Miami City Commission will discuss proposed changes to historic designation

Legislation would tighten existing rules

Feb.February 11, 2015 03:30 PM

The Miami City Commission will take up legislation on Thursday that would restrict who can request the historic designation of properties.

Right now, virtually anyone can ask the city to designate a building historic. Anyone owning a home declared historic by the city must receive approval from the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board (HEPB) or the City Commission prior to altering or demolishing it. Buildings that are being evaluated for their historic value by the city also can’t be altered or demolished for a year or until a determination is made by HEPB or the City Commission.

Under the proposed revised law, only the property’s owner, an elected Miami official, the city manager, the planning and zoning board, the county’s historic and preservation board, or a non-profit with a five-year-plus track record for historic preservation can seek a building’s designation.

Lucia Dougherty, a land use attorney with Greenberg Traurig, is in favor of the restriction. She noted that even in Miami Beach, a city lauded for its Art Deco district, only municipal boards and the Miami Design Preservation League can ask for the preservation of older buildings. In Miami, on the other hand, “if you have a property, your next door neighbor can ask that it be designated.”

Morningside activist Elvis Cruz predicts that the restriction will be controversial, since it is usually citizens, and not historic groups or city officials, who spearhead efforts to protect historically significant buildings. For example, Cruz said, it was neighboring Coconut Grove residents who campaigned for the historic designation of the circa-1920 St. Gaudens Road House.

“I don’t see a problem with leaving it [the historic code] the way it [is],” Cruz said in an email to The Real Deal.

Besides defining who can seek historic designation, Miami commissioners will also consider an amendment that will more than double the amount of unused development rights a designated historic building owner can “transfer” to other properties in Miami. Currently, only historic buildings within the Miami Modern (MiMo) Historic Biscayne Boulevard district, where a 35-foot height limit on new construction exists, were entitled to the 225 percent bonus. Dougherty said the air-rights enhancement, which can then be sold to other developers in Miami, will encourage property owners throughout the city to preserve their architecturally significant buildings.

The code will also clarify that commercial uses within the MiMo district will be restricted to the T4-O zoning designation. Cruz said the amended language will help appease Morningside’s worries of a possible zoning increase to T5 on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard, between 50th and 60th streets. Dougherty, on the other hand, opposed the land use amendment, claiming it will make the hotels and motels in the district that “everyone wants to save” non-conforming. “That,” she said, “doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Even if the revisions receive a positive vote on Thursday, the item will have to come before the Miami City Commission a second time before it becomes law. The next Miami City Commission meeting takes place on Feb. 26.

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