The Real Deal Miami

Legion Memorial Park development plans meet stiff opposition from residents

Proposed project, Legion West, could entail 1.3 million sf of condos, retail, and parking
By Francisco Alvarado | November 15, 2016 03:45PM

Legion Park, a rendering of Legion East. Inset: developer Brian Pearl

Legion Memorial Park and a rendering of Legion East. Inset: developer Brian Pearl

UPDATED Nov. 16, 12 p.m.: Residents in Miami’s Upper East Side are mobilizing to stop the city of Miami from granting 2 acres of the city-owned Legion Memorial Park to a group of developers who are floating a proposal to build a massive residential project near the bay.

“We’ve given the city our message loud and clear,” MiMo Biscayne Association board member Deborah Stander told The Real Deal. “We don’t want it. We are going to fight it.”

The MiMo association on Tuesday hosted more than 140 people at a neighborhood meeting, a majority of whom voiced unbridled opposition to the potential project, which is called Legion West and would entail 1.3 million square feet of condos, retail, and parking. At one point, many stood up when asked to show if they were against it.

Miami’s planning department recently received an application for a special area plan, or SAP, from Legion West’s developer, ACRE GCDM Bay Investments, a company controlled by Global City Development principal Brian Pearl, Midtown Group principal Jon Samuel, and Asia Capital Real Estate partners Leslie Menkes, Blake Olafson, and Michael Van Der Poel.

Global City is also building Legion East, an 81-foot-tall apartment tower that will have 237 units, 435 parking spaces, and a new 15,000-square-foot facility for American Legion Post 29, a chapter that has been based in or near Legion Park since 1934. That project is being built on a 3.6 acre site at 6445 Northeast Seventh Avenue.

In a phone interview, Pearl told TRD that residents who attended the MiMo association’s meeting should wait to for ACRE GCDM to disclose its full plans and the public benefits it will provide the neighborhood. “I think it is too early for them to make a decision,” Pearl said. “You can’t have a complete conversation until you see everything that is going to happen there. They need to have all the facts before having a knee-jerk reaction.”

Pearl had initially agreed to give a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, but had to cancel because he was not going to be able to provide renderings or details on what the project would look like under the current zoning, he said. “I was pushing the architects to get everything done by this meeting,” Pearl explained. “That didn’t happen. We want to be responsive to the neighbors and provide the full facts. We are not in a hurry.”

Pearl added the development team has met individually with neighborhood retailers, single-family homeowners and representatives of different associations.

Should the SAP be approved, the developers will be able to build to up to 15 stories in an area currently zoned for five stories, Stander contends. “They’ll also be able to increase the density to 476 units from the currently zoned limit of 434,” she said. “We can live with seeing the project being built with current zoning. But to see our park land given away to a private developer to make way for an outsized development that will overwhelm the community is totally unpalatable.”

Pearl countered that the project does not call for any buildings to go on the 2 acres of Legion Park. “We are pulling the buildings away from the park and the neighborhoods to the south,” he said. “What we are proposing is to separate the buildings by creating a new two-way street.”

In addition, the developers would make improvements to the existing community center and provide additional public parking spaces inside the buildings. Pearl also said they could build up to 12 stories under the current zoning.

During the association’s meeting, Jacqueline Ellis, acting chief of land development for Miami’s planning department, told residents that the city is just beginning a preliminary review of the SAP application. “We have not signed off on this,” she insisted. “Nothing has been approved.”

When Ellis suggested residents wait to see what public benefits the developer is going to offer in exchange for the two city-owned acres and approving the SAP, the attendees shouted her down. “We don’t want it,” they shouted. “We want our park.”

MiMo Association board member Avra Jain, who has renovated several motel properties in the Upper Eastside, told Ellis she should notify her boss, planning director Francisco Garcia, about the opposition. “You can stop this now,” Jain said. “You can tell Francisco that the neighbors are not in favor. [The city] cannot be a co-applicant.”

Ellis informed the crowd she would relay the message to Garcia. “The planning director needs to know what is  happening here,” she said. “I understand you don’t want it.”

James McQueen, chief of staff for Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon, whose district includes Legion Park, told residents his boss made it clear to the developers that they must obtain community support for the project.

“He has said to them time and time again, he won’t discuss it with them until they have gone to the community,” McQueen said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted that the developers were requesting a zoning change to the number of units per acre, when they are actually in total, rather than per acre.