Even though the idea was initially proposed almost five years ago, the Miami Beach City Commission could approve a historic zoning overlay along portions of Alton Road with a single commission vote when the item is taken up by that body in June.
“Because of the nature of the District, it only requires only one public hearing,” said acting City of Miami Beach planning director Richard Lorber.
The plan calls for the overlay to affect the east side of Alton Road between 6th and 11th streets, 14th and 15th streets and the stretch from 17th Street to the Collins Canal.
Lorber said the ordinance would push development density “further to the Alton Road side and limit rear height,” addressing concerns of property owners west of Alton Road. “I guess the [overlay] was proposed because of the fear of properties on the west side being overshadowed,” Lorber said.
The overlay would also restrict the size and type of development, limit uses of space and require a conditional use permit by businesses of 10,000 square feet or greater.
“The purpose is to protect properties with property lines abutting commercial properties on Alton Road,” Lorber explained. “Lenox Avenue, for example, and other properties west of Alton are lower density.”
Jeff Donnelly, a member of the Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association and longtime preservationist, said that the plan dates back to a 2008 proposal by the Association to extend the Flamingo Park Historic District to Alton Road.
“This has been an interest of the Association for a number of years and it goes back to the goal of expanding the District,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly said that the Association identified the expansion of the historic district, which was eventually approved, as a goal in the wake of a near-development that would have been out of sync with the rest of the district. “There were development plans heard by the Design Review Board and approved that then went to the city commission, which then sent the plans back to DRB because the commission didn’t think the development appropriate,” he recalled.
As a result of that incident, the Association pushed for the District expansion – with the support of the Miami Design Preservation League and other preservation entities – because, “It seemed like the best way to get a handle on the situation,” Donnelly said.
“Then came the question of how we fit zoning already in place on the east side of Alton Road with the reality of the limits of the historic district,” Donnelly continued.
The overlay does not establish the same development limits on the affected areas as are in place elsewhere throughout the district. Instead, Donnelly said, it will help guide more compatible development. The Neighborhood Association worked with city officials to create a roadmap to achieve that compatibility.
“Any new construction would have to go through the Historic Preservation Board and the Association [favors that to] going to the Design Review Board,” Donnelly said.
A companion item related to parking in the area was approved on first reading and will receive its second reading in June as well. If approved, developments meeting certain criteria would be required to provide fewer parking spaces than currently required.
“The two items were always discussed together, but they are separate items and have to be voted on separately,” Lorber said.
Lorber said that the commission could approve one of the items and vote down the other, but that the items have consistently been linked.
“The Flamingo Park Neighborhood Association’s position is that the items should go together,” Donnelly said.
However, the specter of the commission acting unexpectedly is something that could be of concern to residents.
“So, the City could decide against [the proposed zoning overlay] but then vote to reduce parking requirements for development? That wouldn’t be good,” said resident Rick Ramirez.
But one source close to the process, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that is an unlikely scenario given how long the overlay has been in the works and the possible ramifications from a voting base already dubious of “developer giveaways.”
“It is an election year,” the source said.
Acrimony over the possible overlay appears relatively minimal.
“One or two property owners have expressed their opposition because they aren’t happy with the overlay,” Lorber said. “Some components do reduce development rights and some people don’t like that.”
One party likely affected by the overlay is the developer of the former South Shore Hospital site, Crescent Heights. Numerous attempts to reach representatives of the developers were unsuccessful prior to press time.
However, according to an article in the Miami Herald, the developer covets the advantages to its mixed-use development that the parking proposal would provide.
Several Miami Beach City Commissioners did not respond to requests for comment on the potential impact of the overlay.
Meanwhile, all might be a done deal in a month.
“Theoretically both could pass in June,” Lorber said.