Miami Beach plans to challenge Clevelander affordable housing proposal

Miami Beach commissioners are looking to restrict buildable height within a mile of the city’s historic districts in South Beach. The move is a response to the Clevelander’s announcement that the Art Deco hotel could be redeveloped into a tower with affordable housing. 

Clevelander hotel owner Jesta Group said last week that it planned to take advantage of the Live Local Act, the state’s new affordable housing law, to build a taller structure on the property at 1020 Ocean Drive. At the time, Jesta did not disclose whether it planned to demolish the historic structure, and it has not yet submitted a proposal to the city. Jesta only said it would keep the historic facades from the Clevelander and adjacent Essex structures, and that the proposed development could be up to 30 stories tall.

Anthony O’Brien, senior managing director of Jesta, told The Real Deal the historic buildings will remain, and anything constructed as part of the extension added in the mid 2000s would be demolished. “There was a misconception when this first came out last week. People thought we were demolishing the beautiful heritage buildings, which we are not,” O’Brien said.  

Miami Beach politicians and elected officials have rushed to condemn the Clevelander’s affordable housing redevelopment plan, including former commissioner Michael Grieco, who is running for mayor, current mayor Dan Gelber, and commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. They say the tower would be out of place on Ocean Drive and could set a precedent for historic buildings.

Real estate broker Andres Asion, who is running for a commission seat, wrote in an e-blast that knocking down the Clevelander “would destroy the unique and historic character of Ocean Drive.”

“We can’t let it be demolished to make way for a towering monstrosity that is completely out of step with the historic nature of Ocean Drive,” he wrote. 

Montreal-based Jesta acquired the Clevelander and adjacent Essex in 2018 for $28.5 million. The five-story Clevelander was built in 1938 and designed by Albert Anis. It has 60 hotel rooms, a swimming pool and patio area, sundeck, rooftop terrace, sports bar and restaurant. Together with the Essex, the properties total nearly an acre of land.

Senate Bill 102, known as the Live Local Act, supersedes local governments’ zoning, density and height requirements for affordable housing in areas zoned for commercial or mixed-use development. It went into effect July 1. 

O’Brien and the Clevelander’s attorney, Alexander Tachmes of Shutts & Bowen, said they plan to meet with city staff, the Miami Design Preservation League and the community before submitting their proposal. 

“Our intention is to build something that is obviously within the legal allowances, but integrates well within the neighborhood,” Tachmes said.  

Experts have referred to the Clevelander’s plan as a test case for how cities will respond to the implementation of the Live Local Act. 

Some municipalities are looking to fight the legislation because it specifically allows for developments with minimum percentages of affordable or workforce housing to be built as tall and with the same density as buildings within one mile of the proposed projects. 

The Clevelander could be redeveloped into about 138 residential units based on a maximum density of 150 residential units per acre. Tachmes and O’Brien declined to say how tall the proposed building will be, but the project would include a high-end restaurant on the ground floor, likely luxury condos and affordable housing. The Essex and Clevelander would connect via a pedestrian bridge that was previously approved, Tachmes said. 

Gelber and The Clevelander have been at odds prior to the affordable housing proposal announcement, over the hotel’s nightlife business. In March, a judge granted the Clevelander an injunction that blocked the city’s temporary cut-off of liquor sales at 2 a.m. during the peak weeks of Spring Break.

Gelber said in a video response sent to residents after Wednesday’s meeting that it is “critical to fight this development in the courts and in the Florida Legislature.” Commissioners also discussed this at the meeting. 

The planning board will consider proposed amendments that would reduce the building heights in historic districts in South Beach. Yet, it’s unclear how that would be implemented considering state law and that existing buildings may be taller than those proposed. 

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