HOME » Press Room » Tuesday, June 06, 2006
 News Article:  Urban Development


After more than a year of legal challenges and contentious public hearings, Miami city commissioners have settled a pair of high-profile high-rise battles on Biscayne Boulevard: Score it one for developers, one for residents.

But the dust-ups over building heights seem far from over along the rapidly resuscitating upper Biscayne corridor. Residents of its gentrifying neighborhoods have clashed with developers who want to build multistory towers -- buildings now allowed under antiquated rules city leaders are about to scrap.

The developers of Kubik, the edgy 14-story condo-and-retail complex on the boulevard's west side, are set to begin building after the commission gave the project the green light -- for the second time -- by unanimously rejecting an appeal by the Morningside Civic Association.

Morningside residents won an unexpected victory on another project, however, when Commissioner Johnny Winton, who represents the district, persuaded his colleagues to shrink a pair of proposed 10-story towers abutting the historic neighborhood down to 35 feet.

Looming now are two major initiatives that could affect the area's landscape for years -- a proposed Miami Modern, or MiMo, historic district on the boulevard, and the Miami 21 zoning overhaul.

The MiMo district would protect what proponents say is the largest collection of funky, neon-lit 1950s motels in South Florida, as well as older Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco buildings, from 50th Street north to the Little River.

Some property owners fear the MiMo district -- up for historic preservation board approval on Tuesday -- could in combination with Miami 21 penalize them by protecting small existing buildings and reducing the allowable height and bulk of new construction.

The proposed Miami 21 zoning map for the boulevard would generally restrict new building heights to three to five stories, lower than the 120-foot top now permitted.

The Miami 21 map for surrounding areas is also prompting concern from some.

It would densify certain locales -- including the intersection of Biscayne and 79th Street and the low-scale Design District west of Biscayne, which could see buildings as tall as 36 stories in some areas, according to neighborhood activists.

Design District-area residents fear Miami 21, which they hoped would restrict instrusive development, may actually spur more.

''The Design District has such a funky feel, and to destroy that by building a lot of boxy, glass high-rises would be a shame,'' said Brenda Kuhns Neuman, a board member of the adjacent Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association.

Few of the high-rise battles along Biscayne have been as contentious as that over Kubik, which has spanned more than 50 hearings and neighborhood meetings and multiple redesigns.

Commissioners and some residents embraced the project, which has a sleek modern design to fit with neighboring MiMo buildings, and would incorporate and renovate the existing Andiamo pizza store, regarded as a MiMo gem.

The Morningside association sued, saying Kubik is out of scale with nearby historic homes. A court overturned the commission's approval, and the association rejected a developers' offer of $500,000 to drop the challenge.

In a May 25 rehearing, though, Kubik was unanimously approved after Winton argued it fit the Boulevard's MiMo architecture and noted most of the single-family homes sit well away from it. The association will not appeal, but some homeowners said they may individually.

''We feel like we've won,'' said Paul Murphy, project co-developer, contending legal grounds for an appeal now are few. ``There are only a handful of people who are vocal and oppose the project.''

The commission decided differently on a pair of 10-story towers at 5301 and 5501 Biscayne. While the towers complied with existing zoning, Winton and opponents noted they would result in 40-foot blank garage walls just feet from Morningside back yards. The commission unanimously approved the condos, but at no more than 35 feet in height.

An attorney for the developers said they will appeal.

One thing is clear: Miami 21 and the MiMo district would likely bar another Kubik.

Both sets of rules would permit property owners along the boulevard to make additions and renovations as well as construct entirely new buildings on vacant lots. But new structures would have to adhere to new height limits and respect the boulevard's low-scale look and feel.

Those new rules, supporters say, would encourage new investment in the boulevard while barring outscaled development.

''There will be cohesion, there will be stability,'' said Morningside activist Elvis Cruz. ``I will know that if I fix up this building, it won't be marginalized by someone doing something inappropriate next door.''

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