With a vote of 6-1, the only board member against the project was Henry Stolar, who wanted the vote postponed so more studies could be done on traffic patterns and other issues.
“I can’t imagine a better case for doing the right thing than giving this another month, otherwise we are in a position of just getting this done. I do not like haste in deciding something that has taken 7 months while a political process takes its course.” Stolar said
Days before the meeting, Belle Isle Residents Association President, Scott Diffenderfer sent a letter to Planning Board members, asking them to consider delineating the area as a Green Space for the community to use, rather than sell it to developer Finvarb. The purchase of the Housing Authority land is contingent on city approval of the hotel.
He then took the request to the streets, rallying residents to get involved. Several homeowners association’s including The Belle Isle Residents Association, the West Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Association, the Venetian Island Homeowner Association, Sunset Island homeowners and the Sunset Island 3 and 4 homeowners group took to social media and blogs to rally their members. Members were asked to send letters to the planning board and to Commissioners as well as wear red shirts to the meeting.
“Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods need to write to the Planning Board Members and City Commissioners,” Diffenderfer wrote. “Please circulate the attached “Green Spaces-Not Traffic” document to the residents you represent and ask those who wish to support this position to do so now before the April 30 Planning Board meeting.”
The proposed hotel was designed by Architect Kobi Karp and as a 116-room, five-story building set on a tiny lot. The hotel will include a restaurant, a small conference room and a rooftop pool. Unlike most South Beach hotels, this pool would not have a bar and the hotel developer has guaranteed no rooftop parties.
During the Tuesday evening meeting concerns were raised that the hotel would add to traffic issues on 17th Street between Alton Road and Belle Isle. Finvarb brought in traffic planner Richard Garcia to do an impact study on the area. His study showed that the projected hotel would create less than half the traffic of any other business that could be built on the property, like a pharmacy or a dry cleaner. He also stated that 5-6pm would be the busiest hour for traffic. The property is surrounded by 17th Street, the Collins Canal, the path of the planned West Avenue Bridge and a parking lot of Boston Market and other buildings on the corner of 17th and Alton Rd.
But all this was not enough to sway the board. Board chairman Charles Urstadt felt the project was a good one, therefore making the decision very difficult. He also felt the traffic concerns were legitimate.
“We are here to balance the greater good to the public with the rights of the property owner.” he said. “We can’t force this to become a park, we have certain limits on what we can do.”
The developer did not get off unscathed however, he had to commit to a few concessions which included a narrow median on 17th Street to not allow left turns into the property. They also had to agree to four valet parkers during peak hours to keep traffic flowing at the hotel entrance.
Developer Ron Finvarb summed up his victory, “This will be a Residence Inn by Marriott. It must adhere to very high standards. It will not have any accessory uses that will create additional impact or noise.”
“The hotel will only benefit the neighborhood. This will not be a party hotel. It will be a state of the art hotel with great design and service.” he said.