Ocean Drive sidewalk café design guidelines put on hold

Ocean Drive in Miami Beach
Ocean Drive in Miami Beach

Saying they had not had adequate time to study new guidelines that could radically change the streetscape of Ocean Drive, the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board on Tuesday deferred recommending action on the guidelines until its September meeting.  

The guidelines were prepared by the city’s planning department over the past year and came from recommendations made by members of the Ocean Drive Task Force, a group of business owners who approached the city more than a year ago with complaints of deteriorating conditions on the iconic street.   

Among the guidelines and recommendations are standardizing café umbrellas, tables, chairs, planters, menu boards and lighting on Ocean Drive. There have been numerous complaints from city residents and others that oversize umbrellas in particular have created a “tunnel effect” along sidewalks in front of many businesses.  

Several business owners that would be affected by the new guidelines told the board on Tuesday that downsizing umbrellas would have a negative impact on their businesses. David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Café, told the board that “$20,000 can be lost in 15 seconds” if a fast moving rain storm drenches customers, who he says won’t pay for a rain-interrupted meal and won’t return to Ocean Drive.   

Several board members voiced support for Wallack and other business owners who said the proposed smaller umbrellas were not adequate to protect customers from sun and rain. Board member John Stuart said he was worried about the “strictness” of the proposed guidelines saying, “Our city requires flexibility.”  

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While she agreed to defer action on the guidelines until September, HPB chairperson Jane Gross called the current situation on Ocean Drive “a very unpleasant experience for those of us who remember the old Ocean Drive.”

“All I see is a sea of canopies,” she added. “I don’t think we expected a food court when we approved cafes. The residents should be able to enjoy Ocean Drive.”  

Any recommendation the HPB makes to the city commission is purely advisory but The Ocean Drive Task Force had called for implementing the new guidelines by November 1st — a deadline planning department staffers said they had worked toward, but which now seems unlikely.  

Jonathon Plutzik, the owner of the Betsy South Beach on Ocean Drive and the chairman of the task forces told The Real Deal, that he too had not had time to review the new guidelines, which were issued on Tuesday. Speaking to a meeting of the task force on Tuesday, Plutzik said he was “very concerned about the direction of Ocean Drive,” and said he is favor of cleaning up the street.  

While the planning department guidelines won’t likely be discussed at this Wednesday’s meeting of the city commission, a proposal by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine that would restrict alcohol sales after 2 a.m. on Ocean Drive from Fifth Street to 15th Street will be on the agenda.  Last year the city banned alcohol sales from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. at sidewalk cafés, and while the mayor’s proposal would not affect indoor bars and clubs, many business owners on Ocean Drive have pledged to fight it.