Historic preservation board approves land use attorney’s luxe home in Miami Beach

Stephen and Gerri Helfman propose three-story home with terraces and rooftop pool

Gerri and Stephen Helfman and a rendering of their proposed house
Gerri and Stephen Helfman and a rendering of their proposed house

UPDATED March 13, 2:15 p.m.: Despite objections from a prominent historic preservation group, a Miami land use attorney and his wife will be allowed to tear down a 1920s three-bedroom house and replace it with a three-story modern mansion in Miami Beach’s South-of-Fifth neighborhood.

The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board on Monday voted unanimously to authorize the demolition of the existing property at 819 Second Street, which was condemned by the city’s building official in 2015 following a fire that caused extensive damage. Two months ago, the board delayed its vote over concerns that the ultra-modern mansion land use attorney Stephen Helfman and his wife, former television anchor, Gerri Helfman want to build lacked features that paid tribute to nearby Art Deco properties.

The Helfmans needed the board’s approval because the existing dilapidated, scorched house was designated as a “contributing structure” to the Ocean Beach Historic District in 1995. The board also approved two variances for the Helfmans.

“I was very critical of the design last time,” said boardmember Nancy Liebman. “I think you have gone a 1,000 miles better than what you had brought to us.”

The board gave the Helfmans the green light even though Daniel Ciraldo, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, argued that some portions of the existing house could be saved and renovated. He said the league also opposed the new building proposed by the Helfmans because it required the demolition of an historic structure.

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“We don’t think this is honoring the neighborhood at all or preserving the historic structure,” Ciraldo said. “We think you should deny this application.”

At one point the hearing got very contentious when Stephen Helfman accused Ciraldo of misrepresenting claims that he did not want to show the property to the preservationist. “He refused my invite to come into the home and he rejected it,” Helfman said. “We did not disregard the Miami Design Preservation League.”

Ciraldo refuted Helfman’s claim. Boardmember Jack Finglass also chastised the couple. “Frankly I am insulted by the tone that the Helfmans have taken in these proceedings,” Finglass said. “I don’t think the questions about preserving the building are out of character.”

The Helfman’s revised plans show their architects toned down the new building’s exterior color from a medium gray to beige and off white, reduced the amount of solid concrete at the ground level, replaced a hedge in the front yard with landscaping that doesn’t exceed 36 inches in height, replaced a concrete wall on the north and east of a proposed roof deck with wood and glass railings and a property fence that pays homage to the existing structure.

Following the hearing, Stephen Helfman said he was satisfied with the outcome, but he declined to comment on Ciraldo and Finglass. “We are extremely pleased,” Helfman said. “We are going to build a beautiful home and be a part of this community for a long time.”

According to a hardship statement the Helfmans submitted, they bought the 1923 house in the South-of-Fifth neighborhood from Bank of New York on May 24, 2017 for $785,000.