Low Impact

ATTORNEY: TERMINAL ISLAND PROJECT A “WIN-WIN” FOR CITY, PUBLIC.

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It sits just short of arguably the highest profile access point to Miami Beach, one of the world’s most glamorous and scenic cities. Yet it is not a well-manicured, beautiful welcoming sight that beckons visitors to a city defined by incredible architecture, gorgeous beaches and a blending of cultures that made it “multi-cultural” long before college professors coined the phrase.

Instead, it is a patch of space zoned for industrial use with one parcel in government use as base of operations for two city operations. It is also the embarkation point for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of heavy trucks hauling their loads across an already-crowded causeway that is expected to become even more congested with the upcoming opening of the Port Tunnel and of the Flagstone LLC development on Watson Island.

It is Terminal Island, something of an eyesore to those entering Miami Beach. If a development group has its way, eventually Terminal Island will be the site of a 60-unit low-density development with accompanying recreational marina and a few amenities for residents of the residential community. Additionally, as part of a joint venture with the City of Miami Beach, the developer will reconstruct the City facilities on the island to make them more attractive, modern and useful – in exchange for the City giving the developer the development rights held but unused by the City plot of land on the island, while not increasing Floor-Area Ratio (FAR).

Neisen Kasdin, attorney for the development group, former mayor of Miami Beach and an early activist in the Beach preservation movement calls it a winning formula for all parties affected.

“What this is, to use an over-used expression, is a win-win project,” Kasdin told SunPost this week. “You have the replacement of an antiquated facility, you create something attractive at the entry to Miami Beach and you cause a reduction of traffic.”

Kasdin, of Akerman LLP and representing Miami Beach Port, LLC, said the development would be a serious upgrade to the existing site.

“Right now, that property us being used as a container port,” he said. “It has ships come in, unload at a container port and then ship elsewhere by truck. Often, there are a half-dozen trailers blocking the causeway.”

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The proposed development would eliminate the container port and replace it with slips for “baby yachts,” owned by unit owners and considerably softer on the eyes than commercial ships.

“What we’d have there would be ‘baby yachts’ that might or might not be used by the owners of the units,” Kasdin said. “We can’t extend piers into Government Cut or toward the Coast Guard station. They can only be perpendicular to the sea wall – which is typically for yachts.”

Officially, according to a February 3 letter from Kasdin to Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, “MBP is proposing to redevelop the MBP Site as a mixed-use deep-water marina and luxury condominium project, approximately 200 feet in height to be prominently located at the tip of Terminal Island to include approximately 240,000 to 250,000 square feet of floor area with accessory uses and amenities for the building, and to redevelop the City Site, providing the City with a new maintenance yard, with new, more modern facilities, increased number of dedicated parking spaces, and better access to and from MacArthur Causeway for City vehicles while maintaining all of the essential functions on the site.”

The proposed development would also increase tax revenue to the City by approximately $2 million annually, Kasdin said.

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 3.48.44 PMThe City of Miami Beach has made it clear that the administration has taken no position on the proposed joint agreement, which would include transfer of development rights and re-zoning, and that it does not yet have enough information to evaluate the potential project. However, the need for upgraded City facilities on Terminal Island is well known.

“We have facilities there and it’s no secret we would like to improve them,” said Assistant City Manager Joe Jimenez.

However, the proposed development is not without controversy. Miami Beach activist Frank Del Vecchio has been rallying opposition to the project based largely on what he calls a false claim of traffic reduction.

“They claim a reduction of vehicle trips by at least 17 percent,” Del Vecchio said. “Instead of a thousand trips a week from the port facility on the island, they claim a 60-unit condo will generate far less. This is not to be believed. The developer’s traffic consultant only used the standards for a 60-unit condo. The project proposes ‘accessory uses’ as well. Even without a conditional use permit, the condo would be allowed a destination restaurant accessory use up to 299 seats. More with a conditional use approval. Just a 299-seat destination restaurant, outdoor bar, rooftop club, etc., could generate in one 24-hour period the amount of truck traffic generated by the port facility in an entire week. The developer’s four other condo projects in Miami have restaurants, clubs, rooftop pool decks and bars, etc. This site is a magnet for this type of use.”

However, Kasdin said there is no restaurant currently in the plans and that “accessory uses” such as clubs and multiple businesses runs contrary to the type of residences being developed.

“If [one] reads our letter to the City, it discusses an approximately 60-unit residential building and boat slips,” Kasdin said. “The developer doesn’t intend to have anything other than that. People don’t want to pay for a building like this and then have to live next door to nightclubs. It’s also a remote destination. Obviously, we would agree to things like that.”

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Facilities for residents might include such things as a gym, snack bars and pools and perhaps a small restaurant for residents – but there has been no discussion of additional restaurants, bars or clubs. No such suggestive language appears in documents submitted to the City.

Furthermore, Kasdin said there is no comparison between this proposed project and others constructed by the developer.

While Del Vecchio has referred to the development process as classic “bait and switch,” Kasdin said response from the City has been upbeat.

“We’ve received very positive responses from the City,” he said. “They want a new facility with 140-plus extra parking spaces and the City will make about $2 million in additional taxes.”

Kasdin said the next step in the process is to further refine the development proposal, meet with neighborhood groups and the Coast Guard – and then go back to the city commission.

“The reaction from most people has been good and they don’t seem to have a problem with it,” Kasdin said.

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