Sunset Harbour’s new zoning district bans Ronny Finvarb’s planned hotel, allows taller offices

Finvarb planned a 36-room hotel after purchasing the lot for $4M in April

Ronny Finvarb with the proposed hotel (GEK Architecture)
Ronny Finvarb with the proposed hotel (GEK Architecture)

Developer Ronny Finvarb won’t be able to build his planned hotel in Sunset Harbour, but taller office buildings are now allowed.

The Miami Beach City Commission unanimously passed a new Sunset Harbour zoning overlay district on Wednesday that increases the height limit for office buildings to 65 feet from 50 feet.

The district — bounded by 20th Street, Alton Road, Dade Boulevard and Purdy Avenue — allows some residential units in office building projects. Additionally, office building developers are granted an exclusive right to aggregate more than six lots within the overlay district. The new regulations are part of a larger effort to encourage the development of Class A office buildings in Miami Beach as a means to diversify the city’s economy.

But the new district, which was crafted with input from residents of Sunset Harbour’s five condo communities, isn’t only about encouraging offices. The district requires a conditional use permit for new projects over 25,000 square feet, forbids most outdoor speakers, and bans the construction of new hotels.

A sticking point was Finvarb’s plan to construct a new hotel on a 10,200 square-foot lot at 1790 Alton Road that he purchased for $4 million in April. Finvarb wanted his hotel rights grandfathered in, but many Sunset Harbour residents, especially the leadership of the Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association, were against it. When the zoning overlay was approved on first reading in May, Miami Beach officials encouraged Finvarb and Sunset Harbour residents to work out their differences.

The two sides did meet, but the neighborhood association’s board of directors remained unanimously opposed to Finvarb’s hotel. Sara de los Reyes, president of the association, said that 244 residents opposed the hotel and asked that the provision grandfathering Finvarb’s project be removed.

Geoffrey Aaronson, treasurer of the association, said five hotels are already in close proximity to Sunset Harbour, and the vast majority of the area’s residents don’t want any more.

“This is a resident-centric residential area and we don’t want this to become the next entertainment district,” Aaronson said, adding that the sentiment wasn’t against Finvarb, who built two of the five hotels near Sunset Harbour.

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Aaronson said that Finvarb knew that Sunset Harbour residents were against another hotel in their area because board members told him so in a meeting on April 5th, the day before Finvarb bought the parcel. “We discussed it at length. We told him the association was unanimously against adding a hotel, yet he closed on April 6th. So much for the innocent developer. He knew exactly what was going on,” Aaronson said.

Finvarb countered that he had already made a non-refundable deposit of several hundred thousand dollars when he met with the board. At that time, hotel use was allowed on the property, he said.
Finvarb’s attorney, Mickey Marrero, said his client agreed to virtually all the demands of the association, including limiting the number of guests per room, having 24-hour concierge service, forbidding outdoor speakers, and not placing washers and dryers in the hotel rooms. The only demand they couldn’t meet was having an entranceway on Dade Boulevard. “We knew the county would never agree to that,” Marrero said. Another Finvarb lawyer, Michael Llorente, threatened legal action if the city didn’t grandfather his client’s property.

Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak recommended exempting Finvarb’s parcel from the new regulations because it is on the outer perimeter of the overlay district and the developer volunteered “to reduce and limit the occupancy of the hotel rooms below what is currently required under the city code,” she explained in a memo to the mayor and the commission. Planning Director Tom Mooney also confirmed that if a multifamily building were constructed on the site “they could do short-term rentals as of right, which could be daily rentals.”

Vice Mayor Ricky Arriola, a board member of the Townhomes at Sunset Harbour and a sponsor of the overlay district ordinance, said that the neighborhood association never spoke to his association. Arriola said he is in favor of the hotel and felt that his neighbors were subjected to a “push poll” that neglected to mention the legal risk to the city. “This is a good deal and we should just move forward with it and go on with our lives,” he said.

Commissioner David Richardson predicted that if the measure is not passed, the city would be sued and a settlement would be negotiated with Finvarb that would allow him to build a hotel without the concessions Finvarb offered. Richardson also feared this would send out a message to anyone wishing to invest in Miami Beach that “we might change the rules in the middle of the game on you, even if it costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

But Commissioner Michael Gongora countered that property rights aren’t vested under current Miami Beach law unless the project was already approved by the Miami Beach Design Review Board, and he would rather “err on the side of the residents.”

In a vote to approve the overlay district including a provision grandfathering hotel rights for Finvarb’s parcel, Mayor Dan Gelber, Arriola, Micky Steinberg and Richardson voted yes. Commissioners Steven Meiner, Mark Samuelian, and Gongora voted no. Because zoning code changes require five affirmative votes, the motion failed. A second vote approving the overlay district leaving out a provision grandfathering Finvarb’s parcel passed unanimously. Finvarb declined to comment following the meeting.