Overturned: Historic designation of Bay Harbor Islands co-op

Renderings of the proposed Bay Harbor Continental project
Renderings of the proposed Bay Harbor Continental project

For the second time in just more than a month, the Miami-Dade County Commission has granted an appeal to overturn the historic designation of an aging apartment building — a move welcomed by property-rights advocates but condemned by preservationists. The decision paves the way for the sale and demolition of the Bay Harbor Continental, a 35-unit cooperative in Bay Harbor Islands.

After an hours-long acrimonious hearing, the commission voted just before midnight to agree to the appeal, brought by a majority of the cooperative’s owners and by developer P3 Investments, to rescind historic designation status. The Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board, in a move to stop the building’s demolition, granted the designation earlier this year.

In a surprisingly lopsided 8-2 vote, commissioners largely agreed with arguments brought by 86 percent of the co-op residents, many of them elderly, who said they wanted to sell their units to P3 investments. P3 wants to demolish the building and replace it with a seven-story Pininfarina designed residential project containing 28 units.

Many said they would not be able to sell their units because of the historic designation, and would not be able to afford special assessments to fix deteriorating balconies, roof areas, and plumbing fixtures that supporters of the sale could cost as much as $8 million. Thirteen of the 35 co-op residents opposed the sale. Some said they would have nowhere else to go if the building is demolished and others called The Bay Harbor Continental an important example of Miami Modern, or MiMo architecture that should not be demolished.

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Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League told The Real Deal the vote was “very disappointing,” saying the commission ignored its own guidelines on historic preservation. “The commission was totally swayed by evidence that shouldn’t have even been considered,” he said.

A statement from Gaurav Butani, president of P3 Investments, praised the vote, calling it “victory for seniors and residents,” and a strong stand “in favor of the property rights of homeowners.” Pininfarina designers say the new building they have designed for the site will “put new energy into MiMo.”

Bay Harbor Islands Mayor Jordan Leonard, who opposed historic designation for the building called the commission vote a win for the “will of the people.” Jordan said the city has already lost 4 percent of its buildings because owners have torn down many buildings fearing historic designation. Jordan supports historic preservation for buildings whose owners want such designation, he told TRD.

“I’ve spoken with the historic preservation chief and I will be working with them to help people that want to have their properties designed be designated,” he said. “If there are people who want to have their properties designated, we are going to do everything possible to help them.”