Hotel height increases could be coming to Miami Beach’s Collins Avenue near Ocean Drive

Miami Beach is evaluating zoning changes to revamp Art Deco Historic District as part of Ocean Drive reformation

Tudor House Art Deco and Essex House hotels (Wikipedia Commons)
Tudor House Art Deco and Essex House hotels (Wikipedia Commons)

Miami Beach officials are evaluating zoning changes in the Art Deco Historic District as part of a long-range plan to transform Ocean Drive once again. The proposal includes possibly granting Collins Avenue hotel developers significant height increases and restricting the number of standalone drinking establishments on Ocean Drive.

The city’s three-member land use committee discussed the proposed new zoning rules on Tuesday. “It is really important to emphasize this is not a short-term proposal and it is not being proposed on behalf of any one property owner,” Miami Beach planning director Thomas Mooney told committee members. “These are a series of recommendations developed by the administration as a long-term vision…to strategically attract a better class of hotel operators.”

Ocean Drive and the surrounding historic district went through a redevelopment wave in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when real estate investors like Mark Soyka and the late Tony Goldman bought and renovated Art Deco hotels and apartment buildings that had become de facto retirement homes for elderly snowbirds. The strip became known for attracting A-list celebrities and created a vibrant LGBTQ scene. It launched a slew of restaurants and bars such as the Clevelander, Mango’s and News Cafe.

But in recent years, city officials have struggled to keep criminal mayhem on Ocean Drive under control, while dealing with accusations from organizations such as the NAACP that Miami Beach discriminates against people of color who stay in hotels and frequent establishments in the historic district.

According to a city memo, the proposed zoning changes are part of a multipronged approach to incentivize “a renaissance of the original plan for Ocean Drive.” To attract higher caliber hotel developers and operators, the city proposes granting them a maximum of 75 feet in height for additions to existing hotel properties located on the east side of Collins Avenue in the Art Deco district. Two hotels that would fall under the new zoning are Tudor House at 1111 Collins Avenue and Essex House at 1001 Collins Avenue, which is a sister property to the Clevelander South Beach Hotel and Bar at 1020 Ocean Drive.

Currently, the maximum height is 50 feet, which has required demolition of buildings in order to accommodate four-story and five-story additions, the memo states. The city would also waive fees developers have to pay the city for not having onsite parking. As far as Ocean Drive itself, the city is proposing a ban on opening new standalone drinking establishments and limiting rooftop uses to restaurants only.

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Local preservationists and commissioner Michael Gongora, a land use committee member, expressed skepticism about the height increases for hotel additions. Gongora said the main goal of revamping Ocean Drive is to address “crime and the bad element in the entertainment district.”

“I am not getting how upzoning a bunch of properties plays into either of those,” Gongora said. “It seems it would bring more tourists into the area, and we are having trouble controlling that now.”

Gongora added that he would be more receptive to allowing residential developers height bonuses for properties on the east side of Collins Avenue. “If you put people living there, it may have more of a positive impact,” he said.

Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel at 901 Collins Avenue and an Ocean Drive activist, said granting hotel developers permission to build up to 75 feet is a bad idea.

“It sounds like a wholesale demolition on Collins,” said Novick, whose property would be eligible for the height bonus under the proposal. “Anything more than a one-story addition is a complete abomination.”

The land use committee will reevaluate the proposal at its January meeting before sending it to the full city commission.