After years of trying to score approval for a taller project at the entrance to Miami Beach, developer Russell Galbut got his first approval for a tower up to 519 feet in height.
Following hours of testimony from nearby residents and deliberation by elected officials on Wednesday, the Miami Beach City Commission unanimously voted in favor of the project, which will include a public park, on first reading. Galbut called the vote “magical” and “a huge opportunity for our community.”
The commission will vote again on second reading on three ordinances related to the 600 Alton Road project, as well as a development agreement between the city and Galbut, on Dec. 12.
Nevertheless, the commission is moving forward with a significant zoning change for three parcels controlled by Galbut’s Crescent Heights at the 500, 600 and 700 blocks of Alton Road.
Galbut currently has the right to build a 281-unit residential building on top of the 120-foot tall skeletal remains of South Shore Hospital, plus a new 75-foot tall, 163-unit multifamily building on the 500 block, and a 60-foot tall, 66-unit building on the 700 block.
Under the proposed zoning, Galbut would be able to build a 550,000-square-foot tower designed by Arquitectonica on the 500 block plus 15,000 square feet of retail on the 600 block. The 519-foot height for 600 Alton was also taller than the 485-foot height cap recommended by the city’s land use committee.
To secure the upzoning, Galbut will have to pay for a new $18.5 million, 3-acre park that would be accessible to the public. The park, which is also designed by Arquitectonica, would include an elevated looped walking path, playgrounds, shade trees, and water retention berms designs to make the public space resilient to sea level rise. The park would have to be completed within four years of the city’s final approval of the project.
Galbut also committed to paying $762,862 toward a bay walk behind the Mirador and Mondrian, two waterfront condominiums near 11th Street and West Avenue that were developed by Crescent Heights.
Galbut withdrew his earlier request to allow short-term rentals, although the developer still sought the right to establish nine “amenity” units, for guests of future 600 Alton Road residents. However, several area residents rejected any form of hotel use, fearing that it would increase traffic and erode the predominate condo character of western South Beach.
Galbut said the project will likely be built as a luxury rental product, at least until the condo market heats up again. “We have in the past built as rentals but condominium quality, and kept them as rentals until the market turned around,” he said.
Galbut has been seeking a massive height increase at the former South Shore Hospital site for years. In 2016, he offered to give the city 20,000 square feet of land for a transit hub in exchange for increasing the height limit at 500 Alton Road from seven floors to 25 stories.
At Wednesday’s commission meeting, not everyone was happy with the proposal. Some felt that the zoning change circumvented the city’s Save Miami Beach charter amendment requiring a voter referendum prior to the city granting any increase in future density rights.
During the session’s public hearing, South Beach preservationist and writer Clotilde Luce predicted that 600 Alton Road would “fail.”
“It will fail because this is a really terrible piece of real estate,” she said, adding that the non-waterfront site is by a busy highway and within sight of a “Ross Dress For Less” sign. “Everything we [the city] is doing is artificially boosting the value of a terrible piece of real estate.”