Billionaire developer Steve Ross is one step closer to achieving his goal of buying and redeveloping a historic property in Miami Beach.
Ross, founder and chairman of the Related Companies and owner of the Miami Dolphins, has an agreement with the Meruelos, the controversial owners of the Deauville Beach Resort, to buy the hotel for an undisclosed amount. The oceanfront resort fell into disrepair and is being demolished.
Ross’ deal is likely contingent on securing an upzoning of the 3.8-acre site at 6701 Collins Avenue.
On Tuesday, the Miami Beach Planning Board voted 5 to 1 in favor of amendments to the North Beach Oceanside FAR Overlay District that move the proposal forward. Ross’ goal is to have the item placed on the November ballot in the form of a referendum, and ultimately build a project with 175 luxury hotel rooms and 150 luxury condos.
Planning board members expanded the proposed amendments to apply also to the properties immediately north and south of the Deauville and recommended specifying that the developer would be the Related Companies and the architect would be Frank Gehry.
The approvals are non-binding and would only advance to the November election if the Miami Beach City Commission passes them on first reading in July. If voters approve the amendments later this year, they would return to the commission for a second reading vote.
Under the city’s zoning code, the Deauville redevelopment would be limited to a structure with the same floor-area ratio, height and massing. The Meruelo family has been in fierce litigation with the city for years and was accused of intentionally letting the Deauville property deteriorate to the point that it can’t be saved.
Ross, who grew up in Miami Beach, enlisted architect Gehry to design the project. The New York developer is seeking a 50 percent increase in FAR, or overall project size, of 4.5. The Deauville property has one of the highest FARs in the city at 3.15.
Ross’ attorney, former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin, said that the proposal marks an increase of about 250,000 square feet for a total of about 750,000 square feet of development.
A number of members of the public spoke in favor and against the proposed zoning changes, including Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and former Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board chair Jack Finglass.
Gelber, who called into the meeting via Zoom, has been supportive of Ross’ plans from the start, announcing that Ross had struck a deal with the Meruelos a month ago. Yet, Finglass called the proposed FAR increase “monstrous” and questioned how the deal came to fruition so quickly.
The city ordered a demolition by neglect order earlier this year after it was determined to be an unsafe structure, in the wake of the deadly Surfside condo collapse.
“You’re proposing to double the size of many new buildings. You’re in effect destroying the historic character that Miami Beach has always had …. The Carillon was in much worse condition many, many people have told me for years and look how it’s thriving now,” Finglass said.
“We’re making a big, big rush to judgment. … Something smells fishy in Denmark to me about this,” he added. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t have any proof, but things don’t move this fast. Architects don’t fall out of the sky. Developers don’t appear within a few days.”
Some residents said they were in favor of the sale of the property and a new development, but feared the increase in allowable size of the project.
Though the commission had advanced the plan to the planning board, few details about Ross’ proposal have been released, including renderings. That has prompted concern that commissioners and board members are advancing zoning changes without knowing what Ross would build.
“We have not seen one single massing study,” said Elizabeth Latone, who lives near the Deauville. “My fear is if you would grant it to one, you would grant it to all of them. I’m afraid we’re going to end up looking like a mini Sunny Isles.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Tanya Bhatt questioned Kasdin over whether Ross’ deal is contingent on zoning changes. Kasdin, managing partner of Akerman’s Miami office, said he could not disclose details, but said that Ross entered into an agreement to buy the property.
“We just can’t show you a sketch because that’s not how Frank Gehry works,” Kasdin said.
Kasdin did suggest that the proposed development could include workforce housing.
Ross appeared in a pre-recorded message during Kasdin’s presentation, where he said that North Beach “has really languished,” and that he was “really excited to have the potential” to build something significant.