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MAYOR: A 50-STORY PROJECT IS NOT LIKELY ON ALTON ROAD.

Despite media reports to the contrary – reports that allegedly reflect the language in a developer’s press releases – a 50-story development isn’t coming to the corner of Alton Road and Fifth Street anytime soon.

“The item will not be on the agenda to hear in April, it’s been taken off the agenda, it’s dead,” said Mayor Philip Levine. “We can’t waste staff time on things that aren’t legal. It’s somewhat important to follow the City Charter. And [the proposed development] is about as permitted by the Charter as if we wanted to drain Biscayne Bay to build a new Dolphins Stadium.”

At issue is a proposed development, pairing Crescent Heights with the Related Group, and that would tower over the MacArthur Causeway entrance to Miami Beach at 50 stories tall. An elaborate story detailing a six-story waterfall, public parks and $2 million units appeared in a March 18 article in the Miami Herald. The Miami daily quotes officials from both Crescent Heights and the Related Group referring to the potential project as “iconic” and similar flowery language, and furthermore the piece asserts that the project would require re-zoning by the City of Miami Beach, a new ordinance and at least two votes of the Miami Beach City Commission. Development rights for the entire parcel would have to be consolidated into the southwest corner of the property, according to Crescent Heights managing principal Russell Galbut, as quoted in the Herald story.

There are just a couple of problems with the issue as previously reported. It would take more than a new ordinance, some zoning tweaks and a handful of commission votes. According to both the mayor and a legal opinion presented to the mayor and commission from City Attorney Jose Smith last week, it would take a public referendum. Referenda on massive developments in Miami Beach historically do not go well for the developer.

“You would think the media would at least look and see what the zoning is there and glance at the City Charter before, unfortunately, regurgitating a press release,” Levine said.

Smith’s memo was hardly vague. Backed by the language in the City Charter and legal precedent, Smith wrote “…it is my opinion that the Charter will subject said application to voter approval if it seeks to increase existing floor area ratio.”

Levine was quick to respond to the story, which set off a firestorm of complaints around the community, after its publication. The mayor sent an e-blast of the Herald story, only this version with his quotes included, Tuesday night after the story ran.

“Our zoning regulations only allow for buildings of 7 stories or less at that location,” Levine wrote. “With only a three-dimensional model, no proposed zoning ordinance, or building schematics presented to the City, this proposal is very premature and I do not believe that the City Commission would act on this radical zoning change hastily without considerable and extensive input from Miami Beach residents.  Moreover, I am not optimistic that Beach residents would be in favor of such a zoning change as presented. Lastly, we must take a holistic view of Alton Road by promoting responsible development and avoid unnecessary spot zoning.”

In the printed article and subsequently, Levine has not blasted the project’s specifics – just the absurdity of it being possible or even conceivable without public input. He said he couldn’t even form an opinion on the project because it simply isn’t legal as presented and under the City Charter.

“We have a process and unfortunately, Crescent Heights decided not to follow that process,” Levine said. “Why did this suddenly become a big story without [media] researching the City Charter.”

Previously, the City had given Crescent Heights approval to a lower-density development on the parcel formerly occupied by South Shore Hospital – a site that many neighbors see as blighted, but also not necessarily one they want to see developed into what could have ended up being the tallest building on Miami Beach.

However, the Herald’s Miami Beach reporting has long been considered erratic by some local readers and activists – and to Levine. An earlier article following the resignation of Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez referred to the move as catching the City flat-footed – despite the fact that the same paper had reported on a top-to-bottom audit of the department underway and also that Martinez was applying for another position in South Florida. Some activists complained last year that parties affiliated with one of the development groups then vying to redevelop the Miami Beach Convention Center were manipulating the newspaper’s reporting.

Similar complaints date back almost two decades at least, to when the Herald’s coverage opposed the populist and highly successful Save Miami Beach referendum.

Some residents said that they didn’t necessarily have any problem or even with its scope. Instead, some said they were alarmed with the way it was presented in the press as being “a hop, skip and jump” from becoming reality when few knew about it just weeks ago, said M.J. Suarez, who lives a few blocks away. “Maybe it would be very cool but something of that [scope] seems like it should be discussed by the entire city,” added Suarez.

Levine was adamant that the project simply isn’t legal. Smith officially asserted that the public would have to vote as part of what would surely be an elaborate process.

The mayor said he didn’t understand the motivation for coverage of something as likely, legally speaking, as a new Dolphins Stadium under the MacArthur Causeway.

Now, whether or not the project might one day become a reality, either as presented or in another form, remains to be seen. However, the project is nowhere in the City’s official process, according to Acting Planning Director Thomas Mooney.

“Technically, it’s nowhere,” Mooney said. “As of now, there have been no instructions from the city commission for an ordinance to accommodate that type of project.”

Mooney said there is no action currently in the pipeline for the project, and that any such action would have to emanate from the city commission.

About Michael W Sasser

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