Miami board grants approval to Legion East with design changes

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

An 81-foot-tall apartment building planned at the former site of the American Legion Post 29 at 6445 Northeast Seventh Avenue won a key vote by Miami’s Urban Development Review Board, but only on the condition the developer make some significant changes to the building’s design.

The board voted 3-1 on Wednesday in favor of recommending Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia approve Legion East, a project that entails 237 apartments, 435 parking spaces, and a new 15,000-square-foot American Legion facility by a partnership that includes 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.

Legion East won the recommendation despite a packed room of opponents who pleaded with the board for more than an hour to reject or delay approval because the developers are pursuing a separate application for a special area plan, or SAP, that would combine the 3.6-acre American Legion site with another privately owned parcel next door where Pearl and his partners, under a company called ACRE GCDM Bay Investments, want to build a luxury condo called Legion West. The developers, who are leasing the private land from the American Legion for 75 years, are also seeking the city’s permission to include two acres of Legion Park in the SAP.

“The application before you is the first phase,” said Iris Escarra, Global City’s attorney. “It is the by-right phase. Everything being proposed here is in accordance with the current code. And it is only on American Legion owned-property.”

However, board member Anthony E. Tzamtzis convinced his colleagues to add two conditions requiring ACRE GCDM to work with the planning director on making alterations to Legion East’s design so that the building is more compatible with the surrounding character of Legion Park and nearby homes. Tzamtzis criticized the intensity of the proposed building and the placing of a “blank wall,” a trash room, a loading area, pump rooms and generators on the north side of the tower facing the park.

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“With regard to the development pattern in the area, it’s too large,” Tzamtzis said. “One would expect that the building would be more fragmented, allowing more views and penetrations….The building has to be broken down somehow.”

Board member Fidel Perez, the lone ‘no’ vote, said he was against the project because it was impossible to tell how Legion East and Legion West complement each other without having seen the proposed special area plan or the design for the second project. The developers are floating the possibility of three 15-story towers with a total of 476 units.

“I have no idea how this building will relate to the second phase,” Perez said. “That is one of my major problems. I cannot be in support of the application.”

The project protestors included dozens of people from Miami’s Upper East Side who attended a MiMo Biscayne Association neighborhood meeting on Tuesday where a majority voiced their objections to allowing the developers use of two park acres, as well as the SAP, which would allow a height increase to 15 stories.

Peter Ehrlich, a Lemon City real estate investor who lives adjacent to Legion Park, was among several neighboring residents who asked the board to delay or deny the application for Legion East. “There is a lot more detail that needs to be disclosed to the public,” Ehrlich said. “We would like the developer to have the opportunity to do more community outreach.”