Miami Beach commissioners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on new parking rules that would reduce the number of parking spaces required for hotels in historic districts.
The proposed change, as approved by the city Planning Board, would only apply to the retention of historic buildings — with an exception specifically designed to enable the construction of a new hotel on the north side of 17th Street and West Avenue.
What’s so special about this hotel? A good question for the city commission to answer. Because the parking rules on the agenda for Wednesday seem to be written with that one project in mind.
Proposed Residence Inn site north of 17th Street
Some background: The Miami Beach Housing Authority owns the pie-shaped sliver of land south of the Collins Canal and just east of the proposed West Avenue bridge, which would extend West Avenue north across 17th Street, the canal and Dade Boulevard, linking with the Sunset Harbour neighborhood.
The Housing Authority has a contract to sell the land to the Finvarb Group — a company headed by Robert Finvarb that owns and operates a slew of Marriotts in South Florida and across the country.
Finvarb has proposed building a five-story Residence Inn by Marriott on the property. Designed by architect Kobi Karp, it would have five floors, 116 rooms and only 66 parking spaces in a mechanical garage.
The land sale is contingent on the approval of the hotel project.
And the hotel project can’t go forward without the change in the city’s parking rules.
The developers have repeatedly asked the Planning Board to defer consideration of the hotel because the proposed number of parking spaces assumes the city will lessen parking requirements.
And the parking ordinance analysis the city will vote on Wednesday actually singles out the Finvarb project to be exempted from the requirement that the reduction be “only applicable to retention of historic buildings.”
There are areas where the parking reduction won’t apply at all, because of concerns about parking shortages and traffic congestion. One is the neighborhood south of Fifth Street. Another is the West Avenue corridor, which they city contends ends at the doorstep of the Finvarb property — at West Avenue and 17th Street.
The Housing Authority/Finvarb property is across the street from the West Avenue corridor (and you could argue, that when the West Avenue bridge is built, it will be on the corridor.
Nevertheless, specific language in the staff recommendation to the city commission mentions Finvarb and this exception to the rule: the proposed hotel would get the .5 space per unit break as long as the hotel agrees it will not have a restaurant, pool, bar or special events open to the public.
The Residence Inn’s restaurant and pool will only be used by hotel guests.
The Belle Isle Residents Association, the West Avenue Corridor Neighborhood Association and and Miami Beach United have opposed the new parking rule, and the new hotel. They argue that 17th Street between Alton Road and West Avenue is one of the city’s most congested areas, and adding the hotel — in fact, creating special rules to accommodate the hotel — just makes no sense.
In a letter sent Monday to the Miami Beach mayor and commissioners, Belle Isle Residents Association President Scott Diffenderfer asked that a decision on the parking rule be deferred so the city’s Transportation and Parking Committee could review it.
Diffenderfer is a committee member, and noted that the group typically reviews ordinances that would change parking requirements.
“I have been a member for five years and I am insulted that an amendment as important and controversial as this has not been presented to us,” he wrote. “There is clearly a breakdown in the process.”
The Belle Isle residents group has been seeking a presentation from zoning lawyer Michael Larkin for months. Larkin has met with selected island residents, but not in an open meeting that anyone could attend.
“Many residents have expressed outrage that the City would even consider reducing parking requirements to allow this type of development on that tiny piece of property which is mere feet away from 17th Street and Alton Road – one of the most congested and dysfunctional intersections in our city,” Diffenderfer said in his letter to the city commission.