Historic church to become grocery
Written by John Charles Robbins on October 6, 2015
An historic Miami church built in 1926 in neoclassical design could end up with a fresh produce aisle and a deli counter under a plan to redevelop the site with a companion residential tower.
Fifteen 1836 Biscayne LLC, owner of the property, gained approval of city review boards in September to proceed with its plan to reuse the First Church of Christ Scientist for commercial uses, topped by a large garage next door to a brand new 38-story residential tower.
The city’s Historic & Environmental Preservation Board in September granted a request from the developer for local historic designation of the church as an individual historic site within the city as part of a new development project at 1836 Biscayne Blvd.
And at its September meeting, the city’s Urban Development Review Board recommended approval of the redevelopment plan.
The church is on the southwest corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 19th Street.
Plan calls for maintaining the church structure and topping it with a multi-layered garage large enough to hold about 637 cars.
That new structure would be attached to a 38-story tower with 352 “residential or condo” units, according to Haven Peaden, an architect with ADD Inc. – Stantec.
The project would have more than 20,000 square feet of ground level retail space.
The project went before the preservation board this spring and the board directed the applicant to find ways to reduce the “disproportional massing of the proposed parking garage” on the existing National Register-listed historic structure.
The First Church of Christ Scientist was designed in 1925 by architect August Geiger. C.A. Taylor was the builder.
A staff review of the site stated, “The structure is an outstanding example of Neoclassical Revival architecture style; its structural system is comprised of terracotta tile and poured concrete, the exterior walls are clad in Indiana limestone, with the foundation and entrance steps constructed of Mt. Airy granite.”
The church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
The staff review also stated: “The First Church of Christ, Scientist has significance as it relates to the historic heritage of Miami and possesses integrity of setting, materials, feeling, design, and location.” It said the property is eligible for designation as a historic site under criteria set in the city code.
Attorney Ryan Bailine, representing Fifteen 1836 Biscayne LLC before the design board Sept. 16, called the project a “historic intervention with a residential component.”
Mr. Bailine said the plans presented to the design board represented 15 months of work by the architects.
Design board member Jesus A. Permuy congratulated the developer and designers for saving “such an amazing building.” He called the church grand and classic.
He was, however, critical of the large parking structure above the church, saying he didn’t see much of a connection with the rest of the project.
Mr. Permuy described it as “parking in the air,” and while he said he understands the need for parking, “it could have been much better.”
Ms. Peaden said the look of the parking structure was “unadorned by design,” so as not to draw attention away from the historic church.
When design board members began to suggest changes to the plan, Mr. Bailine said they were somewhat limited in what could be done because the specific site plan was approved at a public hearing before the preservation board.
Design board member Anthony E. Tzamtzis also expressed disfavor for the proposed elevated garage, referring to it as “that box of parking.”
The parking structure is 11 levels – 104 feet in height.
“It’s too plain,” Mr. Tzamtzis said.
“The [preservation] board intentionally asked us to make it plain,” Ms. Peaden responded.
Design board member Dean B. Lewis, serving as chair of the September meeting, said the design board has to “respect the will” of the preservation board.
The preservation board also approved a resolution for a special certificate of appropriateness for restoration, new construction and several waivers. This will allow for restoration and new construction.
The waivers include a 20% reduction in the ground level setback along Northeast Second Court, from 10 feet to 8; a 20% reduction in the setback above the eighth floor along Northeast Second Court, from 20 feet to 16; to allow an increase in the podium height from 123 feet to 168 feet, 2 inches; to allow trucks serving the development to back into the loading area from Northeast Second Court, at 256 NE 19th St. and 1836 Biscayne Blvd.
Asked about the interior of the historic church, Ms. Peaden said it could be a grocer or “another retailer.”