: In exchange for the city vacating street and sidewalk space in addition to altering its zoning and land use map permitting developers to build their adjacent project at an increased density, developers will construct a multimillion-dollar streetscape and public park project at no cost to the city.

But the decision came over the objections of some residents, who said the question should have been put to a vote of city residents, just as an earlier proposal for Ocean Terrace had been put on the ballot — and rejected.

Even so, many in the audience erupted in cheers after city commissioners gave their unanimous approval.

The city’s new partnership is with the real estate company Ocean Terrace Holdings. Commissioners gave initial approval to entering into a public-private partnership with the company in June.

“This is really going to be something special to a place that deserves something special,” Mayor Dan Gelber said.

The partnership makes way for Sandor Scher, principal of Ocean Terrace Holdings, and Alex Blavatnik, Scher’s principal investor, to build their redevelopment project at a greater density — expanding the size of condo units and allowing up to 50 additional hotel rooms to be built.

“It’s a partnership between a private entity and the public sector to create something truly, truly great that otherwise would not happen,” Scher said.

The approved streetscape improvements and park will stretch on Ocean Terrace between 73rd and 75th streets. The city will relinquish public rights-of-way on Ocean Terrace between 74th and 75th streets and sections of 74th and 75th streets between Collins Avenue and Ocean Terrace. The city will still retain control of the area upon the project’s completion.

Wednesday’s decision was a win for Scher and Blavatnik in what’s become a years-long journey to revitalize Ocean Terrace. Their Ocean Terrace face-lift includes building a 235-foot tall, 58-room condominium tower and combining the Broadmoor and Ocean Surf hotels into one to create a 76-room entity. The combined hotel will use the restored facades of the old Art Deco-style hotels. Its maximum allowable height under the deal is 125 feet. City commissioners in 2016 raised the maximum height in Ocean Terrace from 75 feet to 235 feet.

Back in 2015, Miami Beach residents voted no on increasing the allowable maximum square footage of buildings within the historic district where Ocean Terrace sits. If the vote had passed, it would have spurred Scher’s initial push to demolish historic buildings to make way for a large-scale development. Scher came back with a revised plan that focuses more on preservation and resident input, he said.

“Admittedly in the past we did not go about things the right way,” Scher said. “This is a very different project than it was five years ago.”

The revised project also uses the Ocean Terrace Neighborhood Design Plan, a concept plan the city adopted in 2018 that addresses proposed park and streetscape improvements.

“The process of community outreach has been open, transparent and lengthy,” resident Carolina Jones said. “Although I personally supported this [project] for many years. I had concerns and I challenged [Scher], my neighbors challenged him, city staff challenged him.”

Commissioner Mark Samuelian said he admired the community input that led up to the streetscape and park project.

“This has been an excellent and very involved community process,” Samuelian said. “Folks have been involved throughout.”

Scher and Blavatnik’s public park and streetscape project will uproot much of what is now public parking and sidewalk and replace them with winding pedestrian promenades, multiple water features, more native vegetation and increased shade space. Miami’s Raymond Jungles, Inc. is the landscape architecture firm behind the park project.

The streetscape and park improvements will still require design review approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Board.

The agreement requires the project to be completed in two phases over 8 years. Developers have up to four years to complete phase one and up to eight years to complete the final phase. The park and streetscape improvements must be completed before Scher and Blavatnik’s adjacent redevelopment project is finished.

A rendering from Raymond Jungles, Inc. shows the proposed upgrades and improvements for the Ocean Terrace Streetscape Plan. Raymond Jungles, Inc.

Commissioner Ricky Arriola was blunt in his response to the proposal, uttering only a few words from the dais when the project came up for a vote.

“I’m all in,” he said.

The project will get rid of over 60 parking spaces in the area. However, Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán said those spaces will be replaced in the planned 72nd Street parking garage, located between Collins and Harding Avenue, that the city plans to build with bonds that voters approved in 2018.

Also valet parking will be available when there’s construction on holidays and weekends. Miami Beach residents will receive a preferred rate, said Eric Carpenter, assistant city manager.

Nancy Liebman, former executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League and Miami Beach resident, said she sees Scher’s proposed development and public park project as something residents should appreciate after years of little attention being paid to North Beach in terms of redevelopment.

“If this doesn’t happen, North Beach is really going to go down,” Liebman said in an earlier interview with the Herald. “Nobody is going to come and rescue it.”

Commissioner Micky Steinberg said although she has voted against similar proposals in the past, she felt compelled to do differently this time around.

“Typically, I have been the only no vote on some of these proposals because staff has said to us ‘It’s not the best deal for the city. We can do better.’” Steinberg said. “[But] now we have them saying, ‘This is a great deal for the city.’”

But not everyone cheered the commission’s action. Some residents said they are concerned with the tactics used to reach a deal with developers and see the move as a violation of the city’s charter. They argued that a referendum should be held giving residents the power to decide on the transfer of public street and sidewalk and whether a developer should be allowed to build to an increased density.

The nonprofit Miami Beach United, a community grassroots organization, released a statement saying the mechanism used to enter into the partnership goes against the spirit of the city charter.

“Maybe the commission believes times have changed enough that residents don’t care about this anymore, but [Miami Beach United] is saying that people care about it very much and we don’t want to see Miami Beach made more dense,” said Saul Gross, former Miami Beach commissioner and board member for Miami Beach United.

Jose Smith, a former Miami Beach city commissioner and former city attorney, agreed, questioning why a referendum wasn’t called.

“The issue isn’t whether or not the project is a good project. The issue is the legal mechanism that is being used to advance the project forward,” Smith said. “I’m concerned the legal mechanism being used violates the charter. If it is such a wonderful project that everyone talks about, why not let the public decide?”

“The references made that this is illegal is not true,” said Aleksandr Boksner, chief deputy city attorney. “The city is following the law at this point in time and there is nothing that is inconsistent.”

Ruth Klestinec, a North Beach resident who moved to the area in the 1950s, said she doesn’t see an issue with the city’s exchange with developers.

“My personal opinion is, they’re going to get more back then they are giving up,” Klestinec told the Herald before Wednesday’s final approval.

Klestinec said developers’ attention to Ocean Terrace has given hope more revitalization will come in the future.

“The first shovel that’s put in the ground to improve something will spur others,” Klestinec said.

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