Miami Beach approves new overlay district for Ocean Terrace

North Beach in Miami Beach
North Beach in Miami Beach

It took more than a year of Miami Beach residents squaring off against each other at packed commission hearings, a city-wide referendum that eventually failed, and a new effort by the city of Miami Beach to create a master plan for the city’s North Beach neighborhood, but city commissioners late Wednesday agreed to create a new overlay district for the Ocean Terrace historic district.

The action will allow developer Sandor Scher of Claro Development to build a new 235-foot condominium on Ocean Terrace between 73rd and 75th streets.

The new 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 6-1 on a second reading of the ordinance with commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez voting “no.” Commissioner Micky Steinberg said she would vote “yes” but expressed some concern over the height of the proposed project.

But other commissioners said they strongly supported the project. Joy Malakoff called the planned preservation of several historic buildings on Ocean Terrace such as the Broadmoor and Ocean Surf hotels, as well as the long-closed Curry’s restaurant on Collins Avenue an “excellent adaptive use of historic properties.” Mayor Philip Levine said Ocean Terrace currently resembles “the original set for Scarface,” and the new plans for the area will make “North Beach a better place to live.”

The vote came after the city’s planning department said it had reached agreement with the developer to incorporate extensive setbacks to the project, including 55-foot setbacks on Ocean Terrace, as well extensive setbacks on Collins Avenue and 74th and 75th streets.

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Commission chambers were packed with supporters of the project, but some neighbors and preservationists spoke out against raising height limits on Ocean Terrace. Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League said the height limit increase could make it difficult for the city’s historic preservation board to follow preservation guidelines when they evaluate the project.

While the city commission has approved the overlay district, the historic preservation board will have final authority over how much demolition can take place on Ocean Terrace.

After the vote, Scher said he was committed to preserving the 11 architecturally significant structures on Ocean Terrace and that there will likely be a covenant at some point in the future governing of how that will be done. “The covenant will deal specifically with the historic buildings on Ocean Terrace and Collins Avenue and it will deal directly with the way those buildings are treated,” he said. “That will tie in completely with our design, so it will be one comprehensive plan.”

Scher said he expects to present his plans to the historic preservation board either later this year or in early 2017.

Wednesday’s vote was the culmination of nearly two years of efforts by Scher and his main investor Alex Blavatnik of Access Industries. The two have spent about $65 million buying up most of the buildings on Ocean Terrace, and last year lost a citywide vote on increasing FAR in the area from 2.0 to 3.0. 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 and Revuelta Architecture, to draw up new plans for the area that would also address the concerns of neighbors and preservationists.

The overlay district was proposed by commissioner Malakoff, who said something needed to be done to revitalize Ocean Terrace. For years, Ocean Terrace has been the site of several abandoned buildings and budget hotels just steps from the ocean. Before Wednesday’s vote, building height on Ocean Terrace was restricted 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.