A controversial plan for the expansion of a synagogue affiliated school into a home in a single family residential neighborhood was continued until the March meeting, after an agreement between counsel for both the synagogue/school and for a throng of homeowners opposed to commercial operations in the previously sacrosanct and historic single family Palm View community.
Both parties agreed after the Cuban Hebrew Congregation of Miami - Temple Beth Shmuel hired new attorney Michael Larkin to represent it in the zoning issue. Activist resident’s attorney Kent Harrison Robbins confirmed the continuation and said he agreed because of the change of counsel – and also a possible resolution, although he is dubious of the latter.
“I agreed with Larkin to have a community meeting, but I don’t really expect anything to be resolved,” Robbins told SunPost.
If eventually approved, the zoning language would extend a multi-family class of zoning to include 1729 Lenox Avenue, a property owned by Beth Shmuel and which has been previously categorized in the single family zoning designation. If eventually recommended by the board, and then adopted by the city commission – after likely stops before the Design Review Board and Historic Preservation Board – the zoning change would then permit Beth Shmuel to seek a conditional use permit for expanded use of the property as part of a Montessori School component of the shul. Both sides agree the use is to expand the potential student base of the school.
Temple President Becky Cohen has said the school expansion is necessary to continue to be a community asset.
“The reason we’re doing it is that the house is unused and we need people to sign up and we want to continue to serve the entire community and those people who want the education we have to offer for their children,” Cohen said last week, before the meeting.
Both supporters of the plan and those who oppose it cite numerous community members aligned with them. The process has been going on for approximately two years – and opposition has been vocal ever since. In 2002, the City approved limited use of the property for use as part of the school.
Robbins has argued that the encroachment of a commercial operation into a single family neighborhood sets precedent for other nearby properties to also request zoning changes to introduce yet more commercial business in the historic neighborhood. He says that there has not been commercial encroachment into residential neighborhoods in Miami Beach since the 1960s.
“To open the door on single family districts is just a bad idea,” Robbins said this week.
Last week, Acting Planning Director Thomas Mooney did agree that precedent was a definite risk and also that such zoning changes are uncommon.
“Any time you change the boundaries of the zoning map, which is what the request before us is, there is always potential to set precedent that others might latch onto for their purposes,” Mooney said. “That’s always a concern.
“It’s not common to see single family rezoned to multi-family,” he added.
Staff Weighs In
A February 25th staff report from Mooney to the Planning Board was hardly an endorsement for the proposed extension of a multi-family zoning designation into the currently single family home zoned neighborhood.
The report stated that of 13 review criteria considerations, the proposal was not consistent in nine, partially consistent in three and consistent in just one category – that the proposed change would not substantially reduce light and air to the area. Otherwise, the report was not generally supportive of the change, which Mooney previously referred to as unusual.
Of the criteria the proposal didn’t meet in the staff report, the most impactful might well be the first – whether or not the proposed change was consistent and compatible with the comprehensive plan and with and any applicable neighborhood or redevelopment plans.
In response, Mooney asserted the proposal not consistent. “The proposed future land use map change and zoning map change would only be consistent if the proposed amendment of the Comprehensive Plan is approved,” according to Mooney. “Additionally, the property is located within the Palm View Local Historic District, which was established in 1999, with the purpose of protecting and preserving the district’s stock of ‘contributing’ buildings, which includes the subject property, while also allowing for appropriate infill development to occur. Additionally, the proposed re-zoning would modify the symmetrical boundaries of the RS zoned lots.”
The rest of the report is no more supportive of the zoning changed considered unusual both by the city administration and by opponents of the change.
However, in a previous interview, Mooney asserted that the entire item was advanced with the City of Miami Beach as applicant on official documents based on support of the city commission, meaning politics might play a role in any eventual outcome. Typically, private parties utilizing the city application process follows engendering support from the commission, Mooney has said.
The item returns for consideration in March.