Developer Sandor Scher, who spent more than $70 million on over a dozen properties in the area, planned to demolish several historic buildings to construct a high-rise condo. He argued that the project would revitalize a blighted, crime-ridden area that over the years has been forgotten by the city.
But because the plans challenged Miami Beach's strict zoning regulations, voters had a say. And 55 percent voted against it — many saying the construction would destroy the historic architecture and low-rise feel of the area.
On Wednesday, Scher, via a spokesperson, declined New Times’ request for comment. On his campaign’s Facebook page, he thanked those who supported the project and vowed to "continue to work with the wonderful community of North Beach to make sure that at some point, they no longer have to live in an area that is in decline."
Many North Beach residents who fought Scher’s proposal say their no votes don’t mean they’re against development — only that they want it to respect the neighborhood’s architectural heritage and diversity.
“I hope the developer will consider developing within the existing code,” says Daniel Ciraldo of the Miami Design Preservation League. “I bet he’d make an amazing project, and the community should rally behind that.”
Scher is the developer behind a number of historic hotel revitalizations in Miami Beach, including the Shelborne, the Standard, and the Raleigh. This was the first time one of his projects had to pass a public vote, and during the campaign, he told New Times that he had no “Plan B” for North Beach if the ballot failed. The current zoning, he said, "doesn't work."
“I'm not a politician, but we have received incredible community support and I feel confident in this,” he said last month. “We have a great plan, and that’s our singular focus."
Scher's group spent nearly $700,000 on a campaign to win at the polls, hiring one ex-mayor and the current mayor's powerful campaign manager. He had the support of many of the Beach’s top elected officials and even pinned down celebrity endorsements.
On the other side were community activists and preservationists. They pointed to a city-sponsored plan for North Beach that would save buildings and rehabilitate structures. In July, Miami Beach hired the esteemed urban planning firm Dover Kohl to develop a “master plan” for North Beach, and activists say future development should align with a cohesive vision for the community.
Since its heyday decades ago, the beachfront Ocean Terrace — from 73rd to 75th Street — has decayed; buildings are crumbling and many residents complain about rampant crime. Just yesterday, an altercation at 8 a.m. led to a shot being fired near the site of Scher's proposed project. There were no injuries.
Margueritte Ramos, a supporter of the defeated proposal who sits on a mayor-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel on North Beach, says it’s exactly the type of incident Scher’s development plan would have eradicated. “The reason for our fight is to renovate and revitalize,” she says.
Ciraldo says he too wants a face-lift for the neighborhood — and points to the revitalization of South Beach as a model to follow. In the '70s and '80s, the restoration of crumbling art deco structures there helped usher in an era of low-scale development and birth a thriving community.
“Just like in South Beach, North Beach should have all income types, culture, and arts — it should be a great place to live and play,” he says. “If we can get developers to buy into that, it would be a win-win.”