North Beach vote allowing for mixed-use district gains momentum

Ballot measure designed to revitalize faded 71st Street

Rendering of North Beach development (Credit: Dover, Kohl & Partners)
Rendering of North Beach development (Credit: Dover, Kohl & Partners)

Just two years after Miami Beach voters rejected a density increase for an oceanfront neighborhood in North Beach, a similar ballot measure is gaining momentum as it nears a Nov. 7 vote.

Miami Beach voters have had to approve any increase in Floor Area Ratio or (FAR), the maximum density or allowable square footage of a structure, since the 1990s. Nearly all efforts to get voters to approve an increase have failed, but now developers and preservationists are promoting a ballot measure that allows for an FAR increase to 3.5 from the current 2.25 to 2.75, for the area between Collins and Dickens avenues to Indian Creek Drive between 69th and 72nd streets.

If the measure is approved, developers could build a mixed-use “Town Center” district along 71st Street. Investors and developers have already bought up properties in the area. 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 a Whole Foods-anchored shopping center 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 with apartments and parking.

Pacific Star’s attorney and former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin expects investment to skyrocket if voters approve the ballot measure, especially retail along the main corridor.

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Even preservationists who have long opposed increasing density in the city are on board. As part of the master plan, two MiMo neighborhoods in North Beach would receive historic designation, largely protecting them from large-scale demolition, said Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League. Urban planning firm Dover Kohl & Partners worked with the city for nearly two years to develop a master plan for the area.

Developers and property owners who had opposed including waterfront areas such as those along the Tatum Waterway in a proposed historic district – citing concerns that many of the older buildings are vulnerable to flooding because of sea-level rise, say they no longer oppose historic designation. Matis Cohen, a leading North Beach developer, is confident that city boards know “the water issues are not going to go away.”

“So it wasn’t a giveaway, but a step back to take a look at the whole holistic package,” he said. “North Beach without a town center has no chance.”