The Weekly Dirt: Live Local battle heats up

Bal Harbour Shops expansion plans, proposed changes to state’s new affordable housing law causing heated debate in South Florida

Weekly Dirt: Fla’s Affordable Housing Law Battle Heats Up
Whitman Family Development's Matthew Whitman Lazenby and a rendering of the Bal Harbour Shops project, Sen. Alexis Calatayud and Gov. Ron DeSantis (Whitman Family Development, Facebook, Getty)

The owner of Bal Harbour Shops filed plans to build 275-foot towers on the property using the state’s new affordable housing legislation.

Whitman Family Development revealed the expansion plans this week, causing an uproar among some village residents. The owner of the ultra-luxury mall has long pursued a height increase for the 18-acre property, once the only destination for high-end retailers. The Live Local Act gives the developer that option without having to mount a costly campaign. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the law in March. In short, it provides major incentives to developers who incorporate workforce housing (for people earning up to 120 percent of the area median income) into their projects for a specified period of time — bypassing local municipalities’ approval. It also sets aside hundreds of millions in dollars in funding. 

Some developers rushed to file plans for projects that they otherwise would not have been able to build without city approval. Applications continue to trickle in. 

The more NIMBY (not in my backyard) residents are not happy. During a Surfside meeting I covered this week, residents were concerned that Kushner Companies, in its proposal for a luxury rental development (not affordable housing), could turn around and suggest building a tower on a site where the firm planned a three-story building. The phrase Live Local was thrown around, even though Kushner wasn’t pursuing it. 

Many cities have debated how to respond to Live Local plans, which are supposed to only go through the municipalities’ administrative processes. Some are stalling screening those applications or mounting challenges to projects. 

Enter a new bill that was proposed in the Florida Legislature last week, which seeks to codify a few issues. One, that a developer can build the maximum amount of floor area ratio as found in that city and county — an argument the city of Miami Beach used against the developer in its interpretation of the planned redevelopment of the Clevelander and Essex hotels. 

Two, the proposed legislation removes industrial properties from eligible sites and limits height, a boon for municipalities looking to regain some of their power. The law allows owners of commercial and mixed-use properties to reach the maximum height of buildings within 1 mile; the latest bill seeks to reduce that to a quarter of a mile. And, three, it also allows local governments to restrict height to 125 percent of the tallest adjacent building, if the site is adjacent to a building that is three stories in height. It does not define what adjacent means. 

For any developer who purchased a site or spent money on plans based on the law as it exists today, those changes could be detrimental. I spoke with a developer in Hollywood Beach who tells me that after spending more than $1 million on plans for a mixed-income housing development, he will now go back to his previous plans to build a lower-rise hotel while his Live Local application is processed. If the changes become part of the law, that project and a handful of others he planned to base on Live Local will be dead. The same could be said for other developers, his attorney told me. 

Back in Bal Harbour, the mayor told the Miami Herald the current expansion of the shopping center (pre-Live Local) is based on a development agreement between the village and Whitman that could restrict what can be built regardless of state law. The commission is set to discuss the application on Tuesday. 

More on all of that later this week. 

What we’re thinking about: Did you watch the bombshell city of Miami commission meeting last week? What did you think? ICYMI, the commission voted to extend longtime City Attorney Victoria Mendez’s contract just five months while they look for a replacement — effectively a delayed firing, and two commissioners almost got into a fist fight. Send me a note at

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Residential: Travis VanderZanden, founder of the Miami-based electric scooter company Bird, and his wife, Samantha VanderZanden, sold their waterfront Coral Gables mansion for $26 million, more than a year after listing it for $39.9 million. A trust purchased the 13,800-square-foot home, which has nine bedrooms, nine bathrooms and two-half bathrooms. 

Commercial: Ronald and Michael Simkins sold a development site near Miami International Airport to Miami-Dade County for $45 million. Simkins Airport Property LLC sold the 11.5-acre property at 2800 Northeast 39th Avenue, likely for an airport expansion.  

— Research by Adam Farence


A waterfront estate in Naples hit the market for nearly $40 million. Darhyl Alusma of Domain has the listing for the 7,200-square-foot home at 600 Galleon Drive. The property, with nearly 500 feet of bay frontage, sits on a 0.6-acre lot. It includes a pool and dock. 

600 Galleon Drive (Darhyl Alusma of Domain Realty LLC/LA-Kai Luxury Group)

A thing we’ve learned 

Florida State Rep. Erin Grall, a Republican, said that the insurance industry “fabricated their arguments and data over the past few years to manufacture a crisis and push for various legislative reforms.” Her comments were in response to a state-commissioned report on property insurance claims, which found that frivolous lawsuits did not cause surging insurance premiums. 

Elsewhere in Florida 

  • A school district in northern Florida removed more than 1,600 books from its shelves, including dictionaries, encyclopedias, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and “The Guinness Book of World Records.” The books were pulled under a law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ last year to expand “parental rights in education” by banning classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. 
  • Seven tornadoes tore through Florida’s panhandle and one touched down near St. Petersburg last week, destroying homes and damaging infrastructure that included the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, USA Today reports. The original Navarre fishing pier was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. 
  • State Rep. Spencer Roach floated the idea of the state-backed “insurer of last resort” Citizens Property Insurance offering universal windstorm coverage for all property owners in Florida, according to the Sun Sentinel. The Republican lawmaker, who lost his home due to Hurricane Ian in 2022, suggested modeling the plan after the National Flood Insurance Program and the California Earthquake Authority. Critics of the bill say it would be too costly. 
  • Law enforcement arrested a 26-year-old man in Venice for making an interstate threat and committing a weapon violation after making online threats to “conduct a racially or ethnically motivated mass casualty event,” according to his arrest affidavit.