Related Group's Mercy condo project suffers second setback
By Catherine Lackner
Miami's Planning Advisory Board has handed The Related Group another setback in its quest to build 300 Grove Bay Residences, a three-tower condominium envisioned to rise from a parking lot at Mercy Hospital, on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove.
The board voted last week to recommend that the Miami City Commission deny a Major Special Use Permit and a change to the city's Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which would allow the project to go forward. The city's zoning board also had rejected a rezoning request Sept. 11.
The hospital at 3663 S. Miami Ave., built in 1950, sits across South Miami Avenue from a neighborhood of mostly single-family homes and low-rise condominiums.
Opponents say the three towers, ranging from 27 to 37 stories, would be out of scale with the area and would add density, traffic problems and noise.
"These would be the tallest buildings in this part of Coconut Grove," said resident Patrick Goggins. "They would be twice as high as any building within a one-mile radius."
Related, which has agreed to buy the land from the hospital for $96 million pending a zoning change, says the 300-unit condominium project, with prices per unit ranging from $3 million to $15 million, is the best use of the land.
To build it, the company had requested a change of zoning from government institutional to R-4, multifamily residential.
Under current zoning, a developer could build a 1 million-square-foot medical office building with no height restrictions, which Related says will bring more cars and noise into the area than the residential project would. Sister Elizabeth Worley, former chair of Mercy's board and current CEO of Catholic Hospice, said the institution needs "an infusion of cash" and the parking lot parcel had been deliberately landbanked with future development in mind.
Related said the condo project would generate $3.8 million in fees to the city and county, $2.6 million in impact fees alone. The company has also offered to fund traffic improvements on South Miami Avenue and streets leading to the site, and to provide a public walkway along Biscayne Bay, a bicycle path and parks.
But neighbors insisted that allowing the condominium would lead to more development on the Mercy campus, which enjoys highly desirable Biscayne Bay views, though developers would have to request additional land use plan changes and special permits.
They also said that the proposed project attempts to circumvent the so-called Grovenor ordinance, passed in 2004. That ordinance — passed when a former naval reserve site in the Grove was approved for condominium development for the 32-story Grovenor House — seeks to restrict major zoning changes for buildings or sites that have passed from non-profit or governmental ownership into private hands. It stipulates that those properties cannot be developed to a higher density than that of abutting neighborhoods, in this case mostly R-1, or single family residential.
"R-4 is a dangerous precedent," said planning and zoning board chair Arva Moore Parks, in voting against recommending the special use permit and land plan change. "All of Mercy could become R-4. The purpose of our comprehensive land use plan is to protect neighborhoods."
But, "I am for this project," said board member Robert A. Young, who described himself as a lifelong Coconut Grove resident. "We don't want to build just anything on that site. They've got my vote."
Mr. Young, and board members Guillermo A. Revuelta and Tamara Gort, voted to recommend that Related be allowed the changes necessary to begin the project; board members Janice Tarbert and Maria Sardina Mann voted with Ms. Parks to recommend denial.
The Miami City Commission will make the final determination at a meeting in October or November. The commission meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.