Sunny Isles Beach gives initial approval to moratorium on west-side development

Next month, commissioners will cast final votes on a proposed one-year moratorium on development in the Town Center area

Aug.August 29, 2019 04:30 PM
Sunny Isles Beach skyline (Credit: Getty Images)

Sunny Isles Beach skyline (Credit: Getty Images)

Sunny Isles Beach gave preliminary approval to a moratorium on real estate development in an area with low- and mid-rise buildings on the west side of Collins Avenue, across from a high-rise row of oceanfront condo towers.

The one-year moratorium is the latest phase of a controversial political response to alleged flaws in the city’s comprehensive land-use plan and efforts to make the plan consistent with local zoning and compliant with state law.

In the first of two votes, city commissioners voted 4-1 Wednesday night to impose a 12-month moratorium on development in the Town Center area between Collins Avenue and the Intracoastal Waterway from 163rd Street north to 172nd Street. The commissioners are scheduled to cast final votes Sept. 19 on a second reading of the moratorium proposal.

Mayor George “Bud” Scholl proposed the one-year moratorium on development orders and permits for projects in Town Center. Terms of the moratorium would allow the city to grant waivers under certain circumstances.

Commissioner Dana Goldman cast the only ‘no’ vote against the moratorium Wednesday night and proposed alternative action that no other commissioner supported.

The Sunny Isles Beach government adopted a comprehensive land-use plan in 2000, three years after the coastal community, less than two square miles in size, incorporated as a city.

In 2004, the city designated Town Center as a zoning district with an allowable density of residential development that ranges from 25 to 85 units per acre.

City staff has since interpreted the comprehensive plan to allow for a maximum of 85 units per acre as they reviewed applications for site-plan approval.

In 2011, the state government started requiring that the quantitative limits on development in comprehensive land-use plans match limits written into zoning rules for the same land. But the Sunny Isles Beach government has not amended its comprehensive plan for Town Center to match zoning rules for the area.

At their July 18 meeting, city commissioners postponed action on a proposal to amend the comprehensive plan by adding metrics defining limits on development in Town Center that match the zoning code. The deferred proposal would have applied only to land in Town Center zoned as business mixed-use.

At that meeting, and again Wednesday night, many opponents criticized the proposal to amend the comprehensive plan as an effort to up-zone Town Center and allow denser development there.

“It is 100 percent up-zoning,” Goldman said Wednesday.

Opponents, including Dan Katz, a principal of RK Centers, a major retail landlord in the Town Center area, have claimed the effort to amend the comprehensive plan for the area is a veiled attempt to approve a mixed-use development called Infinity. The development would put 120 residential units and 220 hotel rooms just west of the Newport Beachside hotel at 16701 Collins Avenue.

In the last 18 months, the sole application for site-plan approval in Town Center has been submitted by the developer of Infinity. According to published reports, the developer is Global Property Investors Real Estate Group.

Sunny Isles Beach commissioners voted in December to postpone a decision on whether to approve the Infinity project – which led city officials to discover the errors in the comprehensive plan for Town Center, according to Mayor Scholl.Scholl dismissed claims that he supports amending the comprehensive plan to up-zone Town Center and win approval for the 17-story Infinity development.

“Maligning me over Infinity was a way to get people riled up,” he said Wednesday.

Goldman, the only commissioner who voted against the moratorium, proposed an alternative action supported by Katz: a resolution to amend the zoning rules for Town Center in order to make them consistent with the comprehensive plan. But no commissioner seconded her motion to vote on the proposed resolution, which killed it.

To comply with state law, Sunny Isles Beach first must amend its comprehensive plan to make it consistent with zoning rules for Town Center, not change the zoning rules to make them consistent with the plan, according to city attorney Edward Dion.

Six buildings, including condominiums, have been completed in Town Center since 2011, and the owners could face financial problems if insurers or lenders determine that their properties fail to comply with a comprehensive plan that conforms to state law.

“If my mortgage company finds out I’m living in a building that doesn’t comply, I’m in trouble,” said John Galinos, who owns an apartment at 400 Sunny Isles, a condominium on 163rd Street. Galinos also told commissioners Wednesday night that he is worried his property insurer might deny claims for hurricane damage to his apartment if the insurer determines that 400 Sunny Isles is a non-conforming real estate development.

Mayor Scholl said a one-year moratorium on development in Town Center would allow ample time to correct flaws in the comprehensive plan and to identify a “special fix” for property owners in the same situation as Galinos.

But Katz, the principal of RK Centers, warned that Mayor Scholl and other commissioners could pay a political price if they support increased density and intensity for developments west of Collins Avenue.

Katz told commissioners at their July 18 meeting that “all of you ran your [election] campaigns on promising the residents that you will not allow the west side of Collins Avenue to look like the east side, and turn this into a concrete canyon.”

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