Miami Beach voters to decide on density and height increases for proposed North Beach town center

Proposed district is aimed at anchoring North Beach revival efforts

North Beach master plan rendering
North Beach master plan rendering

It’s now up to Miami Beach voters to decide whether developers can move forward with plans to transform a faded strip of 71st Street and surrounding areas into a mixed-use residential district designed to anchor revitalization efforts in the North Beach neighborhood.

Miami Beach commissioners late Wednesday approved a ballot initiative that will have voters decide on density increases — specifically whether Floor Area Ratio or (FAR) can be increased for an area encompassing Collins and Dickens avenues to Indian Creek Drive between 69th and 72nd Streets that would become a town center district.

FAR, which is “relationship between the total amount of usable floor area that a building has and the total area of the lot on which the building stands,” would be raised to 3.5 from the current 2.25 to 2.75 for three zoning areas that largely make up the proposed district.

Under the city charter, voters must approve any FAR increase. Two years ago voters rejected a similar increase for the nearby Ocean Terrace Historic District.

Developers are buying up properties with the density increases in mind. In March, a company tied to Pacific Star Capital of Santa Monica, California paid $24.6 million for City National Bank’s North Beach branch building and surrounding land. Pacific Star, which developed Whole Foods-anchored shopping center at 123rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami, has proposed a 110,000-square-foot residential and retail project for the two-block area in North Beach anchored by a high-end supermarket and 132 apartments with 279 parking spaces.   

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The city’s planning board earlier this week recommended approving the rezoning of several city-owned parking lots in the area that would allow them to be incorporated into a town center zoning district, through a land swap with Pacific Star Capital.

Niesen Kasdin, an attorney for Pacific Star, said that if voters approve the density increases it will transform the largely rundown area. A master plan for North Beach developed by Town Planners Dover Kohl last year called for additional height and FAR in the area. It will “incentivize redeveloping that area from the quasi-suburban, surface parking lot, garden-style apartment district that it is into a true town center,” he said.

Last year the city commission approved an initial height increase for the area from 75 feet to 125 feet. Silvia Coltrane, who plans to develop a 10-story hotel at Collins Avenue and 72nd Street, which would mark the first hotel to be built in the area in more than 50 years, said it will take more than just one project to bring back the area. “If the voters vote for this it will make a difference, for sure,” she said. “One project cannot make a difference, we have to have a complete area to be revitalized for it to work.”  

Two years ago, neighborhood activists mobilized to block a FAR increase for the Ocean Terrace Historic District. And while many in the area oppose height increases elsewhere in North Beach, the Town Center project is largely supported by North Beach residents. Still, some preservationists expressed concerns about increased density and traffic and stalled historic designation efforts in surrounding areas.  

City commissioners on Wednesday also moved to begin revitalizing another part of North Beach, the so-called West Lots that run from 79th Street to 87th Street, allowing waivers for private uses on the largely vacant spaces. Plans include creating  “North Beach Yards,” a food and event space, modeled on the successful Wynwood Yards that currently draws thousands of locals and tourists to the Miami neighborhood.