Whose North Beach is it?

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You know by now that North Beach is changing and that it’s in the middle of a big deal master plan that is trying to address some very important questions about the future of the neighborhood. 

The draft master plan we wrote above is the result of months and months of meetings between developers, preservationists, property owners, renters, and Miami Beach officials. They’ve got a lot of opinions on what the North Beach of the future should look like. The final master plan is going to be a mashup of all these voices, so we asked them to share.

These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.


Katie Comer

Renter in North Beach for the past five years, North Beach Neighbors Alliance committee member

On what brought her to North Beach

Chris [her husband] and I are part of the problem.  We’re kind of gentrifiers. I’m a professional, he’s a professional. Miami’s not a friendly city, but you find your pockets of neighborliness in North Beach… you meet Kirk [Paskal, another resident interviewed below] and all these other people who are just amazing organizers and advocates of the community. We have been here during a time of a lot of change.

On the master plan process and inclusiveness

It’s a tricky time. Obviously Miami Beach is going through a second boom, the first one didn’t really hit North Beach. You come here and you realize how crazy it is that we still have a low scale, quiet neighborhood when South Beach is a couple miles away.

The master plan was really well timed. It offers the opportunity to handle the stress between the city and the neighborhood on how that growth was going to go. People are quite receptive to the master plan. We feel we’ve been heard. We know there’s pressure on the planners from all sides. For a lot of us we know this preservation is the first step to hold back inappropriate development. With the commission just passing first reading on height increase in town center, the preservation is the necessary balance. …

The fact that I brought up renters is a key point. You’ll notice that the same people go to all the meetings, the very wealthy real estate crowd who live in single family homes… and then there’s those of us interested in preservation and sort of community. But what you don’t see are the 50 percent of the community who are renters. You don’t see the immigrant population at these meetings… You’re seeing a very small sliver of North Beach and the people most affected by development aren’t showing up to the meetings — the renters and senior citizens who will struggle to stay as things change.

On affordability and building for the community

We paid $1,500 for a two-bed, two-bath that had parking. That was a pretty good deal. When we moved, it’s $1,800 for two, two. Also there’s parking. But we also know that our landlady could raise our rent. The place next door to us is going for something like $400 or $500 more than we’re paying. It’s skyrocketed.

I do feel concerned for everyone that we’re just going to get priced out. … That’s why it was important that the plan does something with a conversation about housing and affordability… There’s a lot of snobbery about affordable housing and [people] say we have too much of it. We have like nothing.

What she wants to see in North Beach five years from now

I’d like to see a similar percentage of small local businesses but doing better. We have a really cute little area where you could imagine shops and cafes doing well…. I think that could include the town center as well as the extension along Collins. I’d like to see a little bit of bustle, I’d really like to not see high rises.

If you look from the corner of Dickens and 72nd, you can see across the entire neighborhood and I would love for that to not be completely erased. I would like to see some more of that thriving. I would like to see the community based development we’ve been talking about. The skate park, the library, the comm garden… that’s what I’d like to see the real focus be on. The stuff that people actually use and make people want to come here… and I would like to see people still able to live here.

Daniel Vietia

North Beach resident for more than 20 years and head of Urban Resources, one of the largest property management companies in the area

On how the master plan is already bringing change

We’ve gone through master plans before… what never panned out was the private industry, the private market never jumped on it. Now what we see happening is the private market is very interested in North Beach because South Beach is done. There’s not a lot more to be done on South Beach… With the master plan process is going to come a lot of investment from the city. They think they’re riding the wave at the right time.

On what changes he’s seen and expects in the next five to 10 years:

What changes is the quality of the experience in North Beach, more commercial places to shop and dine…I see town center being the catalyst for the major change. The private industry feels the same way, that there’s an underdevelopment of the land in town center. You have so many development rights not being used in town center. … The rest of our neighborhoods stay intact. I think we keep our charm, I think we keep our low-key feel. You’ll have a great place to live for all demographics.

Look at Biscayne Boulevard, an area that was so derelict we used to all speed through. We never would have thought of stopping and patronizing a restaurant in that district. In three years it’s completely transformed. … I expect the same thing to happen in North Beach. You start getting better restaurants, nicer places to shop, boutique clothing stores, something that was in the past unheard of. …

I see a place where we’re not overstressed with all the over-commercialization South Beach experiences. When you have Art Basel, how does that impact South Beach? It has zero impact on North Beach. Our life goes on… I don’t think that changes.

Where is rent headed?

If you want to see our historic buildings be improved, it’s safe to assume our rents will go up. They’re going to be comparable to the rents you have in South Beach today, at minimum.

The private market, we’ve already seen it rise. A one-bedroom for $700, that same unit rents today at $1,200. If you want an improved unit, you’re looking at $1,450 today. In two years, it’s going to be between $1,650 and $1,750.

If rents can’t get at that level, [developers] can’t recover the investments you’re asking them to make.

Kirk Paskal

Longtime North Beach resident and property owner, on the master plan committee

On why residents love North Beach and how the master plan affects that

It has a great deal to offer in terms of neighborhood feel, the lower scale, the park spaces, the cultural diversity, the economic diversity… in such an alluring setting — a seaside community with great architecture, great parks, a great pedestrian friendly feel, good local businesses. It’s also easily accessible, unlike pretty much any other coastal community I can think of.

