Miami Beach commissioners move to create new overlay district for Ocean Terrace

North Beach (Photography by Marc Averette)
North Beach (Photography by Marc Averette)

The Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday agreed to create a new overlay district for the Ocean Terrace historic district that will allow developer Sandor Scher of Claro Development to build a new 235-foot condominium on Ocean Terrace between 73rd and 75th Street.

The vote was 6-1 on a first reading of the ordinance, with commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez voting ‘no.’  

The proposed ordinance would also allow Scher to build a 125-foot hotel on Ocean Terrace, but both buildings cannot be built simultaneously to those maximum heights because of current restrictions on FAR, or floor area ratio for Ocean Terrace, which is capped at 2.0.

The vote was the culmination of nearly two years of efforts by Scher, and his main investor Alex Blavatnik, of Access Industries who have spent about $65 million buying up most of the buildings on Ocean Terrace, and who last year lost a citywide vote on increasing FAR in the area from 2.0 to 3.0.  

Scher’s earlier proposal had called for a 250-foot condominium and a hotel on Ocean Terrace, which required a FAR increase to be completed. His earlier proposal also would have led to several architecturally significant buildings being demolished. Voter approval is required on Miami Beach for any FAR increase.   

Currently building height on Ocean Terrace is limited to 75 feet, although there is a 28-story condominium that was built in 1999 after being grandfathered into the historic district when it was created in 1996.  

The overlay district was proposed by commissioner Joy Malakoff who said something needed to be done to revitalize Ocean Terrace, which for years has been the site of several abandoned buildings and budget hotels, just steps from the ocean. “What you see are dilapidated buildings and no life on the street,” Malakoff told her fellow commissioners.

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Malakoff said she was encouraged by new plans that Scher has put forward that preserve many of the old buildings’ facades but she said his team needs to meet with the city’s planning department before a second and final reading of the ordinance in June to make sure that historic properties are preserved as much as possible — and that the project enhances pedestrian traffic in the area.   

Earlier this year Scher brought in architect Richard Heisenbottle, who specializes in historic preservation and urban planner Cesar Garcia-Pons, an associate principal at Perkins+Will Miami, to draw up new plans for the area that would also address the concerns of neighbors and preservationists.

On Wednesday Scher told reporters that the reduced square footage “is a constraining factor, but it’s clearly the right approach and the right solution for this particular area.”

He said he has been meeting regularly with North Beach residents and preservationists. Kirk Paskal, who led neighborhood opposition to last year’s ballot measure to increase FAR, told commissioners while he still has reservations about building a 235-foot tall condominium in the area, he “appreciates” that Scher plans preserve much of the MiMo, or Miami Modern architecture on Ocean Terrace.    

While Scher has managed to gain broad support for his new Ocean Terrace proposal, some preservationists are still opposed. The Miami Design Preservation League issued a statement prior to Wednesday’s meeting that criticized the height increase proposal.

“We do not support increases in height within historic districts, because of conflicts with compatibility with existing historic structures,” said group said in a statement, which also called on commissioners to defer their vote until the city’s historic preservation board can study the proposal.  

Speaking following the vote, Scher said he will have to submit his plans to the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board before anything new on Ocean Terrace can be built — something he said he intends to do later this year.