Center for Jewish Life on Coral Way wins city OK
A project to redevelop a synagogue, early childcare school and a K-5 religious school on Southwest Third Avenue in Miami has earned a positive recommendation from a city review board.
Beth David Congregation plans to construct the Center for Jewish Life at 2625 SW Third Ave. The Urban Development Review Board recommended approval with some conditions.
Attorneys Carlos Diaz and Carlos Lago represented the owner-developer at the board meeting, joined by project architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica.
Mr. Diaz told the board the plan is for Beth David Congregation to modernize its current two-story facility, which takes up an entire block bounded by Southwest Third Avenue (Coral Way), Southwest 26th and 27th roads, and Southwest Second Avenue.
The project is to be five stories, 70 feet high, open space of 34,535 square feet, with 195 parking spaces, and room for parking 10 bicycles.
The project was not required by code to have the review board’s input, but the city’s planning director asked the board to look over the plan, in concurrence with the applicant.
Board members and city staff noted the property abuts an area of single-family homes.
Mr. Diaz offered some history of the property. Beth David, known as Miami’s Pioneer Synagogue, is Miami’s oldest Jewish congregation. It was founded in 1912, shortly after Henry Flagler extended his railroad from Palm Beach to Miami, and has been at its current Coral Way location since 1949.
Mr. Diaz said the property is about three acres and includes religious education to about 160 students kindergarten through grade five.
Mr. Diaz said the property will be developed with two connected five-story structures, with the new sanctuary facing Coral Way and the classrooms facing Southwest 26th Road.
The applicant is proposing to increase the number of students to 180 early childhood care pupils, 52 Tikvah1 students, and 348 kindergarten through fifth grade students for a total of 580.
Student pick-up and drop-off would be all internal, he said.
Mr. Fort-Brescia explained the interior location for self-contained queuing of vehicles. There will also be a shortcut for buses to come in, drop off children and leave, internalized within the site.
Mr. Fort-Brescia said the building has multiple uses, from classrooms to a synagogue, gymnasium, swimming pool, playground and sports fields.
He said the proposed facility is to include a multi-purpose space, an atrium with a cafe, a pre-function space, an early education center on the ground floor and a security office that overlooks arrivals onto the property.
The project is designed with 46 classrooms, a cafeteria and fitness areas.
The site is framed by a series of two-way streets divided by a median, and there are multi-story towers on three sides.
In a letter about the project, Mr. Diaz said the property is zoned Civic Institution (CI), and has a land use designation of Major Institutional, Public Facilities, Transportation, and Utilities. That designation specifically permits religious and educational activities.
The original complex was constructed in 1947 and has been in continual operation with various alterations over the years.
“The Applicant is proposing to modernize the existing campus to meet the congregation’s current needs and ensure its continued success,” wrote Mr. Diaz.
“This is kind of my old neighborhood,” said board Chairman Willy Bermello. “I’m glad I don’t live there today – I’d be in (here) and opposing this.”
“To have a five-story building along a single-family home area, I’d create a ruckus going to (the city) commission,” said Mr. Bermello.
“The building is a five-story wall. It is what it is … it’s a horrendous gesture to the single-family neighborhood along 26th Road … I have a big problem with the massing and impact on the neighborhood,” he said.
But Mr. Bermello did describe his appreciation for the internalized vehicle drop-off area, calling it a good design. Other board members also voiced support for the design of the internal drop-off and pick-up area.
Mr. Diaz said the facility has been in the area for decades and the congregation does “community outreach,” and did so as the plan came together for the new five-story facility.
“There is a lot of community input reflected in the project presented today,” he told the board.
“I don’t know what meetings you’ve had, and I don’t know what (the neighboring homeowners) were shown,” said Mr. Bermello. “Maybe you did everything right, and knocked on all five homes.”
He added, “There was a choice here on the massing. We’re putting a five-story building across from a single-family neighborhood … the planning director saw enough of a red flag here to say, ‘let’s have the board look at it.’”
Board member Robert Behar said he liked the project but also had concerns about the massing.
Board member Dean Lewis suggested a design change to deal with the massing.
“What if you push levels 3 to 5 further south and add garden space on level two, the roof of level two, introduce some green space,” said Mr. Lewis.
Mr. Fort-Brescia said, “I’m open minded. We can certainly study the massing.”
The board recommended approval of the project with a condition that the classroom portion be limited to two levels fronting 26th Road, with the balance of classrooms internalized over the parking deck or amenity area.