Miami Beach relaxes rules on development, pools, restaurants

New legislation eliminates the need for a variety of variances and makes it easier to develop in North Beach Town Center

Nov.November 01, 2019 08:45 AM
Miami Beach loosens regulations for real estate developers and small businesses

Miami Beach loosens regulations for real estate developers and small businesses

It just got a little easier to develop real estate, including hotels and pools at single-family homes, as well as run a restaurant serving alcohol in Miami Beach.

The Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday approved four laws that eliminate the need to seek variances on commonly requested issues such as room size for a redeveloped historic property, signage for businesses, and, in certain areas, requirements for alcohol-serving restaurants.

The new regulations affect real estate developers, business owners, and even homeowners, allowing them to avoid seeking variances that are almost always granted by Miami Beach’s land use boards.

One of the new codes will also make it easier for developers to build within North Beach Town Center, a 10-block area in the northern part of Miami Beach where the city wants to encourage pedestrian friendly, mixed-use development.

“This is better for business, better for staff, better for boards,” said Commissioner John Elizabeth Aleman, who proposed the legislation. “This is one of the ways the city of Miami Beach is trying to make it easier to do business within the city.”

The passed ordinances include:

  • A law that deals with signage for small businesses and buildings. Among other things, the code removes the need for variances for signage for small businesses on the second floor of commercial buildings and allows front façade signage for buildings. The sign variance law passed unanimously.
  • A law that loosens regulations related to contemporary rooftop additions to historic buildings. Those regulations include lessening the need to seek variances for setbacks and allowing hotel rooms within new additions to be the same size as those of historic structures. Previously, most new hotel rooms, even those attached to historic properties, had to be at least 500 square feet in size without a variance, even if the historic property’s rooms were smaller. The code passed by a vote of 6 to 1 with commissioner Michael Gongora dissenting.
  • A law focused on allowable encroachments. This law includes waiving the need for variances for setbacks on small lots, shade spaces, pool decks and roof decks within North Beach Town Center. The law also allows the city’s design review board to waive parking and loading requirements within the city’s Town Center district.
  • Outside of Town Center, the law also waives the need for variances for some mechanical equipment and planters in side setback areas in single-family districts, adjusts fence requirements in single-family home lots that are raised to adapt to sea level rise, and allows for new pool decks in pre 1942-single-family homes to be just five feet away from a neighbor.

Waiving variances for pools alarmed commissioner Joy Malakoff. “Often the swimming pool is put into a side yard and that infringes on the privacy of the neighbor,” she explained. “Swimming pools should be removed from this.” When it wasn’t, Malakoff was the lone dissenting vote.

Finally, a law waives the need for variances for restaurants that serve alcohol to open within 300 feet of a religious institution and a school for three “cultural areas:” Espanola Way and Washington Avenue near Feinberg Fisher Elementary, 41st Street in Mid-Beach, and Town Center in North Beach. The code also shrinks the minimum seat count for restaurants serving beer and wine from 30 seats to 10 seats and for eateries serving full liquor from 60 seats to 40 seats.

Miami Beach Planning Director Tom Mooney explained that a suggested clause that would forbid alcohol service until after 5 p.m. for restaurants near schools and religious institutions was rejected. Commissioner Gongora joked that this will allow for a “liquid lunch.” When commissioner Micky Steinberg questioned removing the 5 p.m. rule, Mooney explained that only full-fledged restaurants would be exempt from the variance.

“The reason for creating this particular district is to create a better environment for restaurants,” Mooney said. “The 41st Street Committee is trying to activate this street.” The ordinance was approved unanimously.

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