“Simplistic” and “unremarkable”: Board slams 48-story Live Local Act project proposed in Wynwood

Committee is powerless to address building’s height but took issue with glass design of ground-floor retail, uniformity of garage screen’s art

Board Votes Against Bazbaz’s Wynwood Live Local Act Tower
Renderings of the Live Local Act project proposed in Wynwood with Bazbaz Development's Sonny Bazbaz (Bazbaz Development, Arquitectonica)

Bazbaz Development’s plan for a 48-story tower in Wynwood, the area’s tallest ever planned building, struck out in front of a Miami review board. 

The Wynwood Design Review Committee voted against the proposal after a roughly two-hour discussion this week. The committee’s vote isn’t final but merely a recommendation. 

Sonny Bazbaz’s eponymously named firm wants to build the 544-unit apartment building on a  1.5-acre assemblage at 2110, 2118 and 2134 North Miami Avenue, as well as 2101, 2129 and 2135 Northwest Miami Court in Miami. 

The Live Local Act, a state legislation approved last year and tweaked this year, allows developers wiggle room on site and neighborhood zoning restrictions as long as at least 40 percent of the units are designated as affordable or workforce housing for tenants earning no more than 120 percent of the area median income. These apartments have to stay at below-market rents for at least 30 years. 

Bazbaz’s project marks the first Live Local Act proposal for Wynwood to go in front of the design review committee for a vote. Wynwood buildings are limited to 12 stories, a threshold reached after a yearslong effort to hammer out the neighborhood’s zoning code in a way that preserves the former warehouse district’s character. 

But Bazbaz’s project isn’t the only Wynwood proposal under the state affordable housing legislation. In total, six Live Local Act projects have been filed for Wynwood, according to city staff members. 

That’s why review committee members said during their meeting that their vote on Bazbaz’s project essentially sets a precedent for future proposed Live Local Act projects in Wynwood, and ultimately for the neighborhood’s changing character. 

Under Live Local, the committee’s hands are tied on the project’s height and size in general. But members took issue with various aspects of the tower’s design and its scale just on the first few levels, including of the garage podium.  

After several committee members commented on the tower’s “efficient” design, committee member Shamim Ahmadzadegan chimed in. 

“I want to call it efficient as a euphemism for too simplistic. It’s a box on top of a slender box. We feel like it’s probably overly simplistic. I might use the term unremarkable,” he said at the meeting on Tuesday. “Wynwood is never simplistic and unremarkable.”

Committee member Amanda Hertzler echoed her colleagues on the dais in saying that the tower is “beautiful,” but the design doesn’t fit in Wynwood. 

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“It’s a glass tower. It does not represent the authenticity of Wynwood architecture. This is not a Wynwood project,” she said. “When you look at the massing of the project, it does not fit within the scale of what we have expected from architects and designers coming in front of the board.” 

Among the concerns committee members raised: The ground-floor retail space is encased in glass, which is contrary to Wynwood’s creative façades, traditionally adorned with murals, that attract pedestrians. A pedestrian paseo is devoid of retail, art or anything else that could activate it. Also, some on the board called for a redesign of bristle-like spires jutting out from the tower’s rooftop. 

Much of the discussion focused on the garage, which would be screened with artwork by American contemporary artist Bisco Smith. Committee members took issue with the art’s black and white color scheme and the artwork being uniform on all sides of the building. 

“It’s like a one-note symphony. It’s hard to keep people’s interest if you are playing the same note over and over again,” committee member Marc Coleman said, adding that much of the art on Wynwood’s buildings has had a gray palette. “This is Wynwood and it’s the place to take risks. I would like to see more variety, more color introduced.”

Architect Raymond Fort of Arquitectonica, the project’s designer, countered some of the comments by pointing out that a portion of the garage mural drips down to create columns along the street-level retail, giving it variety from the glass-encased storefronts. 

“The dynamic aspects of those columns when you experience them at ground level will be lost on people,” Coleman responded. “I strongly encourage you to put some art on the ground floor. That’s what created Wynwood.” 

Committee member Jordan Trachtenberg argued that it’s difficult for him to vote on the project prior to a workshop. Such a workshop among architects and planners would address whether Live Local threatens to turn Wynwood into an extension of the nearby areas of Midtown Miami and Edgewater, both home to high-rises. The workshop also would allow planners to unite Wynwood’s mid-rise look and design standards with the Live Local Act.  

“There has to be kind of a middle ground to make this work,” he said. 

The project essentially marks the end of “Wynwood 2.0,” or the neighborhood’s current development regulations, and the start of  “Edgewater West,” Trachtenberg said. 

Bazbaz’s representatives declined the option to withdraw their application and chose to continue through the process with the Wynwood Design Review Committee’s recommendation of denial. Next, the project heads to the Urban Development Review Committee, which also only has power to recommend but not to make a final decision. 

Ultimately, city planning staff make the final decision, taking into account the committees’ recommendations and working with the developer to tweak the tower’s design based on those recommendations.