Verzasca’s proposed 19-story condo draws ire in Sunny Isles

Miami /
May.May 22, 2015 12:00 PM

The Sunny Isles Beach City Commission voted Thursday night to defer action on a controversial proposal to build a 19-story condominium on the site of a Denny’s restaurant on the west side of Collins Avenue.

Commissioners voted unanimously to give the developer, Verzasca Group, more time to respond to complaints that its condo project at 17550 Collins Avenue with a ground-floor restaurant would create too much traffic congestion. About two dozen people spoke for or against the project at the packed city commission meeting.

“My biggest issue is traffic,” said Vice Mayor Jeanette Gotto. “Having both a condo and a restaurant there is a little on the dense side.”

“We have a problem in Sunny Isles Beach with traffic and congestion,” said City Commissioner Jennifer Levin. But “we can’t tell them [Verzasca Group]  that they can’t have a restaurant there.”

The commission’s ultimate decision may serve as a template for future development on the west side of Collins Avenue, where older low-rise buildings are overshadowed by newer oceanfront high-rises on the east side of the street.

The Verzasca project is “a tipping point, and that tipping point is development on the west side,” said Mayor George “Bud” Scholl. “This is a preview of coming attractions.”

In late March, Verzasca paid $10.5 million for the .99 acre Denny’s site, and told The Real Deal of its plans. Architect Luis Revuelta of Revuelta Architecture International is designing the project.

Verzasca Group applied to the city for site plan approval and for permission to purchase transfers of development rights, or TDRs, that would add 38,000 square feet to the permitted size of the condominium.

The additional space would allow Verzasca to increase the number of condo units in the 19-story building to 77 from 71 and their average size to 1,750 square feet from 1,450 square feet. TDRs essentially amend the city’s zoning by transferring developmental density from one part of Sunny Isles Beach to another.

“There is no additional impact to the community from approving the TDRs,” said Ethan Wasserman, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig who represents Verzasca Group.

The city’s previous sales of TDRs to developers of oceanfront condos have had little impact on traffic in Sunny Isles Beach because many owners of condos on the east side of Collins Avenue are part-time residents, Mayor Scholl said.

But the mayor said “the west side is where people live,” so on the west side of Collins Avenue, the city should “lower the density as much as we can without taking away the developer’s property rights.”

The Russian investors behind Verzasca Group would include in the condominium development a mikvah, or a bath that Jewish people use for religious reasons.

“I’m torn emotionally. I’m of the Jewish faith. It’s important to have a mikvah in the city,” said City Commissioner Isaac Aelion. But “the quality of life of our residents is extremely important,” and excessive traffic on Collins Avenue is unacceptable because it is the “one and only path to our city.”

The proposed tower marks the third project in the United States for the developers, who plan to invest $700 million in South Florida. The group has two developments underway in Bay Harbor Islands, Pearl House and Le Jardin. Gennady Barsky, executive chairman of the Verzasca Group, told TRD that the group also plans to develop “the tallest building in Edgewater.”


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