North Beach master plan draft aims to expand historic districts and create town center

North Beach in Miami Beach
North Beach in Miami Beach

Miami Beach residents got their first look at a master plan that could help to remake their neighborhood late Tuesday.

The draft plan presented by urban planners Dover, Kohl & Partners has been in the works for several months. It unveils what the planners call several big ideas for remaking North Beach, which stretches from 63rd Street to 87th Street and between the Atlantic Ocean and Biscayne Bay.

The plan calls for the creation of a town center along 71st Street; enhanced protection for architecturally significant Miami Modern or MiMo buildings; developing eight large vacant lots along Collins Avenue, known as the west lots, with a mix of private and public investment; enhancing transportation options for residents; and building up beach and other waterfront areas to deal with sea-level rise.

The draft plan calls for the creation of local historic districts along many waterfront areas of North Beach, which would largely prevent the demolition of so-called contributing structures — something Dover, Kohl planners said that many residents of North Beach want. Jason King, a project director at the firm, says local historic districts helped make South Beach what it is today and the same could happen for North Beach. “South Beach started with just a few historic districts, and they all expanded,” King said. “So what we are proposing is sort of a pilot a historic district pilot in some ways on North Beach.

King said the draft plan also calls for the creation of neighborhood conservation districts that protect attributes of a neighborhood like scale and massing and block size, but allow for the replacement of buildings that “have exceeded their design life.”

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Owners of buildings would be allowed to use transfer of development rights or TDRs, essentially air rights  to protect such buildings and to transfer TDRs to other developers who want to build higher in an area like a town center along 71st Street where the draft plan calls for increasing heights up to 12 stories as a way of creating a viable mix of retail and residential projects that would give North Beach residents and visitors a “destination.”

A number of developers have expressed skepticism over whether TDRs would work in North Beach, and said it’s unclear if enough value can be gained from TDRs to either protect and maintain older buildings or build up 71st street. Voter approval would also be necessary for the plan to move forward.

The draft plan also calls for a mix of private and public investment along Collins Avenue, where the city owns eight large mostly vacant lots that city officials have called potentially some of the most valuable property on Miami Beach, sitting across from North Shore Park with unobstructed views of the ocean. Dover, Kohl planners said a potential mix of six blocks having public uses and two being developed privately received the most interest in an informal poll.

And to protect those areas the draft plan calls for building up dune areas by building so called “dikes in dunes,” where dune areas are reinforced with concrete ribbing, and widening beach areas along the North Beach coastline, something that was done more than 30 years ago in South Beach.

On Wednesday, the Miami Beach City Commission responded to the draft master plan by unanimously imposing a six-month moratorium on any new demolitions in North Beach. Sponsored by commissioners Joy Malakoff and Ricky Arriola, the moratorium is designed to protect so-called “contributing structures” from demolition until local historic districts can be designated and approved by the city commission.