For the first time ever, Miami Beach voters will decide whether or not a developer should receive a zoning increase.
By a vote of 6:1, the Miami Beach City Commission moved forward with zoning changes that will enable developer Sandor Scher to build a pair of high-rises at 74th Street and Ocean Terrace, during a meeting Friday.
The proposed zoning changes will allow Scher to build a 250-foot-tall condo with around 70 residential units and a 125-foot-tall hotel with 120 hotel rooms. Currently, the height limit for new construction is 75 feet. Because the overlay district Scher is championing for Ocean Terrace will increase the floor area ratio (FAR) from 2.0 to 3.0, the zoning change will need to be approved by voters on Nov. 3.
The roots of that requirement go back more than 18 years. Frustrated over a development agreement that would have given Thomas Kramer the right to build a high-rise on a 3.4-acre parcel of land adjacent to South Pointe Park, activists formed Save Miami Beach and pushed for a charter amendment requiring voter approval for upzoning requests along the waterfront. When the amendment was passed by voters on June 3, 1997, Kramer backed out of the agreement rather than risk rejection again from the voters. (Following a complicated legal settlement, the parcel was obtained by the city and merged into South Pointe Park in 2004.)
By November 2001, a new charter amendment was passed requiring a voter referendum for increases in FAR anywhere in Miami Beach — inland and waterfront.
Since that time, no upzoning request has been placed on the ballot. Until now.
Scher’s overlay district request has already divided Miami Beach, especially among those living in North Beach, located between 63rd Street and 87th Terrace.
Proponents of the zoning change tout Scher’s previous projects in South Beach such as The Standard, the Raleigh Hotel, Soho Beach House, and the Shelborne Hotel. They argue that the high-rise will inject economic vitality to an area blighted by violent crime.
Critics, though, fear the high-rise will adversely affect the character of North Beach. Some residents of the neighboring 28-story St. Tropez tower, now the tallest building in Ocean Terrace, fear the future tower will block views. (St. Tropez, located at 7330 Ocean Terrace, was built in 1999 under “grandfathered” zoning rights.)
Commissioner Ed Tobin said he was tempted to vote against the zoning change due to the connection between the project’s lobbyist, David Custin, and the political action committee Relentless for Progress, which supports Mayor Philip Levine and is run by Commissioner Jonah Wolfson. However, only a zoning increase will encourage the redevelopment of Ocean Terrace, Tobin said.
The lone dissenter: Commissioner Micky Steinberg. “I can’t support this,” she said. Steinberg, however, voted with her colleagues to direct the city attorney to draft a ballot question that the commission will vote on.
Last year, Scher invested $57.3 million in 57,000 square feet of land at 74th Street and Ocean Terrace that includes four historically designated hotels built in the 1940s and 1950s.
Although Scher has yet to reveal detailed renderings or plans, Scher’s attorney, Neisen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor, said his client plans to preserve at least two of the hotels as part of his project, the Days Inn & Suites and the Ocean Terrace Hotel. Both buildings were originally constructed in 1940.
If voters pass the FAR change, the item will come back before the Miami Beach City Commission on Dec. 9 for final approval.