Miami Beach board delays decision on one Star Island manse, approves another

Renderings of Shay Kostiner's proposed mansion at 44 Star Island (Credit: Ricardo Bofill)
Renderings of Shay Kostiner's proposed mansion at 44 Star Island (Credit: Ricardo Bofill)

Miami Beach preservationists looking to save the old Star Island home of a city founder scored a temporary victory on Tuesday when members of the city’s Design Review Board criticized a new mansion’s design and a landscaping plan presented by the existing property owner.

The board voted to delay its final decision until July, giving Shay Kostiner, his architects and his landscapers almost two months to try and save his lavish residential project at 44 Star Island.

Kostiner, who paid $7.2 million in 2010 for the one-acre-plus waterfront lot, wants to demolish a six-bedroom, five-bathroom mansion built in 1935 by John H. Levi, a marine engineer who worked with city pioneer Carl Fisher to create Miami Beach. Levi, who is also credited with making Star Island, went on to become the only city mayor featured on the cover of Time magazine. Kostiner wants to build a two-story trapezoid structure made predominantly of glass running from floor to ceiling.

Since Levi’s former estate does not have a historic designation, the Design Review Board cannot reject Kostiner’s demolition plan. However, Daniel Ciraldo, a member of the Miami Design Preservation League, pleaded with the board to at least force Kostiner to reduce the footprint of his new building and to prevent the removal and relocation of four trees.

“The community really cares about this house,” Ciraldo said. “We want to see it saved. But you, as the board, have the power to determine the appropriate size if the home is demolished.”

Kostiner told board members he and his architects, Juan Gomez and Ricardo Bofill, have been designing his new home for more than a year. “I brought together a great team,” Kostiner said. “I love this contemporary home and I am very excited about moving into this home.”

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But four design review board members were reluctant to give Kostiner the green light. “I’m disturbed by the design,” said board member Annabel Delgado-Harrington. “We don’t have jurisdiction over demolition, but I do have a problem with the rigidity of the design and the relocation of whatever history is left of the site.”

Her colleagues Deena Bell, Michael Steffens, and Elizabeth Camargo echoed Delgado-Harrington, as well as criticized Kostiner’s landscaping plan that would relocate three trees near the front of the property and remove another one in the back near the sea wall. “I do feel we have a responsibility to design around our natural resources,” Hill said. “I believe there is a way to preserve the trees.”

Steffens said Kostiner was “erasing everything that is there.” He also opposed the property owner’s request for a waiver to allow him to increase the physical volume of the second floor to the first floor to 83 percent from 70 percent, which is what the city code allows.

After nearly an hour-and-a-half of discussions failed to reach a compromise with Kostiner, the board voted to continue his application until its July meeting.

By contrast, the design review board unanimously approved an application by Lennar CEO Stuart Miller to build a new two-story mansion at 22 Star Island and relocate a Mediterranean-style building to another part of the property to make room for the new building.

Miller’s request drew no opposition. “We are so thrilled with this project,” Ciraldo said. “And we are pleased the owner is saving this historic, but unprotected, building.”