Miami Beach moves toward new construction standards for sea level rise

A flooded street in South Florida (Credit: Getty Images)
A flooded street in South Florida (Credit: Getty Images)

Miami Beach is inching closer to adopting new building standards meant to mitigate the impact of sea level rise.

The Miami Beach Planning Board on Tuesday signed off on recommendations by the city’s planning and zoning department that include restrictions on underground parking and elevating existing buildings when possible, among other criteria. Now the proposal will go to the city commission for final approval.

The measure would give the planning board, the design review board, the historic preservation board and the board of adjustment the ability to apply the sea level criteria to any applications for new construction or modifications to existing buildings in Miami Beach.

After some developer representatives criticized part of the legislation that would essentially prohibit underground garages across the city, the planning board approved language that requires builders to show they have sufficient setbacks for ramps so there is no overlap on the public right-of-way, that ramps be designed to conform to raised public streets and that projects have adequate water pumping capacity so an underground garage remains dry.

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“To prohibit a developer from taking on the expense of doing underground parking if he or she so desires is not appropriate,” said planning board member Jeffrey Feldman. “And to have it underground is more aesthetically pleasing than having big ugly parking structures.”

Michael Larkin, an attorney representing Miami Beach Associates LLC, which records show made a bulk purchase of all the units at 1960s-era condo tower at 5775 Collins Avenue last year, said his client has submitted an application to go before the design review board to redevelop the property into a new 12-story residential building that includes underground parking. “While we agree with promoting resiliency in the city, we want to discuss one provision that causes us concern,” he said. “That is the prohibition on subterranean parking. We do agree with the alternative standards.”

Planning director Thomas Mooney told the board that staff still believes an outright prohibition on underground parking in Miami Beach makes the most sense. “We believe that moving forward it just doesn’t make sense given what we know about climate change to allow parking underground,” Mooney said. “If there is a move to allow it, we believe it can be done better.”

The planning board voted on the sea level measure just after a study was released in the science journal Nature predicting as many as 2.5 million residents may have to abandon Miami-Dade someday because of rising seas.