Six months after Miami Beach voters rejected a plan to demolish historic oceanfront properties in North Beach to make way for a luxury condo tower, developer Sandor Scher is back with a new proposal for the stretch known as Ocean Terrace.
His plan would demolish only one building and would preserve a number of historic façades while making the beachfront more pedestrian-friendly. But it also keeps one controversial element in tact: Scher still plans to erect a high-rise tower.
Instead of the 250-foot tower he proposed last time around, this plan seeks to build to 235 feet. That’s still a 313 percent increase in allowable height (the current standard is 75 feet). But this time, Scher doesn’t need voter approval to make it happen; he simply needs a majority of Miami Beach commissioners to approve the zoning change.
Kathryn Comer, of the North Beach Neighbors Alliance, says many North Beach residents have serious concerns about that approval process.
“People feel that voters vocalized against a high-rise already,” she says. “I don’t think anyone thinks there shouldn’t be any height increase. It’s just that this is a really big height increase — it’s extreme.”
Last November, voters took to the ballot box to decide whether to “upzone” the historic area between 73rd and 75th street on Collins Avenue and Ocean Terrace, which would have paved the way for taller, denser constructions than those allowed by current regulations. Scher, who spent more than $70 million on over a dozen properties in the area, had argued the project would revitalize a blighted, crime-ridden area that over the years had been forgotten by the city.
But 55 percent of voters were against his plan — many saying the construction would destroy the historic architecture and low-rise feel of the area. That's despite the developer spending more than $700,000 campaigning on the issue.
Since then, Scher hired master planner Cesar Garcia-Pons, an expert in neighborhood revitalization, and architect Richard Heisenbottle, who has preserved a number of well-known historic structures in South Florida. Scher says they listened carefully to residents' wishes to create a new vision, called the Ocean Terrace Redevelopment Plan. Scher also been reaching out to prominent community activists, including those who fought his last plan.
Most notable, the new plan doesn't seek to increase "floor area ratio," or "FAR," which is a controversial measure of building density that requires voter approval.
“The revised plan aims to preserve North Beach’s unique character — maintaining the scale and historic character of the street-level façades, increasing the residential building setback to 50 feet, and reducing the height from what was previously approved, while also activating the Ocean Terrace historic façades through adaptive reuse," Scher says in a statement sent to New Times. "The revised plan is the centerpiece of the Ocean Terrace neighborhood and will make it enjoyable for the entire community.”
In early April, the City of Miami Beach released a new ordinance for Scher’s development — featuring the increase in allowable height. That issue will go before the commission May 11.
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Despite Scher's efforts to win over critics, activists such as Comer say they're still pushing commissioners to reject the height increase. “We were optimistic that the mayor and city commission would have understood last November’s vote as being indicative of public opinion on a height increase,” Comer says, “but it didn’t work out that way.”
Comer also says many of the most appealing parts of Scher’s proposal — such as the protection of historic structures — are left out of the ordinance language. That’s why activists plan to seek to tighten the ordinance over the coming weeks, to be able to hold the developer accountable throughout the construction phase.
“The proposal is very appealing, and it’s a really nice plan,” she says. “But in the end, it doesn’t matter what the developer says. It matters what the ordinance says.”
Scher will host a meeting about the plans for Ocean Terrace today at 7 p.m. at the Centro Unidad, located at 7231 Collins Ave. in Miami Beach.