Design Board approves Belle Isle apartments — one floor less than developer wanted

Architect Luis Revuelta outlines details of the proposed Belle Isle apartment complex to the Miami Beach Design Review Board.

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.”

The latest design tweaks include stucco on the west building facade.


12 responses to “Design Board approves Belle Isle apartments — one floor less than developer wanted

  1. Pingback: Design Board approves Belle Isle apartments — one floor less than … | Miami Apartments

  2. Thank you Rick as always for your unbiased and accurate reporting.
    It was disappointing indeed to see an arbitrary demand and to a certain extent, arrogant and unjust , to cut down one floor from the east Building, by some members of staff and more so from neighbors whose real prime interest is to prevent development with total disregard for the rights of others.,
    Our client has endured for over 20 years a major down zoning and still has to continue to further reduce his rights even when we were not asking for any zoning variances and were providing major setbacks and amenities for the neighbors and the city to enjoy.
    The great irony in this process is that most of the opposing neighbors live in buildings substantially higher, denser and of less architectural quality than the one we are proposing.
    I do not believe that there is another profession other than maybe Actors, who has to submit itself to the subjective and arbitrary criticism from a sector of the public that has not studied or practiced architecture ever.
    The efforts made were in my opinion not recognized nor appreciated by the lack of support from the neighbors at the meeting and by the insistence of some members of the staff to cut one floor off from the east building.
    The current process is not enjoyable, some day I hope to be financially capable to decline architectural commissions in the City of Miami Beach.
    In the mean time we will continue to cater to the taste of everybody that has an opinion on how to design a building whether or not, they have the knowledge, experience, education and taste to do so.

  3. Beach Resident

    I don’t know this architect, and I’m not familiar with his dispute – but we’re all familiar with the unbelievable attitudes in Miami, and particularly on the beach. No one wins, it reduces the quality of life daily, and we’re all aware of it. I travel to California regularly, and I’m amazed at the disparity of class that exists between South Florida and most of California. We have none.

  4. Chris my apologies for calling you Rick as I was writing L was having a discussion with somebody named Rick.
    I am sorry.

  5. Belle Isle Resident

    Mr. Revuelta-

    The Belle Isle residents simply exercised their legal right to express their opinions to the Design Review Board. Just because you do not agree with those opinions does not make them “arrogant and unjust.” While it is easy for you to criticize Belle Isle residents’ knowledge of architecture, we can likewise criticize your knowledge of what it’s like to live on Belle Isle and how your client’s proposed development will impact day-to-day life on the island. And spare us your attempts to garner sympathy for your client, who always knew he would have to go through precisely this process. Similarly, I’m sure you accepted this job with eyes wide open to the Design Review Board’s process. While you have the right to be frustrated, lashing out at residents for protecting the quality of life in their neighborhood only sounds like sour grapes. If this is how you view those who have to live with the buildings you design, I too look forward to the day when you decline architectural commissions on the beach.

  6. As a carpetbagger from NY and a newly minted resident of Belle Isle Key Apts (sort of — since last October), I remain naively surprised at the unquestioning acceptance of, even advocacy for, this charming complex’s demolition and redevelopment. Sure, it’s “long in the tooth,” and its destruction and replacement is part of the normal course of things . . . but I can assure all of you that its replacement, any and all accommodations to the demands of planners, residents, architects, commissioners, etc., notwithstanding, will mark a real loss for the character of Belle Isle and, to the extent that the word applies, its “community.” Again, silly of me to even give voice such sentimental reflections, I know, but at least a modest tone of elegy seemed called for. What is to come will not mark an improvement over what’s here now, in the broadest sense, which is in no way meant as a slight to Mr. Revuelta’s efforts, or the concerns and energies of Belle Isle’s longstanding residents, this property’s owners, and other interested parties. Just a small, admittedly futile expression of a preservationist impulse, however hopeless or misguided.

  7. normal course of things?? Not always it is normal!!

  8. Belle Isle Key Resident

    My wife and I have lived in the Belle Isle Key Apartments for a year now and it has completely changed my view of Miami. Originally, I was not excited to move here. But after living here I am very, very happy. We frequent the dog park on Belle Isle and I have spoken to many kind folks in other buildings on the Isle. The people have also helped me adjust to other parts of the city where I don’t feel comfortable.

    I am not sure who created such a wonderful community here but everybody should be proud. If we have to move from Belle Isle, I will be very heartbroken. Furthermore, I believe it would be a great sorrow to disrupt a thriving, healthy and diverse community.

    In fact, instead of wasting money on a new building, why not just enhance the community by installing a community garden in the park. I am no expert on the evolution of Miami but it seems the last thing we need here is another new shiny apartment complex.

  9. Pingback: Developer wants City Commission to reconsider Belle Isle apartment project | Belle Isle Blog

  10. Pingback: Miami Beach commissioners reject Belle Isle project | Belle Isle Blog

  11. Pingback: 2010 was year of the flood, construction for Belle Isle roads, residents and condos | Belle Isle Blog

  12. Pingback: Belle Isle Key owners are planning another project | Belle Isle Blog

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