Miami commissioners do about-face on restaurant plans
By Suzy Valentine
Similar to the way diners waver over menu choices, Miami city commissioners Thursday changed their minds about a rezoning proposal for a restaurant.
London-based Balans requested an amendment to the city's zoning ordinance to facilitate parking at a planned 150-seat restaurant on the southeast corner of Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 68th Street. The chain, with five locations in the British capital, also has a restaurant on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
Balans wants the city to change the zoning at 632 and 634 NE 68th St. from single-family residential status to accommodate parking for up to 80 patrons. There is only room for 17 spaces under existing plans for the proposed 1,700-square-foot site.
In the end, commissioners approved the zoning request and plan to give it a second reading in September.
But the approval came after impassioned pleas from residents, including Briton Caroline de Vries and Karen McGuire, president of Bayside Residents Association, led city officials to initially veto the ordinance.
Commissioner Johnny Winton said both parties made compelling arguments.
"I think both sides make good comments and both sides make comments that make no sense," said Mr. Winton. "On Biscayne Boulevard in this corridor, there are no sites that are going to work for a 150-seat restaurant which has parking that everybody's going to want."
The attorney for the applicant, Lucia Dougherty of Greenberg Traurig, told the commission that the ordinance related to generalities only and that conditions could be attached later to the application.
"This is only the first reading of the buffer overlay," said Ms. Dougherty. "The Zoning Board can make certain criteria to make sure the neighborhood is not attacked. It could limit the number of seats, it could limit the parking, it could require traffic coordination, it could require no outside music, it could even require that if the ownership changes, it comes back to the board."
"I'm confused. We've got to think about this more," said Mr. Winton, who mused that judges have the luxury of time while commissioners must make snap decisions. "We've got to do more analysis. No matter what my decision is, half of my constituents are going to be mad at me and half my constituents are going to be happy with me."
Commissioners then reconsidered their earlier vote and changed their veto to preliminary approval of the restaurant's request.
Commissioner Tomas Regalado took the opportunity to share pending restaurant-parking woes in his district.
"I think that in September or late October, there is an item coming to this commission about a restaurant in my district," he said. "This restaurant has been there for many years on Southwest 37th Avenue. Perhaps someone made a mistake on the commission back then."
There were parallels, he said, with other parking conflicts.
"This is the same situation as we have on Southwest 22nd Terrace with the Latin American Cafeteria," said Mr. Regalado, "and the same problem that we have at Versailles, where they tell patrons 'go and park around wherever you can.' There is a deluge of complaints from residents who have cars parked in front of their homes."
Mr. Regalado said that, despite cultural differences, the same practice would probably occur at the proposed Balans site.
"I suspect that, although they're British and very gentlemanly," he said, "that they're going to tell everybody, 'Go park somewhere.' "
"Obviously, not everybody agrees," said Robert Flanders, chairperson of the city's Neighborhood Improvement Bond Oversight Board, who said he thinks Balans will be good for the area, "but there are always two sides to every pancake."