(Well At Least Back to the Design Review Board).
In a stunning reversal, the Miami Beach City Commissioners moved to rescind approval last Wednesday, of the Palau at Sunset Harbour, a five-story retail and condo complex that was set to be built on the site of Marks Cleaners.
After a contentious, four-hour debate, the commission challenged the Miami Beach Design Review Board to review and reconsider its approval of the Palau.
The development of the Palau at Sunset Harbour has been fraught with controversy since it’s inception. Developed by SMG Management and backed by the Roy Disney family, the development has been opposed by residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Designed by architect Kobi Karp, the Palau was generally forged by the input of the community. The project has been hailed by city staffers as a positive step in the development of the Sunset Harbour neighborhood from industrial to residential. Long term plans include the future development of townhouses, restaurants, clubs, condo towers and stores like Fresh Market.
What the actual fight is about is one of the four bridges that connect Sunset Islands to main Miami Beach. Three of the four bridges have received historic designation from the City of Miami beach. Those three bridges were built in the 1920′s and are described as “a discrete image of wealth … and the extravagance of the ‘Roaring Twenties,’?” in the beech historic designation report. The fourth bridge was built to replace a failing one, in 1994. It is this bridge that is causing all the controversy. It has not been designated historically and Sunset Harbour residents are pushing to have it designated.
“Historic designation is a means of maintaining the special character of a place through increased architectural consideration when the construction of new buildings… are proposed,” was how the city responded in its historic designation report.
What is concerning residents of the Sunset Islands is the sheer mass and height of Palau. The building has been designed around 50 residential units, with ground-level retail shops, a canal-front promenade and a courtyard.
Terry Bienstock, president of the Sunset Islands III and IV homeowners association was outraged that the city was even open to approving this development and calls Palau out of scale with the surrounding community.
“Developers got approval to build right up to the property line along Sunset Drive. In deference to the bridge, developers agreed to take out a notch of the building closest to the bridge, creating a small green space to separate the two structures.” he said.
But that concession was not enough and still Sunset residents weren’t placated. In fact, they arrived en mass to last Wednesday’s City Commission meeting to make their point. What followed was four hours of debate between the city, Sunset Island residents, Miami Beach United, (a beach resident activist group formed last year) and the developers of Palau who were represented by attorney Wayne Pathman. Pathman addressed the group at large on the all the changes that the developers had done to accommodate both the city and Sunset homeowners.
“The Palau developers have made changes to over 20 different aspects of the plans at the behest of Sunset residents and two different city boards have approved the project unanimously,” he said. “This matter was vetted out.”
Not so, stated Tucker Gibbs, the attorney hired by the Sunset homeowners. Even though Palau developers had made certain adjustments, they failed to allow for ‘view corridors’ along the bridge. City planners were supposed to make sure these were in place before approving the plans.
As Gibbs said to the city commissioners from the dais, “Preserving the views from and along the bridge helps to preserve and protect the neighborhood. Instead, Palau simply overwhelms it.”
“The land use process in this city is so skewed for the developers, that residents literally have no chance,” Terry Bienstock, president of the Sunset Islands 3 and 4 homeowner association told the Miami Herald. “And that’s if they’re not trying to screw you.”
Nancy Liebman, former Miami Beach Commissioner and activist summed it all up. “Congratulations to the residents for fighting the good fight and insuring that the project will fit into the neighborhood. The time has come for developers to realize it is no longer a city where anything goes!”