North Beach Building Height Debate ContinuesAugust 1, 2016
The contentious subject of heights for new building projects on Miami Beach was again discussed by the City Commission at their July 20 meeting.
Early in the month, the local political action group Save Miami Beach 2016, led by preservationist Daniel Ciraldo, submitted 4,812 signatures for a petition that advocated changing the city’s charter so that all height increases greater than three feet would have to go to voters for approval via a referendum. This essentially would take decision power away from the City Commission.
But Save Miami Beach fell short in their goal of getting the number of required signatures that it needed to get the referendum question on the November ballot. Only 2,300 of the signatures submitted were certified as acceptable by the Miami-Dade Elections Department; and 4458 certified signatures were needed. That number representing ten percent of the qualified electors of the City of Miami Beach, which has approximately 45,000 registered voters.
Perhaps to appease this same group of citizens, at the July 20 meeting, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez co-sponsored a resolution that would have changed the rules regarding the size of the majority needed for the commission to approve building height increases from current code. The rules currently require a 5 out of 7 commission member vote; her resolution would make passage even more difficult by requiring a 6 of 7 super majority. “I think It’s a safeguard to the public, I thinks it’s fair,” said Gonzalez. However, she failed to get another commissioner to second the motion for this.
Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán said that the fears of the city becoming over run with tall buildings was unfounded and based on misconceptions not on hard facts. Commissioner Joy Malakoff agreed, saying that there was a great deal of “misinformation” out in the public on this subject. She noted that for certain purposes height increases are needed, for example in dealing with sea level rise. “The city’s not going to get lower,” she quipped. Mayor Philip Levine said he did not hear a lot of complaints about building heights from citizens, he called the fears of over-development and the issue how the city decides on development a ‘contrived problem’ not real.
City Attorney Raul Aguila opined about the unconstitutionality of Save Miami Beach 2016’s proposal to permanently change the city’s charter. He said there is a Florida law that prohibits such land use and development decisions from going to a referendum, with heights and size of structures being an essential element of zoning. He expressed concern about the legality of Gonzalez’s proposal too.
In recent months the city has rejected or delayed approval of projects due to concern about over building. A high profile example of this, in March a plan for a hotel as part of the new Miami Beach Convention Center project near Lincoln Road was rejected by Miami Beach voters in a referendum.
Also recently North Beach building projects in the Ocean Terrace district were rejected for being too large. Only after months of delays, in June, did a condominium and hotel project win approval for substantial height increases from the City Commission. The projects were green lighted after the builders agreed to incorporate or save several historic properties in the area.
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