Showdown in Miami? Spaghetti Western star loses Brickell upzoning battle

The property’s zoning will remain at T6-8, which allows for an eight-story building

Babylon Apartments and Francisco Martinez-Celeiro (Credit: Google Maps and Wikipedia)
Babylon Apartments and Francisco Martinez-Celeiro (Credit: Google Maps and Wikipedia)

A former Spaghetti Western star has lost his final battle with the Miami City Commission.

The commission upheld Mayor Francis Suarez’s veto that prevents developer Francisco Martinez-Celeiro from securing the rezoning of the former Babylon Apartments on Brickell Bay Drive to allow for a 24-story residential building.

The scene at the commission meeting on Thursday played in a dramatic fashion when Commissioner Keon Hardemon, the wildcard for the vote, read a lengthy explanation for upholding the mayor’s veto. Commissioner Ken Russell, whose district includes the property, also voted in favor of the mayor’s veto. Commissioners Joe Carrollo, Willy Gort, and Manolo Reyes voted against the veto.

Upholding the veto means the zoning for the property at 240 Southeast 14th Street will remain as a T6-8, which allows the developer to build a eight-story residential project, rather than a 24-story building that nearby residents said would increase traffic and was illegal under the current zoning.

Russell and residents opposed to the upzoning were concerned that it would create a domino effect of “spot zoning”, which would give precedent for the city to upzone properties in the area on a case-by-case basis.

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In July, the city commission voted 4-1 to grant Babylon International’s request to upzone the property to 24 stories. The company originally sought approval for 48 stories, arguing the property had been unfairly downzoned when the city adopted Miami 21 in the early 2000s.

Then a week later, Mayor Suarez vetoed the decision. One of the main reasons for his veto was to uphold the Miami 21 zoning code, which took effect in 2010.

“In the ten-year history of Miami 21, there has not been one case of a upzoning of a property that violated the succession of these zoning principles,” Suarez said at the meeting on Thursday.

The property is in the quiet waterfront residential neighborhood of Brickell Bay Drive. Many of the buildings are decades-old, mid-rise condo buildings that pale in comparison to the glitzy high-rises of Brickell Avenue.

Martinez-Celeiro, whose stage name is George Martin, owns the Babylon Apartments. The former building was one of Arquitectonica’s first projects in Miami and was known for its post-modern design. It was also once owned by Ray Corona, an infamous drug dealer who became part of a group known as the Cocaine Cowboys.