Earlier this month, North Beach residents shot down a controversial development proposal that would have transformed a historic beachfront stretch of North Beach into a massive new luxury condo. It was a huge win for preservationists, but left a big unanswered question: What comes next for the dilapidated buildings in the area?
Residents got a few clues Monday night, when urban planning firm Dover Kohl launched the next phase of North Beach’s development: a “master planning” process that will chart a cohesive vision for the community. Around 100 people — including city officials, community activists, preservationists and developers — gathered at the North Shore Youth Center to air concerns and provide input.
“The purpose of the master plan is to provide a framework for the neighborhood,” said Miami Beach Planning Director Thomas Mooney. “And to make sure that controversial ideas, like zoning proposals, match the idea of what the community wants.”
The Miami-based Dover Kohl will work over the coming year to formulate a plan for the neighborhood, which stretches from 63rd Street to 87th Terrace, from the Beach to the Bay. It will include ideas for new and existing structures, green spaces and parks, transportation infrastructure and more. Throughout the process, they’ll provide opportunities for the community to provide input. And an additional group of consultants will provide the plan's ideas for bicycle infrastructure; historic preservation; civil engineering; and coastal resiliency for sea level rise. The plan even has its own website: PlanNoBe.org.
The result, planners say, will be an economic and revitalization strategy that builds upon — but doesn’t erase — the existing fabric of the neighborhood.
Since its heyday decades ago, North Beach has decayed. Some residents complain about crime and blighted buildings. In recent years, the city has led piecemeal revitalization efforts, such as refurbishing the Normandy Fountain, implementing a free trolley system and providing more cultural events at the renovated North Beach Bandshell.
But compared to Mid and South Beach, North Beach is humble and quiet—home to a diverse, mixed-income community. And many residents say that's precisely what they love about the community.
Earlier this year, developer Sandor Scher, who was present at Monday’s meeting, spent more than $70 million on over a dozen properties in the area. He planned to demolish several historic buildings to construct a beachfront high-rise condo. But earlier this month, his zoning proposal was rejected by a majority of Miami Beach voters.
Scher had said repeatedly that he had no alternative plans for developing Ocean Terrace if the ballot question failed. And he argued that waiting for a larger master plan hasn't worked in the past, and that there’s no guarantee that plans will be adopted or funded by the city.
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Indeed, on Monday night, architect and long-time resident Laurie Swedroe pointed to a number of master plans for North Beach — including one she drew herself in 1994.
"These plans already exist," Swedroe said, "and I hope these planners use them."
While indeed there's no guarantee that any part of the master plan will be adopted by the city, preservationist and former commissioner Nancy Liebman said the Dover Kohl process is more impressive and comprehensive than anything that’s come before.
“The other plans were like a drop in the water,” she said. “There’s never been a cohesive plan where people will work together like this. These really are the masters of master planners. They’re not city people, and they’re not burdened by politics.”