It’s one of the last oceanfront development holdouts on Miami Beach. The historic “Ocean Terrace” sector of North Beach, between 75th and 73rd streets, is known for its laid-back neighborhood vibe and low-rise buildings.
But that could soon change if the proposed development of a luxury condo tower passes muster at a city meeting today. Developer Sandor Scher of Claro Development wants to construct a mixed-use project that would include a 22-story retail and residential tower on the beachfront stretch. Critics and preservationists argue luxury high-rise development does not fit in North Beach, an area known for its family-oriented, working-class character. What’s more, they argue, the sunny beach could soon be eclipsed by a giant shadow.
"North Beach's calling card is its welcoming, walkable, friendly beach town feel,” says Kimberlee Blecha, the Vice President of the North Shore Neighborhood Board. “We love [our] great little local businesses. We're not big, flashy condos and that's why people like us."
Of course the tower's backers say the project would bring jobs and business to a sleepy section of the Beach. "This project has great merit and provides a potential bright future for North Beach," says David Custin, a lobbyist working with one of the project's developers.
In order to build this new tower, the city and voters would have to pass a proposed zoning change allowing greater building height and density. The upzoning would allow for a potential 200,000 square foot development, and would increase the maximum height allowance in the area from 75 feet (eight stories) to 250 feet (22 stories).
The Miami Beach Planning Board has already endorsed the proposal, so it now goes to the Miami Beach City Commission, which will decide whether to include it as a ballot measure in November. The commission is set to discuss the proposal today at 4 p.m. at City Hall.
The Miami Design Preservation League compares the development to the 1980s, “when Ocean Drive in South Beach was planned to be replaced with large condominiums."
"If placed on the ballot, this would be the first time that upzoning was submitted to the voters since 1997, when the Save Miami Beach referendum required any upzoning to first be approved by voters," the MDPL said in a statement.
Most of the buildings within the proposed development are designated as contributing historic structures, but the new development would demolish most of them.
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As the public fights back against the plan, accusations have swirled that Mayor Levine and city commissioners are being influenced by lobbyists with a stake in the project. Some have accused Custin of bias in the project since he's running Levine's reelection campaign and also representing Ocean Terrace Holdings, one of the project's developers.
"There are zero conflicts of interests," Custin says. Custin says the developers' vision is to create a project that is a "catalyst for the rebirth of a neglected and derelict area," inspired by the "vibrant commercial and tourist area that existed in the 50’s and 60's along upper Collins Avenue and Ocean Terrace and will look to this past in shaping the future."
Levine and Commissioner Jonah Wolfson openly receive high-dollar donations from vendors and contractors. Earlier this month, when Commissioner Deede Weithorn fought to have the Ethics Commission look into whether certain contributions constituted an ethics violation, Levine refused an official motion to allow the Ethics Commission to even consider the conflicts of interest.
But the Ethics Commission is looking into it anyway.