Miami Beach’s Design Review Board ended more than a year of wrangling with the owners of the Belle Isle apartment complex at 31 Venetian Way by approving plans for a new rental project on the site — but not the way the developer wanted it.
The board voted 4-1 to back a city design staff recommendation that one of the two five-story buildings proposed for the site be scaled back by one floor. During more than an hour of discussion at Miami Beach City Hall, project attorney Neisen Kasdin and architect Luis Revuelta said the owner of the project would agree to almost any change in the plan design — except for eliminating one floor from the eastern-most building in the project.
Plans for the project have bounced between the developer, city staff and Belle Isle homeowners for more than 18 months. The developer, EuroAmerican Group, Inc., has owned the 3.5-acre property for more than 20 years, operating it most recently as Belle Isle Key Apartments, a complex that includes four, three-story apartment buildings on the northeast portion of Belle Isle facing Maurice Gibb Memorial Park and the Sunset Harbor area.
After the vote, Kasdin said he’d have to talk to EuroAmerican owner Gustavo Munoz to decide what they will do next. They could appeal the decision to the city commission, but Kasdin said he would not speculate on that possibility.
He said his client and Revuelta made myriad changes to try and win support from the Belle Isle Homeowners Association, city staff and the Design Review Board. He said several of the issues raised in arguing against the project “went beyond design into the area of personal opinion.”
The existing complex has 120 units. The proposal that went before the board Tuesday would have included 181 apartments in two five-story buildings, including a 315-space parking garage topped by two tennis courts. Eliminating the floor from the smaller of the two buildings would trim eight units from the project.
City planners have criticized the project as too big for the neighborhood, and for not providing adequate views of Biscayne Bay. Architect Revuelta has made a number of changes, including eliminating a bridge between two buildings, and widening a “view corridor” to the water.
Of the latest plans, city staff wrote: “as presently designed, the 5-story massing of the southeastern portion of the project still overwhelms the historic Venetian Causeway, which in addition to being locally designated, is listed on the National Register, and is designated as an American Scenic Highway. The elevations of the main, larger structure of the north side of the site have not been adequately detailed and developed.”
In the end, staff said the developer and architect made “very substantial progress in addressing the long standing concerns of staff and the board…” and recommended the project be approved provided the developer:
— Knock a floor off the smaller, easternmost building in the complex, limiting it to four stories instead of five.
— Build and maintain a public bay walk at least 15-feet wide along the water behind the complex.
— Receive approval from the Miami-Dade Biscayne Bay Shoreline Review committee.
After the meeting, Revuelta told Belle Isle Residents Association president Scott Diffenderfer he was “extremely disappointed” that the homeowner group didn’t express support after all the concessions that were made.
Diffenderfer, in remarks before the review board, said the developer made several changes, including widening the view corridor to the bay, “that we are very happy with,” he said.
But said Belle Isle residents still were concerned about building height, traffic impact and the ongoing problem of flooding on the island. Regarding flooding, he said “the sentiment of the neighborhood is that not one more unit should be built until that issue is addressed.”