Initiative to cap building heights in Miami Beach hits snag

Efforts aimed at requiring voter approval related to building height increases

Jul.July 21, 2016 01:30 PM

Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez’s attempt to reach a compromise between her colleagues and a group of citizens leading a ballot initiative to restrict increasing maximum building heights in the city failed to get any traction Wednesday night.

Gonzalez sponsored a resolution that would have been placed on the November ballot asking voters to approve a requirement of a six-vote city commission majority on almost every request for building height increases in the city. “It’s a rational compromise,” Gonzalez said during the meeting. “It’s a safeguard for the public and it provides additional assurances to the community.”

However, Gonzalez was unable to get any of the other six commissioners to second her motion. Instead, commissioners told her they were willing to consider her idea as a legislative matter and not take it to voters. City Attorney Raul Aguila also cautioned commissioners that he believes Gonzalez’s proposal, as well as a separate citizen’s initiative to restrict building skyscrapers in the city, would violate the Florida Constitution.

“In my opinion this ballot question violates Florida statutes,” Aguila said. “Commissioner Gonzalez has also drafted a ballot question that I have concerns also violates state statutes. For that reason, I don’t think it is a proper subject for a referendum.”

Earlier this month, the group Save Miami Beach 2016, led by local preservationist Daniel Ciraldo, submitted 4,812 signatures on a petition to change the city’s charter so that all height increases greater than three feet above of what is currently allowed under the zoning code would have to go to voters for approval — bypassing the city commission. But the group has fallen short of the required 4,458 signatures to get the question on the November ballot because the Miami-Dade Elections Department only certified 2,300 of the submitted signatures.

Save Miami Beach 2016 still has about three weeks to obtain the necessary signatures. Ciraldo said he intends to keep collecting signatures until then. “I feel like I owe it to the 2,300 that were certified to keep this going,” Ciraldo said. “We may be coming back to you.”

Some Miami Beach elected officials said Ciraldo’s effort is unnecessary. “This is a solution looking for a problem,” said Mayor Philip Levine. “I don’t hear people calling me or emailing me that everything is too high. I haven’t heard that.”

Commissioner Ricky Arriola claimed ballot proponents were using scare tactics to obtain signatures. “You have people saying we are going to have shadows everywhere and that we are being overdeveloped,” Arriola claimed. “They don’t understand the protections [the city] has to prevent high-rises from popping up everywhere.”

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