Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami faces criticism

Miami Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board delayed vote, pending HIstoric and Environmental Board approval

May.May 07, 2015 12:45 PM

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami’s plans for a new 37,500 square-foot-home and 15,000 square-foot adjoining sculpture garden in the Design District is being met with stiff opposition from homeowners in the historic Buena Vista neighborhood.

During Wednesday evening’s Miami Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board hearing, more than a half dozen of the proposed institute’s new neighbors objected to its request to change the zoning on three duplexes to a use that allows “major institutional, public facilities.”

Auto dealership magnate Norman Braman and his wife Irma, the institute’s main backers who are bankrolling the design and construction of the new museum, attended the hearing, but did not offer any public comments. In the face of residents’ concerns, planning board members voted 5-2 to delay recommending approval or denial to the Miami City Commission until after the Institute, or ICA, goes before the city’s Historic and Environmental Protection Board.

The project is being designed by Madrid-based Aranguren & Gallegos Arquitectos. To make way for the sculpture garden that would front the entrance of the new museum, ICA wants to demolish the three homes, which are located on Northeast 42nd Street and between Northeast First Avenue and North Miami Avenue. Two of the properties were purchased by ICA between December of last year and January for a combined $1.6 million. Design District developer, Dacra President and CEO Craig Robins deeded the third residence, as well as two adjoining empty commercial lots on Northeast 41st Street, over to the institute last year.

Schiller Jerome, president of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association, said ICA’s representatives were scheduled to go before the Historic Preservation Board on Tuesday, but abruptly withdrew the application minutes before the meeting was supposed to start.

“The demolition of the three residential structures must be first addressed by the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board prior to any action by other city boards,” Jerome said. “I respectfully request that the item be postponed.”

Sarima Gracia Vega, who owns a two-floor, four-bedroom house two doors down from the proposed ICA site, said residents had not seen any detailed plans. “This neighborhood should remain historic and the rules should be applied to everybody the same way,” she said.

Another homeowner, Anita McGruder, said the city has been steadily reducing the footprint of the Buena Vista neighborhood to accommodate expansion of the Design District. “I cannot speak with dollars or political power, but I can speak with passion about preserving Buena Vista East,” she said. “I am saying ‘no’ to any rezoning and ‘no’ to the demolition of homes in a historic district.”

Stephen Helfman, a land use attorney representing the institute, accused the residents of trying to stall the project. “We have spent months and months working with the community, sharing exactly what we are going to do there,” Helfman said. “There are no surprises here.”

Helfman also noted that the city’s planning and zoning department had joined as a co-applicant on the zoning change request because the institute’s new home is a significant project for Miami. “We need to start somewhere,” Helfman implored the planning board. “You have to let us get there.”

His pleas did not sway a majority of the board members. “If you are going to change the fabric of history then you first need to go before the Historic Preservation Board,” said board member Ernest Martin. “I certainly agree with the people who have asked for a deferral.”

Board members Maria Lievano-Cruz and Charles Gibson said they were uncomfortable approving the zoning change on the three duplexes. “You are putting a museum in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Leviano-Cruz said. “I don’t understand how the city can support that.”

“For us to grant something like this is puzzling,” Gibson added. “It doesn’t pass the smell test to me.”

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