Fisher Island developer tries again to build 3 more condos
By Paola Iuspa
A developer and owner of part of Fisher Island is trying again to get the City of Miami Beach to approve condos that are opposed by residents who have gone to court in the past to curtail other development.
Fisher Island Holdings, headed by John Melk and Daniel McLean, is set to go before the Miami Beach design-review board for the fourth time on Jan. 15. They want to build three, 10-story interconnected condos on 10 acres in the easternmost portion of the island.
The city's administration is recommending approval, according to a city document.
Depending on the board's decision, said Jeffrey Bass, an attorney representing the homeowners, either party could appeal to the Miami Beach City Commission.
The proposed buildings would sit on land governed by Miami Beach, while the rest of the 216-acre island is under county jurisdiction.
The proposed Hazelwood Apartments, with units to be sold from $1.5 million to $5 million, would tower over Government Cut, the entrance to Miami's port.
Some homeowners and members of the Oceanside at Fisher Island Condominium 5 Association, next to the site of the new complex, want the proposal redesigned. They complain the development would put more pressure on the island's ferry system, increasing waiting time.
The homeowners said they were promised in 1996 that single-family homes would go on the site. They now worry tall buildings at the water's edge will turn the island into a walled acropolis with no water view or access.
"We are addressing many problems," Mr. Bass said. He said his clients don't oppose development but want some of the more complex issues considered.
"We want the problems of density, access to the island, quality of life, in terms of the island's capacity to accommodate more people, and the project's design to be solved in a thoughtful way.
"Our goal is to make sure that whatever is developed is the best program for the residents of Fisher Island and the City of Miami Beach."
But Mr. McLean said the homeowners' complaints focus on protecting their view.
"These people live in the building next to where the three buildings will go," he said Friday. "It is a group of 12. They just don't want any development at all next to them. It is the same group that wanted to buy the island three years ago."
He said some residents, to limit development on the island, tried to buy the 40 acres Mr. McLean's company bought in 1998.
Many of them, he said, recently avoided a 1998 suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court that other investors brought against them after the homeowners filed a series of suits that prevented purchase of the 40 acres four years ago. The suit was dismissed.
About 15 minutes from the mainland by ferry and south of Miami Beach, Fisher Island has been home to celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and tennis star Boris Becker.
If the board OKs the project, Mr. McLean said, construction of the $300 million project of 141 condos could begin in the fall. It would follow completion of 710 condo units his firm is completing on the county's portion of the island.
"We have vested rights to build," Mr. McLean said. "The board can only deal with the outside of the building."
Because the three condominiums will be the first buildings that cruise-ship passengers would see on the way to the port, design board members asked the developer in July to make the buildings' facades different from the island's predominating neo-Mediterranean style, said Tom Mooney, Miami Beach's design and preservation manager. Board members wanted the complex to match the Beach's architectural style, he said, especially the neighboring South Point area.
"Because of the site's visibility from the coast, the design needs to differentiate from the rest of the buildings on the island," he said.
Those opposing the project said the developer has not made enough changes.
"They have made no significant modifications to the plan they originally submitted," Mr. Bass said.
But the developer did reduce the number of condos from four to three buildings, improving the corridors of view, according to Miami Beach planning department documents. Fisher Island Holdings also redesigned the balconies and replaced arched openings with square openings, according to the document.
"That is not the point," Mr. Bass said. "They keep on coming with the same building. No creativity. No innovation. No relationship to everything the City of Miami Beach holds dear in terms of architecture."