The owner of Belle Isle Key Apartments at 31 Venetian Way has sued the city of Miami Beach, challenging a Design Review Board decision limiting the height of one of two planned buildings to four floors.
The lawsuit, filed last month in District Court, is the latest twist in a design and zoning fight that now goes back two years.
Belle Isle Key Apartments is owned by Euroamerican Group, which has operated the apartment complex on the northeast corner of Belle Isle since 1980.
The existing complex includes four, three-story apartment buildings, and total of 120 units, and street level parking.
EuroAmerican, which is owned by Gustavo Munoz, has proposed building two sleek five-story buildings and a parking structure on the 3.5-acre site. It included 181 apartments in two five-story buildings, including a 315-space parking garage topped by two tennis courts.
City planners criticized the project as too big for the neighborhood, and for not providing adequate views of Biscayne Bay. Architect Luis Revuelta made a number of design changes, including eliminating a bridge between two buildings, and widening a “view corridor” to the water.
The current zoning for the property does allow buildings as high as five stories. The developer did not request any zoning changes, but still needed approval from the Design Review Board on architectural issues.
Of the last version of the 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.”
On July 6, the Design Review Board ended 18 months of conversations and negotiations on the design when they approved the project on a 4-1 vote — but only if one floor of the building closest to the bridge to Sunset Harbour is eliminated. Cutting one floor from the smaller of the two buildings would trim eight units from the project.
That was one change the developer was unwilling to make, lawyer Neisen Kasdin said. EuroAmerican appealed the decision to the city commission, which denied their appeal on Nov. 17. On Dec. 17, the suit was filed in the appellate division of Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
In its petition to the court, lawyer Kasdin argues that city zoning codes allow buildings 50 feet high; imposing the four-story limit for the one structure (a height of 38 feet) is inconsistent with Miami Beach land development regulations.
He points out that at 50 feet, the five story building would be the lowest building on Belle Isle that actually abuts the causeway (lower than Grand Venetian, 3 Island Avenue and The Vistas.
The Belle Isle Residents Association met on several occasions with EuroAmerican’s design team, and those discussions led to several changes in the plan. In the end, association told the Miami Beach Design Review Board that the project was better, but still too large, in the association’s view.
At a recent meeting, residents association members discussed the prospect of a suit challenging the city’s decision. At that meeting, association member Jean-Francois Le Jeune, a professor of architecture at the University of Miami, said the association might explore designating Belle Isle as a historic district as a way to limit how high buildings can be built on Belle Isle.