Russell Galbut, David Martin’s proposed South Beach condo project meets opposition

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners postponed approval following concerns over the building’s height, traffic, parking

Crescent Heights' Russell Galbut and Terra's David Martin with plans for 150-unit condo building between Alton Road and West Avenue
Crescent Heights' Russell Galbut and Terra's David Martin with plans for 150-unit condo building between Alton Road and West Avenue (Terra Group, LinkedIn, Arquitectonica, Getty)

Russell Galbut and David Martin failed to get a development agreement for a condominium project in South Beach nearly a year after scoring referendum approval, due to various issues in dispute with the city.

On Wednesday, Miami Beach commissioners deferred a decision on Galbut and Martin’s proposal to build a 150-unit condo building between Alton Road and West Avenue, immediately north of Canopy Park. The item was postponed to the July 26 meeting, after commissioners raised concerns with traffic and the building’s height, and heard residents’ opposition. 

The issues raised are “like a red herring,” Galbut told The Real Deal after the meeting. “The whole conversation has been hijacked into other things.” 

Galbut, managing principal of Crescent Heights, and Martin, CEO of Terra, want to build the condo on the Miami Beach Community Health Center site at 710 Alton Road, a parking lot immediately west of and on a portion of the property at 740 Alton Road, according to Galbut. 

In August, Miami Beach voters approved increasing the area’s floor area ratio, or FAR, to 2.6 from 2.0, allowing a bigger project. In exchange, the developers have to build a new community health center at 663 Alton Road before they start constructing the condo building.  

Yet, the development agreement that came before commissioners showed three discrepancies between the developers’ proposal and staff’s recommendations. For one, Galbut and Martin are pushing to build a 180-foot tall building, higher than city staff’s recommendation for 150 feet tall.

After a lengthy presentation by West Avenue Neighborhood Association board member Amy Litos, who warned the true height actually would be “just shy of 240 feet,” commissioners asked for clarification.  

The city measures building heights from the first finished floor elevation to the top of the roof slab, but allows up to 25 feet on the roof for mechanical equipment that isn’t counted in the total height, Deputy City Manager Eric Carpenter said. The project is using 18 feet of the height exception allowed on the roof. 

But “then add the base floor of nine feet and freeboard … in general we are talking about 212 feet,” commissioner Alex Fernandez responded, pointing out that that’s much more than the 150 feet voters were promised at the referendum. 

A 150-foot tall building would be a “fatter” one, which the developers are willing to do, Galbut told TRD after the meeting. “It’s not what we think is the right thing for the community, but we can do it.” 

On another issue, the city disagreed with the developers’ proposal to transfer 30,000 square feet of FAR from the lot at 740 Alton Road to the condo project. The property is in poor condition and in need of redevelopment and also has a license for a medical marijuana dispensary, which isn’t open, with 16 years remaining on the lease, according to a staff memo to commissioners. But the requested FAR transfer would leave only 19,000 square feet of future development at 740 Alton. 

“How do we then encourage the redevelopment of this at the end of the 16 years to something of better quality on that site” with 19,000 square feet for future development, Fernandez said. 

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Galbut said he is an investor in 740 Alton, having bought an ownership stake after the marijuana dispensary use was approved. The condo project would extend on a portion of that site. 

“We already offered to not have cannabis on the site the minute the current lease is over,” he said. 

In the third discrepancy between the developers and city staff, commissioners actually sided with the developer. Staff wants Galbut and Martin to do away with planned parking adjacent to a pair of one-story retail buildings south of Canopy Park. But some commissioners raised concerns with a lack of parking in the city. 

Galbut and Martin also increased the planned number of condos to 150 from the previously planned 120, though city staff did not take issue with this. The unit increase is offset by the developers cutting down the unit count at their Five Park condo project that’s under construction nearby and at 500 Alton, staff’s memo shows. 

Some commissioners questioned the city process of first going to referendum for the higher FAR, and voting on a development agreement and other project details afterward. Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez also asked the developers about their community outreach after the referendum, implying that they had done “none,” and took issue with the project’s traffic patterns.  

While city staff members said they haven’t seen a traffic analysis and it’s not yet required at this point in the approval process, Galbut says he submitted one in advance and the project will provide ingress and egress on Alton Road. Also, a meeting with neighbors is planned for July 13 at the Mondrian South Beach hotel at 1100 West Avenue. 

On July 26, commissioners are expected to again take up first reading of the development agreement, and also vote on the land development regulations and comprehensive plan ordinances needed for the project.

Galbut told TRD the crux of the project really is that he and Martin will replace the aging community center building at their own cost, after the city and Miami-Dade County came to him for help. At the end of the meeting, he also brought up his family’s yearslong philanthropy in Miami Beach. 

In response, Rosen Gonzalez encouraged him to make the entire project a public park. “You are one of the most successful men on Miami Beach, and this could be your legacy.”

Instead, Galbut vowed to work through the concerns raised. 

“If in the end the economics don’t work, it won’t be us that didn’t have the medical community clinic,” he told commissioners. “It won’t be our doing.”