Miami Beach says no demolitions along Tatum Waterway for at least six months

Move is designed to allow time for creation of conservation districts for area of MiMo architecture

Jan.January 12, 2017 12:45 PM

The Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday passed an ordinance that prevents any demolition of buildings for six months along the Tatum Waterway in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. The measure covers more than 100 buildings, many of them aging Miami Modern structures that line the waterway from 73rd Street to 87th Street.   

In December, the commission agreed to create two local historic districts in North Beach, one encompassing parts of Normandy Isle and the other in the North Shore area just east of the Tatum Waterway. However, commissioners declined to extend the North Shore local historic district to include streets bordering the Tatum Waterway, instead pledging to create a “conservation overlay” district for the area.   

Conservation districts have specific design guidelines for new buildings that include limits on lot size and scale, but demolitions would not be prohibited, once the six-month moratorium lapses. Nearly all demolitions in local historic districts are prohibited.   

While preservationists said areas along the Tatum Waterway should have been included in the local districts, several commissioners said many of the aging buildings in the area are simply not viable in the long-term, given the effects of sea-level rise, noting the area is the lowest-lying area of Miami Beach and has been the site of frequent flooding recently as a result of so-called king tides.    

Wednesday’s ordinance was sponsored by commissioners Joy Malakoff and Mickey Steinberg and passed unanimously. Malakoff said the six-month moratorium “should give the city’s planning department enough time to come up with design guidelines for a conservation district.” Building height limits in the area, currently capped at five stories, are not expected to change with the new guidelines.   

While many preservationists said they would have preferred a local historic district designation for the area, Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League told commissioners he hoped many of the old buildings in the area could still be saved. “Let’s look at creative ideas for adaptive reuse of that neighborhood,” Ciraldo said.

Property owners in the area say most of the buildings along the waterway are not viable and while some could be adaptively re-used many others are too prone to flooding and too old to appeal to modern tenants and buyers seeking up-to-date amenities. Matis Cohen, who owns more than 30 North Beach buildings, told commissioners that even the six-month moratorium penalizes property owners, noting that property taxes have risen by more than 17 percent in the past year and insurance rates have spiked. The demolition moratorium, he said, “is not a fair and equitable resolution.”   

Wednesday’s action was just the latest measure taken by the city commission as part of efforts to revitalize North Beach. Last year commissioners agreed to raise height limits along 71st Street and parts of 72nd Street to allow new buildings for a “town center.” They also approved a short-term rental district along Harding Avenue that commissioners said will allow many small older economically unviable MiMo buildings to be preserved. Other major infrastructure projects in the works include the complete renovation of North Shore Park along the ocean and building a new skate park across from the North Shore Band Shell.   

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