UPDATED Jan. 18 2:30 p.m.: In a surprise move, the owner of Bal Harbour Shops has withdrawn plans to buy the Bal Harbour Village Hall site for $15.6 million.
Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman made the announcement at Tuesday night’s Village Council meeting, saying he had received a letter from Whitman Family Development withdrawing its proposal and requesting a meeting where new expansion plans could be discussed. Whitman Family Development submitted new plans last Friday for a planned expansion of Bal Harbour Shops. Grossman said his initial impression was that any new plan “would be a smaller plan than before.”
The announcement came as the commission was scheduled to discuss a plan that would have the shops purchase the village hall site, give Bal Harbour one of two pieces of land and build a new village hall with underground plans. Bal Harbour Shops was reportedly offering the 1-acre site north of Neiman Marcus or the SunTrust property east of Collins Avenue at 96th Street.
Groisman said Whitman Family Development has not yet submitted a development agreement, which would deal with any proposed variances for the new plans it has submitted, but once it does he said the city will reschedule talks with the developers.
The expansion plans that involve buying the village hall site have been strongly opposed by Assistant Mayor Patricia Cohen and by some residents and other activists who had submitted two petitions that would make it more difficult for Bal Harbour Shops to expand, one to raise the vote threshold for the sale of public land, and the other to require 60 percent voter approval of a referendum for “any proposed commercial redevelopment plan that would increase retail space by more than 30 percent” in Bal Harbour, a town of about 2,800 residents. The petitions were invalidated by both the village and the county on grounds that the signatures lacked affadavits.
Cohen told The Real Deal before the meeting that the village hall site should not be part of any expansion plans. “I believe that our village hall is our unique link to our past, to the founding fathers that established this beautiful community in the late 1940’s, and I believe that our building should stand. I don’t believe it should be town down to make way for more shops,” said Cohen.
Last July Whitman Family Development sued Cohen alleging she had violated the county’s code of ethics by not disclosing her friendship with the Soffer family, which owns competitor Aventura Mall.
Speaking Tuesday night, Mayor Groisman said the city had received a settlement offer from Whitman Family Development for pending litigation against the city and Cohen. Groisman said “we’re not there yet, but close, and in the right direction,” he said. “I stressed we need to turn a new page.”