Developer told to downsize plans for Morningside project
By Deserae del Campo
The battle between Morningside residents and developers over a Class II building permit ended last week with developers forced to scale down plans for a multifloor office and residential building.
For two years, Morningside Development LLC has fought for a permit to construct a 92-foot high, 105-unit residential building at 5301-5501 Biscayne Blvd.
The Morningside Civic Association filed an appeal seeking denial of the permit, arguing that two towers next to single-family homes along Biscayne Boulevard would not bein character for the neighborhood.
City commissioners last week declined to grant the appeal by Morningside residents but asked developers to scale the project down to 35 feet high.
"I'm going to choose modifying or amending the actions of the zoning board because it is crystal-clear that the developer has a right to build his project," Commissioner Johnny Winton said in the meeting devoted to planning and zoning matters.
In October 2004, the city's planning department granted a permit to Morningside Development for a 92-foot building that would include 11,994 square feet of office space on the first two floors of two condo towers and 211 parking spaces.
The city's zoning board also approved the permit.
In December 2004, the zoning board voted 7-1 to deny the appeal filed by the civic group.
Three months later, Miami commissioners voted to deny the building permit and grant the appeal. Developers returned to city hall in October after the 11th Circuit Court quashed the commission's denial.
At a planning and zoning hearing in January, city commissioners sent the issue back to the zoning board for modifications to its December 2004 decision denying the appeal. Morningside residents once again lost the battle with the zoning board when the board voted 6-2 to deny the appeal and grant the permit.
The final decision came last week on a 5-0 vote by city commissioners last week to order a scaling-down of plans.
City attorney Jorge L. Fernandez said that based on the circuit court ruling, commissioners must decide the issue based on evidence considered during the zoning board meeting. Further, Mr. Fernandez said, commissioners were compelled to decide whether the zoning board afforded everyone an opportunity to speak in front of the zoning board, the zoning board made its decision on substantial evidence and the zoning board applied correct law.
"First, you can affirm the decision of the zoning board, you may reverse the decision of the zoning board or you may modify the action of the zoning board," Mr. Fernandez said.
Mr. Winton said the board followed due process. "Yet the zoning board did not apply correct law under the design-review criteria because this building of considerable height will be built literally against the line of R-1 single-family residential homes. These are real homes with real people, and I would suggest that the zoning board did not respond to the neighborhood context."
Morningside resident Elvis Cruz said city commissioners were justified in making last week's decision. "The commission's ruling is consistent with the five different pieces of neutral, third-party substantial competent evidence we found that specify 30 to 35 feet as the proper scale for buildings on a commercial corridor outside downtown," he said. "Tall buildings belong downtown, where we taxpayers have spent billions of dollars building the infrastructure for high-rise living."
Evan Goldenberg, attorney representing Morningside Development, argued that commissioners should have conducted last week's hearing as an appellate court and not second-guessed the evidence heard before the zoning board. "The commissioners' role was to review the zoning board's decision, but they decided not to and voted to change it."
Mr. Goldenberg said the developer could return to court to appeal the city commission's ruling, but "I don't make the decisions - my clients do."