Miami Beach finally OKs voter-mandated upzoning for North Beach

Regulations allows for buildings up to 220 feet tall within the Town Center district

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

Miami Beach greenlit the voter-mandated upzoning of North Beach on Wednesday more than a year after residents endorsed a zoning increase for a ten-block area of the neighborhood.

Property owners are now able to build twice as much as they were previously allowed to in the Town Center area, which mainly consists of retail plazas, vacant lots and apartment buildings between Indian Creek Drive, Dickens Avenue, 72nd Street, Collins Avenue, and 69th Street. By a vote of 6 to 1, the commission approved the referendum to a thunderous applause of an audience filled with North Beach residents and real estate brokers.

North Beach boosters hope the zoning increase will jumpstart economic development in what some describe as a blighted area.

Developer Robert Finvarb said the new zoning change will enable him to build two 220-foot-tall buildings at 71st Street and Abbot Avenue that will be geared toward recent college graduates.

“At the end of the day, it’s about bringing millennials to the city because that is going to create the vibrancy that’s going to support the retail, the office, everything else,” said Finvarb, who intends to build the projects in partnership with fellow real estate developer Matis Cohen.

“You need to create a product that will attract kids who are graduating from college, starting their first jobs, and looking to find a place to raise a family.”

Finvarb said the details are still being worked out, but he intends to build a project that will include retail, restaurants and 700 market-rate affordable residential units ranging between 400 and 800 square feet. Finvarb added that he intended to present plans to the city within the next four or five months.

Under the city’s Save Miami Beach charter amendment, any increase in floor area ratio (used by the city to calculate future density for properties) must be approved by Miami Beach voters.

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In November 2017, for the first time ever, Miami Beach voters approved an FAR increase for the Town Center to 3.5. Previously, the FAR ranged between 1.25 and 2.5. Several months of discussions on the design guidelines for the future Town Center area followed.

Following pleas from North Beach residents and business owners for more incentives for developers wishing to build in the Town Center area, the commission agreed to amend the code to allow structures up to 220 feet in height on large lots north of 71st Street, following design review board approval. Developers were also given 21 months from the date of approval to obtain building permits in order to avoid a public benefit charge of $3 per square foot to build above 125 feet.

The proceeds would be used to help preserve historic structures in North Beach, improve area parks, enhance public transportation and other “quality of life” initiatives.

Jerry Libbin, president of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, thought the public benefit fee was unfair. “Why are you treating North Beach differently?” he asked. “A developer on Washington Avenue [in South Beach] was allowed an increase in height with no fee.”

Commissioner John Elizabeth Aleman said the fee was a way to encourage developers to build faster. “We want to encourage [development] sooner rather than later,” she said.

The zoning also allowed developers to build small hotel rooms and apartment units in order to encourage market-rate affordable units. But Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a critic of the zoning increase for Town Center, ridiculed the idea of allowing micro-hotel units as small as 175 square feet, 375-square-foot “co-living spaces,” and 400-square-foot workforce housing units.

“Who is going to want to stay in a 175-square-foot hotel room?” Rosen Gonzalez asked. When Rosen Gonzalez, the lone dissenter for the zoning change, predicted that such small units would likely lower property values in North Beach, the audience in the commission chambers booed.

“As for the micro living,” said Renee Grossman, a Compass real estate agent, referring to the micro units permitted in Town Center, “that exists in Brickell and it’s what millennials do.”