Sunday, February 23, 2014

Growing Pains

As demand to build new housing in North Bay Village rebounds, there are inevitable concerns about what it means for the village.  Under current code, a complete condo canyon wall blocking the bay is possible.  

There are several new projects proposed for the north side of the Causeway and two of them have recently come before the village for consideration and approval.   In the first case, a proposal for a new condo hotel next to the Best Western/Shuckers had the potential for community disruption.  Through well executed meetings  and with the active support of Planning & Zoning, the residents of the Lexi and the developer were able to achieve a useful compromise on the design of the building.  Both sides realized that perfect is the enemy of the good and worked together on this.  

In its simplest terms, there are two ordinances governing development on the north side of the causeway - the traditional RM-70 which allows for shorter, wider buildings and the Bay View Overlay which encourages taller, narrower buildings.  There is no good reason why we should not only have one building ordinance, preferably the Bay View Overlay which is designed to ensure view of the bay from the street and neighboring buildings, but you've met our commission, a subsidiary of big developers.   

Anyway, the original building as proposed was tall and wider than allowable, particularly at the base, and the developer applied for variances.  After hearing the objections of the Lexi residents, P&Z requested that the developer and the Lexi meet to see if there could be common ground.  It turns out there is.  

The developer revised the building plan so that the tower portion is narrower, creating more open space and views, while the base is wide which would normally be a problem blocking views from the street but it is an open base, 30 feet high, with few structures to block the sight lines.   

It's not a perfect solution but it's one the village can live with.  Two of the P&Z members, Jim Carter and Barry Beschel, voted against it in very well reasoned arguments that the village needs to be strict on maintaining the views while three others thought that the spirit if not the letter of the law was well respected here.  Now it goes to the commission.  

Directly across the street from the  Lexi is another proposed project, a condo on the old Marathon lot.  In the  same spirit, the developer met with the Lexi residents and showed their building.  The bad part is that no matter what gets built, it will block their views but the Lexi residents seem resigned to that, they simply want to lower the impact.  Towards that end they proposed a different orientation of the building, not a rebuild but one that would take advantage of the open space to the east and maximize the view corridors.  It's not clear if the developer is willing but that will be the topic at the next Planning & Zoning meeting on March 18.   Below are two pictures of how it is proposed currently and the reoriented view:  

In this version, you can see the sight lines as the building is currently proposed

Here the building orientation is changed to allow a more open view.

I hope the developer of the new project listens carefully and considers compromise with his neighbors.   A more reasonable group you won't find.  

History Lesson:  In 2009, the Master Plan called for a limit of 5 stories for buildings on the north side of the causeway from the Kennedy House to the west side of Hispanola.  Our now mayor, then president of the CFD, led the developer directed charge to fire the city manager and ensure the condo canyon look that the developers had wanted.   Kreps was supported in this by a sitting commissioner who represented the Marathon and who stood to gain a great deal of profit from the sale of the property.   Kreps and crew were successful so now we are stuck with the inevitable closing of our causeway views.  At least there's some compromise available to us.  

Kevin Vericker
February 23, 2014

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