Miami Beach voters say no to Ocean Terrace upzoning

Zoning change proposal drew ire of preservationists and community activists

Nov.November 04, 2015 09:45 AM

Miami Beach voters have rejected a zoning change proposal aimed at increasing the allowable square footage and building height in a North Beach historic district known as Ocean Terrace.

On Tuesday, just more than 55 percent of voters said no to a ballot question that would have allowed developer Sandor Scher to build a pair of high-rises as well as extensive retail space on Ocean Terrace between 73rd and 75th streets. About 45 percent of voters supported the measure, which proponents said would revitalize what they described as a blighted and crime ridden area.

But the proposal faced stiff resistance from a coalition of preservationists and neighborhood activists, who said if the project went ahead, 11 of 13 designated historic buildings would be demolished.

The proposed zoning changes would have created an overlay district allowing for increased height limits in the area, currently restricted to 75 feet, and an increase the allowable floor area ratio (FAR) from 2.0 to 3.0 or a 50 percent increase. Scher and his main investor, Alex Blavatnik of Access Industries, have spent about $70 million buying most of the buildings on Ocean Terrace over the past two years – with the goal of eventually building a mixed-use development anchored by a condominium and hotel, as well as extensive street-level retail space on the east side of Collins Avenue. Following the vote, Scher declined to comment to The Real Deal.

Scher’s earlier renovation projects of the Raleigh Hotel, the Standard, Faena Hotel & Residences and the Essex Hotel among others have been widely praised for maintaining preservation standards and the Miami Beach commission voted to support putting the ballot question before voters. It was the first time Miami Beach voters had been asked to approve an FAR increase since a charter amendment was passed in 1997 requiring voter approval for upzoning changes in areas facing the water. The amendment was strengthened in 2001 to include inland areas as well.

The referendum was also supported by nearly all the homeowners associations in the North Beach area, but preservationists strongly objected. They, and a coalition of neighborhood activists, who said the project would bring gentrification to North Beach, organized a vigorous opposition campaign that tapped into discontent among many Miami Beach residents over the pace of development, and controversy over the power of lobbyists promoting development interests at City Hall.

Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League told TRD after the vote that it was a message to developers. “I think the people of Miami Beach have spoken and they do not want upzoning and they do not want overdevelopment and they do not want our historic districts to be destroyed,” Ciraldo said.

A PAC supporting the zoning change raised $673,000, and spent $434,000 on advertising to promote it, while opponents spent about $25,000 to defeat it.

Scher has said repeatedly that he had no alternative plans for developing Ocean Terrace if the ballot question failed, but city officials have pledged to complete a master plan for all of North Beach next year which could spur a large-scale revitalization of the area.

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