Despite months of being lambasted by angry residents, Bay Harbor Islands council members on Monday unanimously agreed to a change in land-use rules that would allow for slightly larger condos.
Balconies will be removed from the code’s definition of total building coverage for properties in the RM3 district, which is comprised of five waterfront buildings on the eastern island. Town staff has contended that its inclusion was likely a mistake since no other zoning code in the county includes this practice.
The adopted ordinance was initially deferred at the September meeting to allow for discussion of the code revision at a public workshop, which was well-attended. For nearly four hours, residents and officials at the October workshop were embroiled in a heated debate.
Council members say they would like to see the code consistent with the town’s RM1 and RM2 districts, while the majority of residents have expressed fears of obscured views and ostentatious balconies.
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Planning and zoning board members argued that residents’ concerns are overblown, but this did little to bring down the temperature on the debate, which spilled into the Monday council meeting. Around a dozen residents protested the proposed zoning change prior to the meeting, including Teri D’Amico who presented the council with a petition of 275 names.
“Residents are frustrated and angry,” said D’Amico told the council.
Balconies may be the matter at hand, but the crux of the conversation is new condo development on the eastern island.
Some residents worry about over-development and do not want any legislation passed that will give leeway to developers. They feel the council has made decisions that threaten the architectural character of the town.
“It’s called trust and we are not trusting the council anymore,” resident Francis Neuhut said.
But others welcome new projects in hopes of increased property value.
“Developers bring more citizens and tax money,” resident Wendy Auerbach said. “I don’t think many people realize that.”
This bitter debate has dominated the town council agenda since a national historic preservation group called the island “one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places” in July. The eastern island boasts an array of “Miami Modern,” or MiMo, style architecture that dates back to the 1940s and 1950s.
Preservation-minded residents believe the futures of these buildings are at stake under the current council. D’Amico, who co-coined the term MiMo, feels the town has not been “sensitive to what is considered history.”
So preservationists were reluctant Monday to support Vice Mayor Jordan Leonard’s resolution that would urge the county commission to approve an ordinance to opt out of the jurisdiction of the county historic preservation board and form their own.
Resident Juan Llarena questioned whether the town could form a capable preservation board. He says he would not trust the planning and zoning board with the responsibility.
“They have let us down as you see in this meeting,” Llarena said. “We do not have the resources to do this.”
But Mayor Robert Yaffe argued it was not a question of whether the town should have its own historic preservation board.
“What is wrong with having a choice?” Yaffe said.
Councilman Isaac Salver echoed his sentiments.
“We want to have a seat at the table,” Salver said. “We want to have autonomy over our town.”
The Miami-Dade County ordinance, which was sponsored by Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, comes back to the recognition from the national historic preservation group.
Town officials met with Heyman after they say the county historic preservation board went behind their backs to nominate the East Island and then lied about their involvement.
“The conversation we had with the county was far from transparent,” Yaffe said.
Leonard also spoke of communication issues between the town and county.
“We do not have a good working relationship with the county,” Leonard said, although Town Manager Ronald Wasson says communication has improved since.
Councilwoman Kelly Reid was the only one on the dais to speak against the resolution.
“It is a knee-jerk reaction,” Reid said. “It is not broken and we do not need to fix it.”
Ultimately, the town council passed the resolution with only Reid voting against.
“I hope it fails at the county level,” Reid said.