Latest draft of Surfside rezoning shows only 80 units could be built on collapse site

Champlain Towers South, built in 1981, had 136 units


Amid heightened scrutiny over downzoning of the collapsed Champlain Towers South site, the town of Surfside is still looking at further limiting the number of units that can be built on the oceanfront property.

If approved, the latest version of the proposed rezoning could impact the marketing and sales process of the site. Under this proposal, roughly 80 units could be built on the site. Currently, about 139 units could be built on the property. A stalking horse bidder offered up to $120 million, setting the floor for bidding.

The town has been working on revising its zoning code for more than a year and a half, prior to the collapse that killed 98 people in late June. The latest document, prepared ahead of a zoning workshop slated for next week, is based on previous workshops held in April and May.

In a transcript of a deposition from Thursday, Sept. 2 that was obtained by The Real Deal, Walter Keller, a town consultant planner, confirmed that the latest draft would reduce density in this district of Surfside to 65 units per acre, down from 109 units per acre.

Both calculations for the Champlain Towers South site are based on about 1.3 acres of the nearly 1.9-acre property being developable.

Keller was deposed as part of the Champlain litigation. Attorney Judd Rosen, representing the plaintiffs’ wrongful death steering committee, questioned Keller about the timeline and specifics regarding the rezoning. Surfside selected Keller to represent the town in the deposition that was aimed at addressing proposed zoning changes for the oceanfront property, as well as communications between the town and Eighty Seven Park, a luxury condo tower in the city of Miami Beach that was built next to Champlain Towers South.

Keller works for Marlin Engineering, which was hired by the town of Surfside to handle planning services. In a transcript of the deposition, he said he did not know when the commission would vote on the final draft, but that it could occur in as little as three months.

The zoning is important as it helps determine the property’s value. Proceeds from the property sale will go to the survivors and families of the victims.

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Avison Young broker Michael Fay, whose team is marketing the property for sale pro bono, said he is hoping the contract will be submitted to the court for approval within the next week. Eventually, a live auction date would be set. He issued an offering memorandum earlier this week that relies on letters from Surfside confirming the current zoning.

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During the deposition, Keller confirmed that the letter he wrote Aug. 24 would no longer be valid.

The deposition also revealed another proposed zoning code tweak that would change from where a building’s height is measured. If approved, it could reduce the height of some buildings along Collins Avenue by five- to 10 feet, Keller said at the deposition. He added that he expects additional proposed town zoning code changes in the coming months.

Next week’s workshop will be the first since May and a commission meeting is set for Sept. 14, Mayor Charles Burkett said.

Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said the notion that more units should be allowed on the Champlain site in order for the site to sell for top dollar is false. A project with fewer but ultra-luxury units also would generate a high land value.

“They could build 300 apartments that normal people could maybe afford for $400,000 a piece,” she said. Or, the more profitable option would be “very luxurious, high-end units where you need $3-, $4- or $5 million to get your foot in the door.”

Burkett agreed, and added that flexibility to build more units would not necessarily equate to a higher property value.

Surfside generally allows less development as a way to protect itself from becoming Sunny Isles Beach, the city to the north known for its oceanfront towers, or Miami Beach to the south. Surfside wants to keep it this way, favoring high-end projects like Arte and The Four Seasons Residences at the Surf Club, Salzhauer said.

The town really is being asked to “cherry pick” the Champlain site, she added. On the one hand, it is being pushed to sell it as if the tragic deadly collapse didn’t happen. On the other, it is being pushed to allow a more lax development regulation than what is being considered under the proposed rezoning, Salzhauer said. Overall, she said she would be OK if a new project is the size of Champlain but not “an inch” more, she said.

“Certainly, the fact that 98 people died there affects the value more than how many units are built there,” Salzhauer added. “Certainly, the less units built, the easier they will sell because I don’t know how many people are going to want to live there.”