It seems that the Miami Design Preservation League has always been one beat behind in the ongoing saga of The Boob God, his starlet Miami Housewife and 42 Star Island.
Even with a petition of over 400 signatures, a local bulldog attorney and the muscle of Art Deco behind them, MDPL lost the fight Tuesday to preserve a faded, Walter Degarmo-designed, mansion on Star Island.
The Miami Design Review Board granted Lisa and Leonard Hochstein the right to bulldoze the 1928 mansion and erect in it’s place their dream home, a new Kobi Karp designed mansion complete with ionic columns, parapets, balustrades and garland moldings.
Why was MDPL a beat behind? Basically through a series of snafu’s and circumstance. The first was a technical one, with city staffers failing to file necessary preliminary paperwork for historic designation before the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board meeting. Miami Beach’s preservation director, William Cary, decide to wait until the board meeting to ask board members whether they intended to file the preliminary report. Snafu number two was that even had the paperwork been prepared on time, the board would have been unable to take binding action because, according to the city, The Miami Herald failed to publish an advertisement purchased by the city to notify the public of the meeting. Actions taken at a meeting that was not properly advertised are null and void.
Despite all of this, the board did in fact decide to go for historic designation, but would only be able to move on it at their next meeting in April.
This put the ball back in play for the Hochsteins who promptly went into PR mode and invited local media to tour the crumbling mansion hoping to sway public and media opinion.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, lets go back to the beginning of this saga to last year, when the Hochsteins bought 42 Star Island under foreclosure for $7.6 million. They promptly hired Karp and then submitted his plans to the Miami Beach Design Review Board for approval catching the attention of a member of the MDPL who filed a request to designate the house as historic to help protect the house from demolition.
As usual as it is for MDPL to step in to save an Art Deco building, it is very unusual that they are fighting to preserve a private home even though they have been talking about doing so for years. Tax incentives put in place in 2002 meant to encourage homeowners to ask for historic designation and preserve their houses are no longer effective. In recent years, Miami Beach has attracted wealthy home owners who are wanting to build huge houses. But, in this case, preservation league members felt compelled to stop the expected demolition.
“We have reached a tipping point on Miami Beach where we are losing entirely too many pre-1942 single-family homes,” said Cary. “It appears it could begin to have a dramatic impact in changing the character of Miami Beach’s residential areas.”
In the meantime, this incident has set Miami Beach City Commissioners to debate whether new rules should be put in place to prohibit involuntary designations on single-family homes or to strengthen historic preservation laws and allow residential historic districts. According to the Planning Department, 24 Miami Beach homes were totally demolished in 2012 compared to 13 from 2007 to 2011. Currently, the Design Review Board can’t block a permit to demolish a home unless it has been declared historic; it can only approve the design.
Preservationists fired off another shot by hiring local attorney Kent Harrison Robbins to represent them. Structural engineer Herbert Gopman was also brought in to determine if the structural integrity of the house at 24 Star Island is in fact compromised.
Back to last Tuesday’s meeting, where the Hochsteins brought in the big guns to seal the deal. It also did not hurt that they had Cary on their side, who has had mixed feelings on the designation since this whole saga started. Even though he acknowledged that the home met the criteria, he felt it was ethically unfair that none of this was done until after the Hochsteins submitted the plans for their new home.
“The couple has already spent time and money drawing up plans and going through the application process,” he said. “I think it’s a bad precedent to set.”
Things kicked off right away with Attorney Kent Harrison Robbins asking for a continuance because he believed that detailed plans, elevations of existing buildings, full color photos of each building were required but not provided. Cary, responded with even though the photos/elevations are recommended they are not required to be included in applications. He was denied and the hearing began with Cary taking the floor to make the following points: He pointed out that the initial design of the new mansion was overly ornate, but the new plans have been toned down. He mentioned his staff’s chagrin over the structural report submitted by the Hochstein’s and that they were not thoroughly convinced in the claim that the house was not structurally sound. Cary ended saying that his department was
Next up was architect Kobe Karp who defended his design as original and not a copy of a Beverly Hills mansion as accused by preservationists.
“This is a classical design that relies on symmetry.” he said “This house is very much in context.”
Engineer, Reymundo J. Miranda spoke next about his report that found high chloride levels in the concrete that he says affects the structural integrity of the home. He went on to say that you would have to strip the home down to the steel bars, at which point it woud be replicating the home instead of preserving it.??”What you had was a patch and paint,” he said, “There are numerous crafts throughout the original home, with the roof trusses eaten away, maybe by termites and it’s original roof .”
?He wet onto say that the plumbing works at 10% capacity, the retrofitted AC was not permitted with the AC problems probably causing mold issues. The house has cloth wiring and that all the basic systems of the home, are virtually unusable. He also mentioned that no permits were pulled for any electrical or plumbing work in the house since the ’70′s.
Miranda also said that even though the accuracy of his report has been questioned by preservationists and beach city staff, the report was reviewed by a structural engineer who works in the City of Surfside. ??Next up were attorneys for both sides who argued over whether MDPL had the right to oppose the Hochsteins plans because a peron had to be personally impacted by a zoning decision to legally oppose it. Also whether MDPL, who is not an applicant, should get as much time as the Hochsteins to present.
This led to Herb Gopman, the structural engineer brought in by the preservationists taking the floor. He fired a big shot by calling the Hochstein’s engineering plan “useless.” and that he totally disagreed with the Hochstein’s structural report.??”I would say the building is still structurally sound,” Gopman said. “It is very obvious that the home can be restored.”??H went onto say that core tests and compressive strength tests were needed to determine stability of the house and that the amount of chloride in the home had nothing to do with its strength.??Next came a report from MDPL preservationist Daniel Ciraldo, who gave a powerpoint presentation on the history of the 88 year-old house that the History Miami museum has original drawings of on file.??Next up was the Hochsteins attorney, Michael Larkin, who once again issued a challenge for both Ciraldo and preservationist Mike Kinerk to designate their own historic homes.
“Rather than making an example of a family like the Hochsteins, you should lead by example.” Larkin said.
William Cary took the floor once again. I don’t think that any of us would want to be in Mr. Hochstein’s situation,” Cary says on the timing of the historic designation. “The right thing to do is to just let the DRB go ahead and make their decision.”
Board member Carol Housen says it’s not up to the board to decide historic status. SHe told preservationists to change the process so that the board can maybe protect what homes that are left. She went onto says she was comfortable with the engineering report submitted by Hochsteins.
On that note, the motion was announced, seconded and then ultimately passed, but not before Carey got the Hochsteins to agree to preserve two historic ceilings from the existing house as well as a bronze plaque and photos of the old house to be placed in front of the new home. The Hochsteins also agreed to photographically document the current home before tearing it down.
And as for the folks at MDPL. They have not accepted defeat and have vowed to keep fighting for the mansion to be restored rather than destroyed.
Robbins told the Miami Herald that the MDPL would continue with the historic designation process with the hope that they can get the Hochsteins to have a change of heart.
“There’s always hope, until the bulldozer knocks down this building,” Robbins said.