When the City of Miami Beach created a MiMo architecture historic district to protect its Morris Lapidus-designed, mid-20th-century buildings a few years ago, officials considered including the beachfront stretch along Collins Avenue from 53rd to 63rd Street. But there was a problem: The huge condo towers on either side of the street create "an almost continuous 'canyon' wall effect on both sides," a city report noted. So that piece of Collins Avenue was excluded from the historic district.
Now the staff of the city's Design Review Board and some residents fear that dreaded "condo canyon" effect will only grow worse if a developer is allowed to replace a 1960s-era building with a condo tower some neighbors have already dubbed "Godzilla." The developer is also fighting suggestions to incorporate what the city says is a badly needed beach access point at the new building.
Miami Beach Associates LLC, a company owned by Brazilian billionaire Jose Isaac Peres, wants to demolish the Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Ave. and replace it with an 18-story tower designed by Miami-based firm Arquitectonica. Unlike many of the buildings between the 5300 and 6300 blocks of Collins Avenue, the Marlborough House is situated perpendicular to the beach, allowing more expansive ocean views from the street. Those views would be minimized by the new building, which would be parallel to the shore.
"We're here because of the ocean and the sky," says Rebecca Orand, who lives in the Royal Embassy building at 5750 Collins Ave. "We'd like to continue to have some blue here."
The Design Review Board staff was set to consider the application in June, but the developer requested a continuance to speak with concerned neighbors. The application is set to be reviewed during the board's September 5 meeting. In a report to board members, staff wrote that the project does not meet standards for maintaining important view corridors and recommended rotating the building so that it's perpendicular to the beach, giving it a more slender profile.
But Miami Beach Associates is sticking to its original plan.
"Our team has determined that the proposed project provides the best design option to address the 'condo canyon' effect by reducing the number of units in a building designed well within City Code limitations, and maximizing view corridors for area residents," attorney Michael Larkin, who represents the company, says in a prepared statement.
"Most important," he adds, "this new development will reduce the impact of the project on the Miami Beach community and traffic on Collins Avenue by reducing the existing number of condominium units from 107 in the old building to a maximum of 89 in the new building."
The company also rejects the city's recommendation to include a beach access point on the property. "It is clear that there is currently adequate public access to the beach in the area," the statement says.
Staff of the Design Review Board, however, wrote in its report that a beach path would benefit the residents of about 715 nearby apartment units within a five-minute walk
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They also noted that other recent developments in the area — the Bath Club at 5937 Collins Ave. and MEI Condominium at 5875 Collins Ave. — have constructed access points. The nearest beach access point south of 5775 Collins is four blocks away, at 53rd Street.
Nancy Liebman, a Miami Beach City Commission member from 1993 to 2001 and founder of Miami Beach United, says the city now has a second chance to demand beach access and visibility that vanished with the construction of the so-called condo canyon.
"There is no reason in this day and age to have that beach be blocked off," Liebman says.
The Royal Embassy, located at 5750 Collins Ave., plans to discuss residents' concerns with mayoral and commission candidates during a meet-and-greet at 7 p.m. today in the building's lobby. The meeting is open to the public.