Upper Eastside residents seek moratorium on high-rise projects
By Marilyn Bowden
Residents of Miami's Upper Eastside neighborhood are asking city commissioners to approve a temporary hold on high-rise construction projects along Biscayne Boulevard until consensus on new building guidelines can be reached.
The commission is to vote today (3/11) on the second reading of an ordinance that would establish a 90-day moratorium on the acceptance of new buildings in excess of 85 feet for commercial uses or 95 feet for residential between 36th and 87th streets. Also on the agenda is a first reading of a related ordinance reducing the height limit to 45 feet.
Although the request for a moratorium passed on first reading during the Feb. 26 commission meeting, the guidelines did not pass, said Patrick Range, an assistant to Commissioner Johnny Winton, who sponsored the legislation.
"We don't think anyone was satisfied with what has been proposed so far," Mr. Range said. "Commissioner Winton said he thought some ideas were put forth during the public hearing that warrant more investigation. We are in the process of putting together a working committee to take a look at the guidelines as they exist."
Several Upper Eastside neighborhoods - including Bay Point, Bayside, Belle Meade, Morningside, Palm Grove and Shorecrest - are seeking development restrictions, but not all are in accord as to what they should be.
Last month, the city's Planning Advisory Board voted 8-0 to approve the height restrictions, and some community leaders are behind that.
"City zoning is archaic on the boulevard. It permits 21-story buildings," said Bob Flanders, vice president of the Upper Eastside Miami Council and a Palm Bay resident since 1981. "If the city votes to lower it to eight or nine stories, that will be a giant step toward longlasting developer guidelines."
Bill Hopper, president of the Morningside Civic Association, said his group would prefer new design guidelines conforming to the proposals of a design charrette held a year ago by the city and local residents, which recommended a height restriction of 40-45 feet.
"We are supporting the recommendation of the Planning Advisory Board," Mr. Hopper said, "because we feel that 85 feet and 95 feet are better than what would be permitted now. But it's obviously not our best choice."
One reason many residents support the compromise is a fear that setting a lower ceiling would result in bulkier buildings, effectively doing away with setbacks as developers sought to achieve a maximum floor-area ratio (FAR) by spreading horizontally rather than vertically.
Others say anything less is unrealistic in today's market.
"Our position is that a limit of 40 feet would be shooting ourselves in the foot," said Patrick Whiteside, president of the newly formed Biscayne Corridor Chamber of Commerce. "Someone who has paid a lot of money for land has to put it to the highest and best use. The 85-95 proposal is a much better compromise."
Mr. Whiteside said he favors a moratorium "as long as we take this time to study what would be appropriate. But if it's just stalling the inevitable, it's not a good idea."
Lucia Dougherty, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig who represents several developers who have high-rise projects approved or under way on the Upper Eastside, said the issue is a policy matter between the city and its residents but developers who are already in the development process should be allowed to proceed.
"When someone buys a piece of property," she said, "it's only fair that they know what the rules are, and both the city and the client should abide by them. If the city wants to change the rules, they should apply to the next person, not those already there."