Miami Beach pushes to invigorate Washington Avenue

Washington Avenue and 15th Street in Miami Beach
Washington Avenue and 15th Street in Miami Beach

The Miami Beach Land Use and Development Committee gave approval on Wednesday to a series of wide proposals designed to breathe new life into Washington Avenue — a street that has lagged far behind it’s more famous neighbors like Lincoln Road, Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive in attracting quality retail, restaurant and hotel development.

The proposals, which will be forwarded to the Miami Beach Planning Board for its June 23rd meeting, include raising height limits for buildings on Washington Avenue from 50 feet to 55 feet, widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes and even closing down one lane of traffic along much of the avenue to allow parklets — parking spaces converted to temporary patios for outdoor dining.

The proposals come out of the so-called Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel for Washington Avenue, chaired by former commissioner Saul Gross, president of Streamline Properties, and a longtime business owner on Washington Avenue. Gross says no real capital improvements are required to make the changes, and they should help businesses whose rents have skyrocketed recently.

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“We think there is an opportunity to rent to restaurants that are being priced off Lincoln Road, and we want to make Washington Avenue attractive to them,” said Gross. He says outdoor spaces drive the success of restaurants on Miami Beach and the proposed parklets will be “a positive game changer that will change people’s perception of what is going on, on Washington Avenue, very quickly.”

Gross is also proposing a five-year waiver of hotel and parking impact fees which he says adversely affect the types of small businesses and hotels needed to revitalize Washington Avenue. And he says he supports a slight reduction in retail parking requirements.

Preservationists largely support the measures, but have expressed concerns about a proposal to build a 75-foot high parking garage on the corner of Drexel Avenue and 13th Street. The new proposals would allow a 75-foot height limit for some buildings, but only for those that occupy lots larger than 200 feet, and any such building would be required to include a 40-foot setback to minimize any street impact.