The Miami Beach Commission passed a referendum item on Wednesday that will ask voters to safeguard the powers of the Historic Preservation Board by forcing any change in the board’s standards to only be changed by an additional voter referendum.
The resolution was part of a set of referendums that the pro-preservation Mayor Matti Bower tried to pass in the July meeting that would ideal safeguard the city’s numerous historic districts.
The second referendum called for any change of land use regulations that increased the maximum height of buildings in historic districts to also be subject to a voter referendum. It lacked support and died on the dais.
The Mayor sought these two referendums as a safeguard to the integrity of the historic districts.
“We are chipping away,” Bower said of historic districts. “a little bit here, and a little bit there for some developer.”
Presented together, Bower separated the discussion on both resolutions, and divided the support and opposition each commissioner felt on individual resolutions.
The dais was lukewarm on the HPB referendum, but ultimately passed it.
One of the reasons this safeguard was created was to keep the make up of the HPB from being watered down. Last year, Planning Board Member Jonathan Fryd called to eliminate two seats from the HPB that were reserved for members of two preservationist groups: the Miami Design Preservation League, and the Dade Heritage Trust
“Historic Preservation, which whether through amendment, exemption. repeal, or otherwise. reduces the powers and duties of the City’s Historic Preservation Board. or creates less stringent historic preservation standards or regulations. shall, before becoming effective be approved by a majority of the voters in a Citywide referendum,” said the resolution.
Fryd had an interest in a project that called for the demolishing the GAP building on Lincoln Road. The proposed structure would house the new Apple Store headquarters. The preservation board gave Apple a hard time, and the Mac company walked away. Some believe Fryd’s call to eliminate those two seats was made as a retaliation. Fryd never returned the SunPost’s numerous calls for comment.
The height requirement referendum was dead on arrival.
Commissioner Edward Tobin questioned whether this safeguards would handcuff the commission, and leave important issues to the 1% of residents that bothered to vote. He argued the word “height” carries a bad connotation with residents,and so they may not pass a referendum that maybe in their best interest.
An example was touted where consenting to a height increase in an historic district was actually the better choice. Even Frank Del Vecchio, the famed beach activist, was for that height increase for the good of his neighborhood. Tobin questioned whether a less informed voting body would make the right choice.
Bower, insulted for those 1% voters, called the dais a product of that 1% and jokingly called for disbandment of the government.
In the end, the Mayor knew it was defeated. She mused that the idea may return as a mechanism that would require a 6/7 vote to approve a height increase.
Herb Sosa, the chair of the HPB and one of the seats proposed for elimination by Fryd, was at the meeting and called today “a great start.”
Sosa did not agree that the referendum was too restrictive.
“It would have made our city ['s historic district] less susceptible to individuals.”