After several Ocean Drive restaurant and property owners claimed that their businesses would be harmed by the loss of outdoor seating, the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board backed away on Tuesday from legislation that would have restricted the size of sidewalk cafes and umbrellas along that South Beach thoroughfare.
Instead, the board backed a compromise Ocean Drive sidewalk café package that outright banned bulky furniture along the 14.6-foot wide sidewalk, demanded an unobstructed 5.5-foot wide pedestrian path, and mandated that outdoor seating be limited to either the east side or west side of the sidewalk.
The historic preservation board also endorsed a suggestion made by land use attorney Alex Tachmes of Shutts & Bowen that as many as 80 palms trees planted in holes along Ocean Drive’s sidewalk, from 5th to 15th Street, be removed and replanted elsewhere in the city. “By doing that you have a 5.5 foot wide clear area and you get nine feet for tables and chairs,” he told the board.
The Miami Beach City Commission is scheduled to discuss the proposed revisions to Ocean Drive’s sidewalk café ordinance, and the removal of the trees, at its meeting Sept. 14.
As many as 42 establishments lease sidewalk space from the city in order to operate sidewalk cafes, an arrangement that allows bars and restaurants to boost their seating occupancy.
However, following complaints from residents that Ocean Drive has become a magnet for drunken brawls and tourist muggings, Miami Beach officials are considering laws that may pull back alcohol sales from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. Locals have also complained about having to walk through a “gauntlet” of outdoor seating when walking along Ocean Drive’s sidewalk on the west side of the street.
In order to combat the “gauntlet effect,” Miami Beach planners unveiled proposed legislation on Tuesday that would have limited outdoor seating to a 6.6-foot wide area on the west side of the sidewalk. The legislation also would have restricted umbrellas to a maximum height of 6.6 feet.
Business owners reacted in horror. Tachmes, who represented the Clevelander Hotel and Ocean Drive restauranteur Antonio Rizzi, said the proposed guidelines would slash the size of sidewalk cafes.
Due to the design of his building at 900 Ocean Drive, David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Café, declared that it was impossible for him to have an outdoor café. By reducing outdoor seating in half, many cafes and venues will be replaced with fast food restaurants, Wallack declared, adding: “I see a future of McDonald’s and Burger Kings.”
Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel on Collins Avenue and neighborhood activist, opined that the sidewalk café legislation drafted by the planning department, and recommended by the Ocean Drive Task Force, is a “step in the right direction” if it removes 50 percent of the outdoor seating now infesting the sidewalk. “Ocean Drive has become an embarrassment,” Novick complained. “With its inappropriate awnings and umbrellas, Ocean Drive resembles that of a squalor tent city.”
Marlo Courtney, senior managing director of Goldman Properties that owns several properties along Ocean Drive, urged compromise and backed the idea of removing trees if they are in front of operating sidewalk cafes.
“We’re here now to come together,” Courtney said. “Nobody wants fast food chains [on Ocean Drive]. We want to make it right. … Bring the charm back.”