Bal Harbour Shops lost big at the ballot box, as voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a proposed village charter amendment that would have allowed the luxury shopping center’s owners to apply for a height increase above five stories.
The landslide loss means Whitman Family Development won’t be able to submit any proposals to add a mid-rise or high-rise building to its 11-acre property that includes Bal Harbour Shops, which is currently undergoing a nearly half-billion dollar renovation.
In a statement, Matthew Whitman Lazenby, owner and manager general of Whitman Family Development, said the company remains hopeful that it can work with Bal Harbour Village officials and residents on “a path forward.”
In 2006, Bal Harbour voters approved a referendum that capped commercial building heights at five stories throughout the village. Whitman Family Development sought a charter amendment that would have allowed the company to apply for a height increase above five stories in the village’s special business improvement area, which encompasses Bal Harbour Shops at 9700 Collins Avenue.
“We are grateful to all the Bal Harbour residents who have supported this referendum from the beginning, realizing it could have given them a stronger voice and the Village Council a vote on any development plans in the special business improvement area that are outside the current height limit,” Lazenby said. “The village’s current height restriction prohibits the Shops from responding to the rapidly changing needs of consumers and residents.”
The Bal Harbour Civic Association and former and current village council members, including Mayor Gabriel Groisman, opposed the Bal Harbour Shops’ referendum. In a Jan. 13 mass email to voters, the association warned voters that the referendum would give the power to grant height increases to elected officials rather than residents, and claimed Whitman Family Development is looking to develop a 27-story hotel or office building. Lazenby denied his company was planning to submit a proposal for a 27-story building had the referendum passed.
Whitman Family Development collected 195 signatures of the 1,855 registered voters in Bal Harbour over the summer to hold the special election. However, only 82 residents voted in favor of the amendment while 702 people voted against it.