Miami board vote paves way for KAR’s Miami River restaurant and yacht club complex

In addition to the restaurant, the developer is proposing a fish market and yacht charters

Shahab Karmely and proposed restaurant site
Shahab Karmely and proposed restaurant site

UPDATED 3:20 p.m.: New York-based KAR Properties can forward with plans for a waterfront restaurant and yacht club after overcoming staunch opposition from a neighbor without a favorable or unfavorable recommendation from the Miami River Commission.

Last week, the Miami Planning and Zoning Appeals Board denied an appeal filed by Biscayne Towing and Salvage seeking to overturn an administrative decision that had green-lighted KAR’s redevelopment plans for three industrial properties at 125, 129 and 131 Northwest South River Drive.

“We spent a large sum to buy an abandoned derelict property,” KAR principal Shahab Karmely told planning board members on May 17. “We want to use the river. I am a big believer in the Miami River. [The project] benefits us, it benefits the river and it benefits the marine industry.”

In addition to the restaurant, the developer is proposing a fish market where commercial boats can unload fresh catch to be sold to the public and in the restaurant. The developer is also teaming up with mobile application company Yacht Life to offer luxury boat charters to tourists and visitors from the site.

The site has 200 feet of river frontage and 10 boat slips, and currently houses three vacant properties: a single-story, 2,441 square foot warehouse;  a two-story, 2,225 square foot townhouse; and a 1,382-square-foot office building.

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However, Biscayne Towing owner Cory Offett has been trying to stop KAR’s plans since early January on the grounds that a restaurant and yacht club are not allowed uses and would be detrimental to his business. Back then, Offett and his attorney Tucker Gibbs pleaded their case before the Miami River Commission, which voted 6-5 on Jan. 23 to recommend neither an approval or a denial for two special waivers of two special waivers called warrants that allows property owners and developers to convert industrial land on the river to commercial restaurant and outdoor dining uses.

But on April 7, Miami Planning and Zoning Director Francisco Garcia approved the warrants with several conditions, including that KAR provide off-site valet parking, provide enough space near the seawall to connect with the Miami River Greenway and obtain a marine operating permit before seeking a building permit, among others. Biscayne Towing appealed Garcia’s decision to the planning board.

At the planning board meeting, Gibbs argued that the warrants are incompatible with the river’s comprehensive master development plan. “This is a protected area for industrial uses,” Gibbs said. “This proposed restaurant is incompatible with [Biscayne Towing’s] intense marine industrial use.”

He added, “this restaurant will accelerate the piecemeal removal of industrial properties on the river.”

Offett also pleaded with planning board members. “I am afraid of being regulated out of business,” he said. “The Miami River is a vital resource we cannot squander away.”

Nevertheless, KAR attorney Iris Escarra noted that the city has granted warrants to other restaurants in the lower portion of the Miami River. She also said two of the properties were used for docking pleasure crafts and sailboats and the third property had a certificate of use for office.