Decision delayed for demolishing Marlborough House in Miami Beach

Brazilian billionaire Jose Isaac Peres wants to replace the 12-story building at 5775 Collins Avenue with a new 17-story, 89-unit condo tower

Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Avenue and rendering of proposed condo to replace it
Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Avenue and rendering of proposed condo to replace it

After more than three hours of debate, the Miami Beach Design Review Board on Tuesday decided to neither approve nor deny Brazilian billionaire Jose Isaac Peres’ plan to demolish the 56-year-old, 12-story Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Avenue and replace it with a brand new 17-story condo with 89 units.

Instead, the board opted to delay the vote until December 5. By that time, the design review board hopes Peres’ development team will reconfigure the layout of the future high-rise tower that allows view corridors for the western side of Collins Avenue.

The board also insisted on a beach path for the public. The developer’s attorney, Michael Larkin, at first resisted that requirement, insisting that the city would have to cut a check to his client for $4.2 million for such an amenity through his client’s 1.46-acre site. Later in the meeting, Larkin then changed his mind and offered a 15-foot wide beach path with benches contingent on the project’s immediate approval. That approval didn’t happen.

Nevertheless, the board’s 5 to 2 decision to delay the vote was applauded by dozens of residents of the Mid-Beach area, including Royal Embassy Condominium homeowners directly west of the Marlborough House. Opponents fear that the current design, which runs parallel to Collins Avenue, would create a concrete wall that would interfere with the light and block any views of the sea.

Miami Beach’s planning department recommended a layout that provided 50-foot wide setbacks for the west side of Collins Avenue and enough room for a beach path.  

Bernardo Fort-Brescia, the principal of Arquitectonica and main architect of the future 5775 Collins Avenue building, said to create wider view corridors for the west would mean making the proposed high-rise perpendicular to Collins Avenue. And that design would harm the views and lighting of L’Excellence and Vila del Mar, two condominiums that are immediately to the south and north of the Marlborough House.

“We did consider it [the perpendicular design] and it was awful,” Fort-Brescia told the board.

Tucker Gibbs, an attorney for Vila del Mar, said his clients would be shrouded in darkness if the future high-rise shifted 90 degrees.

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“My clients [Vila del Mar] are to the north and the sun is in the south,” Gibbs said. “If the orientation is changed, my clients are in the dark.” In contrast, there’s no shadow impact on the Royal Embassy with the current parallel design, Gibbs added.

Larkin confirmed that Peres’ team had negotiated monetary settlements with Vila del Mar and L’Excellence condo associations for the impact that will be caused by the project’s construction. Larkin also said the settlement also required that the future high-rise wouldn’t harm the views of their north and south neighbors.

Larkin also contended that the board’s guidelines requiring the preservation of view corridors was meant to affect the project’s immediate neighbors and not a building 300 feet to the west (Royal Embassy) that is across a six-lane road.

As for the beach access, at the start of the meeting Larkin said that the city’s comprehensive plan requiring new projects along the beach to provide public beach access violated property rights precedent established by the United States Supreme Court and Florida’s Burt J. Harris Act.  Larkin then said that if the city insisted on such a beach access point, his client would sue or demand fair market compensation. Anthony M. Graziano, senior managing partner of Integra Realty Resources and Peres’ property appraiser, estimated that a 15-foot wide “taking” would be valued at $4.2 million.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis told the board that if Peres’ legal team did succeed in convincing a judge that a beach access point had “taken” his land, “the city would be required to pay fair market value in attorney fees.

But Larkin later softened his stance and offered a five-foot wide pathway to the beach with benches beside a buffered three-foot wide landscape. Peres’ main concern, Larkin explained, was that people on the west side of Collins Avenue will have to run across six lanes of traffic to reach the beach walk on the east side — an activity that Larkin described as “Frogger,” after the early 1980s video game where the player is a frog that attempts to cross a busy street without being flattened by a car. The creation of a crosswalk would alleviate his client’s “Frogger” worry, Larkin said.

When the majority of the board members insisted on wider view corridors, Larkin later offered a 15-foot wide beach walk, if the project was approved that day.

However, most design review board members insisted on a better design and felt that more time could help achieve that. The motion to defer until December 5th was approved with board members Deena Bell and Katie Fang dissenting.