Lots of questions.
Belle Isle residents Wednesday night previewed the design for the apartment complex proposed to replace Belle Isle Key, the 1931 vintage three-story complex at the northeast portion of our island.
This is the third iteration of a plan to replace the complex, which currently has 120 units in five three-story buildings. The original structures at 31 Venetian Way were used as barracks to house troops in World War II. They were renovated more than 20 years ago.
A 2009 proposal from the owner, the EuroAmerican Group, was fought by the neighborhood, scaled back slightly by the Miami Beach Design Review Board and never built. The developer sued Miami Beach to build a little bigger than the DRB would allow– and lost.
We’ll try to dissect the latest plan clinically, and then get back to the questions and objections raised by residents.
— Number of apartments: There currently are 120 units on the site in five three-story buildings. The new design calls for 172 units in two five-story buildings.
— Apartment size: Architect Javier Barrera of Deforma Studio said the average apartment will be 867 square feet. He said the mix would be 75 percent one-bedroom and 25 percent two-bedroom. There will be no studio apartments.
–Parking: The existing complex has 109 parking spaces, with overflow using residential permits on the island. The proposal calls for 297 parking spaces, all in a garage hidden from Venetian Way because apartment units wrap around it on the water and street sides. The parking garage is topped by a roof deck. There will be enough spaces for residents with about 39 overflow spaces for guests, Barrera said. There will be 205 bicycle spaces on site.
— Height: The buildings will be roughly 20 feet higher than the current structures — plus what’s on top of the roof deck, which will include landscaping, stairwells and the air conditioning cooling towers.
— Flooding issues, sea-level rise: The current complex is five feet above sea-level, and Biscayne Bay laps over the seawall during King Tides. The new complex will have to be built from an elevation at least five feet higher, Barrera said, and a recent Miami Beach code change could increase that to eight feet higher (a total of 13 feet above sea level). That will keep the grounds dryer, but also will raise the effective height of the buildings.
–Sustainability: Barrera was asked if the building would be LEED certified, and whether it would provide charging stations for electric cars. He said it would not be LEED certified unless a new city rule requires it to be, though they would try to make it as energy efficient as possible. He said there were plans to include charging stations in the garage.
— Public amenities: The new plan features a bay walk behind the complex, required by the city. An iteration shown last year had, instead, a park-like plaza at the east corner of the property, where the bridge from Sunset Harbour crosses into Belle Isle. The bay walk would be open to the public from sunrise to sunset, then locked.
— Design: This plan seems less massive than the plan that was proposed in 2009 and ended up in court. There is a “view corridor” between the two buildings (though the 2009 plan also had a view corridor). The renderings show — and architect Barrera promised — much lusher landscaping and the preservation of some, but not all, of the older trees on the site.
— Timeline: If the project moves ahead smoothly, Barrera said, it goes like this: The project goes before the Miami Beach Design Review Board on May 3. If it’s approved, additional design development would take about six months. Then permitting takes about six months. That puts construction starting in May 2017. For how long? At least another year.
We started off by indicating that residents had many questions. About 30 people showed up for the presentation at Belle Plaza. We’ll try and lay out some of the key concerns people raised, and the response from Barrera, the architect. The owner wasn’t present, and there were some questions Barrera could not answer.
The key concerns expressed:
— The buildings are just too high, and the added two stories or trees on the roof decks will block bay views of some Belle Isle residents on the lower floors of buildings on the south side the island.
Response: The code allows five stories, and that is what the owner is entitled to build and what he intends to build. There could be some change in the height of roof deck landscaping (shrubs instead of trees) if the neighborhood prefers.
— The owner could/should do a top-to-bottom renovation of the existing structures, not add units to the island, and make more money too.
Response: (and this is a massive paraphrase by your Belle Isle Blog): No.
— The mix of apartments (75 percent one bedroom, 25 percent two-bedroom) is wrong for our residential island, and more two- and three-bedroom units would fill a gap in the market and fit better with the neighborhood.
Response: The unit mix is based on a marketing study, but the question will be brought to the owners attention.
— A LEED certified building would be better for the environment and easier for the developer to market. And it likely is required by the city’s new rules.
Response: If it’s required, we’ll do it. If not, the building will be made as energy efficient as possible.
— The developer should bury the power lines in front of the property on Venetian Way for aesthetic and hurricane prep purposes.there, along with the response from Barrera and some observations from Scot Diffenderfer, president of the Belle Isle Residents Association.
Response: EuroAmerican is willing to pay for burying the line, but FPL is requiring that all powerlines on Venetian Way on Belle Isle be buried if the lines in front of 31 Venetian Way are buried. And EuroAmerican isn’t willing to pay for the whole island.
Belle Isle Residents Association President Scott Diffenderfer asked Barrera to get the cost for burying all the lines so the residents association could explore figuring out how to pay the difference.
— The bay walk leads nowhere and wouldn’t be as much of an amenity as a small park.
Response: The developer agrees, but the city is requiring it.
The Design Review Board meets May 3. Diffenderfer encouraged residents to attend and share their concerns.