Miami Beach

Miami Beach activists submit petition to limit building heights

Miami Beach voters could decide on whether or not to significantly limit height increases in the city if a ballot petition is accepted by the city.
Miami Beach voters could decide on whether or not to significantly limit height increases in the city if a ballot petition is accepted by the city. Miami Herald file

A group of Miami Beach activists has submitted a petition to change the city’s development rules by putting almost every proposed height increase to a public vote — a significant change that the city’s legal department said may not be legal.

Billing itself as Save Miami Beach 2016, which harkens back to a movement in the 1990s to curb large-scale waterfront development, the group wants to change the city’s charter to require voter approval for all height increases greater than three feet. Led by preservationist Daniel Ciraldo, the group submitted about 4,800 signatures.

About 4,500 signatures — 10 percent of the city’s registered voters — are needed to put the charter amendment before voters. The City Commission would have to formally authorize placing the question on the ballot once the signatures are verified.

“This demonstrates the continued public interest in how our city develops,” Ciraldo told the Miami Herald. “Our citizens want a say before building heights are increased. I hope that we’ll see this charter amendment on the November ballot, so that voters may decide if they want the final word over height increases in our city.”

Our citizens want a say before building heights are increased.

Daniel Ciraldo, proponent of ballot measure

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez put an item on Wednesday’s City Commission agenda to discuss the commission itself placing the question on the ballot.

“Given the overwhelming support from our citizens on this initiative, I would like to refer this for the July 13 meeting, so that my commissioners and I can be a part of placing this on the ballot,” Rosen Gonzalez wrote in an email to the clerk requesting the discussion. “I understand that the signatures may still be getting verified, however it seems clear to me that the will of our residents is to have more of a say over the future development of our city.”

The Beach’s city clerk has sent the petitions to the Miami-Dade’s elections department to verify the signatures. That review is still ongoing and is not likely to be done by Wednesday’s meeting.

But City Attorney Raul Aguila said there may be other issues with the ballot initiative. On Tuesday he cited a Florida law that might prevent such land use and development changes from being decided by voters.

Aguila said he was still doing legal research and analyzing case law late Tuesday, so he expects to have a finalized opinion for the commission later this week. But he has concerns about city possibly approving a ballot question that is illegal.

However, nothing could stop the City Commission from changing the city’s zoning code to limit heights by passing an ordinance. If commissioners took the petition’s intent and tried to legislate a solution, they have the latitude to require supermajority votes, require more public hearings or even prohibit height increases.

“It doesn’t mean that the City Commission is precluded from considering this kind of measure,” he said. “It’s just the method by which they can consider it.”

It would seem like several residents are sending commissioners a message by supporting the initiative, which shouldn’t be surprising. Building height has been a touchy subject in the Beach lately.

Two tall buildings — a headquarter hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center and a redevelopment of Ocean Terrace in North Beach — have been rejected by voters in the last year.

Two tall buildings — a headquarter hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center and a redevelopment of Ocean Terrace in North Beach — have been rejected by voters in the last year. In Sunset Harbour, a developer who wanted a height increase for a mixed-use project faced bitter opposition from a nearby towing company and a few neighbors. The developer recently announced he would revise the project to build within current development regulations.

More recently, a development group announced it wanted to buy air rights from the city to build two high-rises above the publicly-owned Miami Beach Marina. Developers are willing to contribute $100 million to a city transportation fund, which would help pay for a future light rail system.

The group wanted to place three referendums on November’s presidential ballot. But after touring the neighborhood and hearing citizens’ concerns, the developers decided to slow down their efforts and build community consensus first.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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