Sure, we all want to see North Beach thrive, but we don’t want to lose all of the allure that brought us here in the first place. … That’s the challenge going into this thing: how do you protect those great features while at the same time embrace helping the community thrive and do better?

On affordability and maintaining economic diversity

I’m a landlord too, and you know, of course  I’ve seen the rents increase… We’ve had the luxury of having what I would consider a diverse community… . I certainly don’t want to see that diversity lost. That’s what makes a great community great. We absolutely have that, we’ve had that for as long as I’ve been there.

If we’re incentivizing greater development, then yea, you have to look at a mechanism whereby you’re not doing it at the expense of the community that lives here. …

Certain mechanisms to address that concern are written into the master plan but just having it in writing isn’t going to solve your problems because you also have to count on a balanced implementation. The height increase is already moving forward on Town Center One, which sort of caters to the incentivization of development, yet that’s moving forward without a consideration toward, for instance… inclusionary zoning.

Sandor Scher

Founder of Claro Development, which is redeveloping part of Ocean Terrace, which lies between 73rd and 75th Streets

On what he’s trying to accomplish with the redevelopment of Ocean Terrace

The reason we’ve done it is because we believe we’ll be a catalyst so that North Beach can be positioned for the next 100 years.

I think the statistic is that North Beach has 22 percent of the population of Miami Beach but only contributes 7 percent of the revenue in the city. It’s creating a sustainable North Beach that really is its own… with great jobs and jobs all over the economic spectrum. I think holding on to the family friendly living, making sure there’s always great jobs and affordable housing in North Beach, I think [that’s] really important. A lot of the people in the service industry in Miami Beach, they raise their families in North Beach. …

What he wants to see at Ocean Terrace and around

I’d love to see Ocean Terrace be a world-class oceanfront park as nice as South Pointe Park. I’d like to see our beaches get renourished… I’d love to see the retail offerings of Collins Avenue be expanded so that all the North Beach community can enjoy those retail offerings. …

I’d love to see the sidewalks be wider, real landscaping on the sidewalks, connectivity from east to west so that Ocean Terrace does become a real focal point… and that the journey of walking up 73rd or 74th or 75th, those streets, become really pedestrian friendly areas that feel really, really great when you’re walking down those streets. I’d love to see cafes on the street on Ocean Terrace, seating on the sidewalk, a vibrant streetfront feel. We’re not talking Ocean Drive, but maybe Sunset Harbor.

I’d love to see the hotels on Ocean Terrace become, bring them back. They’re beautiful, historic hotels…. That’s a huge creator of jobs and revenue to help fix that ratio we talked about before.

Daniel Ciraldo

Historic preservation officer with Miami Design Preservation League

Temple Menorah on North Beach (Courtesy of Miami Design Preservation League)

On protection for iconic buildings

A couple positive things happened recently, including a building moratorium that went into effect [in July] in two national registered historic districts. That’s a good sign… that will give us six months to figure out the boundaries of the local historic districts and it will protect them from demolition.

[There are] two national registered historic districts which are honorary and have some incentives but they don’t have any protections or stringent guidelines for preservation…

There are definitive developments, such as Alan Lieberman, who is taking existing buildings, renovating them, and having success with that. We think that’s going to continue and be more encouraged by having local district and guidelines in place. The last 20 years there’s been basically no development in North Beach and North Beach has lacked the historic districts South Beach has. We’re now getting to a point where people are more open to it in the neighborhood. They realize the benefit of it and having a unique identity for the neighborhood and stewardship of your properties is all a positive thing.

On how to adapt historic buildings to rising seas

We see buildings being adapted, in some cases elevated to a new level. North Beach could potentially be a good experiment for a combination of transfer of development rights to the town center and those rights are then being used for historic preservation in the historic districts.

[For] downtown North beach, the idea is to add more height and add more density in that corridor but the density would be purchased from the unused height in the historic district…. When the density, TDR [transfer development rights] are sold, the money has to be reinvested in the particular building that sold it.

This is very preliminary. There isn’t really TDR in Miami Beach right now… the idea from the developers is let’s make this sort of compromise and maybe it will work for all of us. It’s a big crux of the master plan and it could be a positive thing if it’s done right.

Matis Cohen

President of the North Beach Property Owners association, CEO of Kahuna Properties, substantial property owner in North Beach

Note: FAR stands for “floor area ratio” and basically means the ratio between the square feet of structure and the square feet of the lot that structure sits on. Things like staircases and garages and elevators count toward FAR.

On his hopes for change in the master plan

I’m still hopeful the master planner will make the bold recommendation of increasing the FAR to be able to build an attractive and resilient product that will attract families to come, as opposed to transient tenants. I’m still hopeful the master planner will do something for the city instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole… and focused on revitalizing instead of regulating.

My worry is we’re going to… believe that the panacea to everything is preservation as if preservation can bring resiliency. … Why aren’t they looking to preserve the private homes? Why are they trying to preserve the problematic area?”

On what policies and regulations could address that

Let’s say you change the FAR from a 1.25 to 2.5 in the RM1 district [a residential district north of the 71st Street corridor], if you double the FAR… 20 percent of that additional FAR has to go to workforce housing. That will immediately create a different city. That will give architects, builders enough room to create interesting buildings under design elements, design guidelines. Homage to MiMo, homage to Art Deco. I know it needs a referendum, but the city has to make a choice. Does it want to be a village or a city?