A revised plan to redevelop a short strip of historic beachfront properties in Miami Beach won a key approval Wednesday in its second go-around.
By a 6-1 vote, the City Commission gave final approval to a height increase for Ocean Terrace, a stretch of hotels that need revitalization. Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez voted no.
Some residents still opposed the plan because they don’t want to see another tower go up, but this second version of the plan has garnered more support because the developer is promising to preserve the facades of historic buildings on the block — a promise proponents want to see inked on paper as soon as possible. The properties are between 74th and 75th streets and between Collins Avenue and the beach.
Sandor Scher, of Claro Development, had unsuccessfully campaigned for voters to approve an increase to the maximum allowable square footage, a calculation known as floor-area ratio, for Ocean Terrace. Voter approval would have allowed him to demolish most of the existing buildings and rebuild a condo, hotel and shops. After losing at the ballot box, Scher assembled a new team, which includes Richard Heisenbottle, an architect who specializes in historic preservation, and Cesar Garcia-Pons, an associate principal at architecture firm Perkins+Will Miami.
Scher wanted the City Commission to approve a height increase from a 75-foot maximum to 235 feet, a slightly lower increase than the previous version of the project. He has pledged to preserve and adaptively reuse historic facades in his project.
Residents who opposed the previous plan still want to see that pledge spelled out in an agreement with the city. Eve Boutsis, chief deputy city attorney, cautioned commissioners that such an agreement should not be passed with the height increase but should be part of the dealings with the developer when the project goes to the city’s land use boards.
North Beach resident Katie Comer asked the commission to use its influence to make sure that agreement happens.
“I encourage you to push for those concessions in the future,” she said.
Planning director Thomas Mooney told commissioners that the ordinance has been strengthened to include assurances that the feel of the neighborhood will be preserved. The maximum height of the pedestal for the tower is limited to 40 feet. The setback of the tower has been increased to 30 feet on the Collins Avenue side and 55 feet on the Ocean Terrace side.
Still, details remain to be hashed out when Scher brings the project to the Historic Preservation Board. He expects to do so by the end of the year.
“I expect a lot more dialogue when this reaches the Historic Preservation Board,” Mooney said.
Scher and his attorney, Niesen Kasdin, the former Beach mayor, said they would offer an agreement to protect the historic facades when the project reaches the city’s land use boards.
“Now that we’re through today, the real work can get done, and all of the specifics of [the plan] will soon be revealed,” Scher said.
The Miami Design Preservation League opposes height increases in historic districts on the grounds that they hinder the Historic Preservation Board’s ability to reject similar proposals in other historic districts. According to standards used by that board, new construction is supposed to be compatible in terms of size, scale and proportion.
Daniel Ciraldo, a preservation officer with the league, raised the height issue with commissioners and placed his confidence in the Historic Preservation Board.
“Historic Preservation Board has the final authority on the project, and that’s a good thing,” Ciraldo said.
Some residents welcome the new plan because they want to see Ocean Terrace revitalized.
“Yes we’ve got a beautiful beach. . . . We think we have the potential to be one of the best blocks in Miami Beach,” said Judith Bishop, a resident of the nearby St. Tropez condo tower. “But right now, look around. We have boarded-up buildings.”