Proposed Miami Beach condo stokes fight with neighbors over beach access and ocean views

A developer’s plan to build an oceanfront condominium tower in Miami Beach has caused a kerfuffle over more than the classic blocked-views gripes. The lack of easy beach access in a canyon-like corridor of Mid-Beach has residents extra miffed with the project.

Jose Isaac Peres, a Brazilian billionaire, wants to tear down the 12-story Marlborough House at 5775 Collins Ave., which his company Multiplan bought last year, and build a 17-story condo with 89 units and two stories of underground parking. The proposal, which will go before the city’s Design Review Board on Tuesday, has fueled opposition from people in the condo across the street, Royal Embassy.

While the existing building is angled in a way that creates two wide windows of ocean views, breezes and sunlight for residents across the street, the new structure would run parallel to the street, creating a wider profile that would block off that open air space and light — even though it will have fewer units.

“The thing that keeps me here is the light. It is beautiful,” said Helen Mittelman, 62, who lives in a rear-facing Royal Embassy unit overlooking Indian Creek. Even though her view isn’t directly affected, she worries about living in the new building’s shadow.

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Marlborough House, located at 5775 Collins Ave., is a 12-story building with 107 units that is oriented so that the building has a thin profile from the street, creating view corridors and breezeways.

Roberto Koltun rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Some neighbors are more upset that Peres is unwilling to build a 15-foot-wide walking path linking Collins Avenue to the sand. Miami Beach’s comprehensive plan requires new shoreline development to include walking paths to the beach, which is public all along the eastern shore of Miami-Dade County.

The property currently has no public beach access. Beachgoers must walk about 700 feet north, or even farther south, to where they can cut through to the sand. The beach itself is public.

People who live across the street would like to have a shorter walk — especially because there’s a lifeguard stand directly behind the property and neighbors with children in tow would like to be able to reach that amenity more easily. But the developer’s attorneys argue that under the law, the city can’t require it. When planners proposed including the public pathway as a condition of approval, the developer called it an unconstitutional taking of private property.

The developer’s attorneys, including two partners from land use firm Bercow Radell Fernandez and Larkin, argue in an Aug. 3 legal brief that requiring the beach access violates a clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that prevents the government from taking private property without appropriate compensation for the owner.

Peres is asking for no variances. He’s proposing a building that conforms with existing height and setback regulations.

Two other oceanfront condos built in the early 2000s, the Bath Club and Mei Condominium, built beach access paths voluntarily.

Jose Isaac Peres’ company Multiplan also built the Il Villaggio in South Beach.

Some neighbors argue that the 700-foot walk north to the Mei is too far to go to reach a lifeguard stand. The trek to the nearest public beach access to the south is even farther, about 2,800 feet. It’s the only guarded section of beach between 53rd and 64th streets.

“This is a public beach, and it should be available to residents and tourists,” said Rebecca Orand, another Royal Embassy resident. “They should be able to enjoy the beach safely near a lifeguard stand.”

In a statement to the Miami Herald, one of the attorneys made it clear the developer isn’t budging.

“Currently, there is adequate public access to the beach in the area,” said Michael Larkin, an attorney representing Peres.

Eve Boutsis, chief deputy city attorney, told the Herald that she advised the planning department to only require the developer to consider the pedestrian walkway, as opposed to making it a condition for approval. She said these kinds of issues are usually resolved without legal action when the developer offers an amenity for the neighborhood.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, developers usually agree to a special concession,” she said. “This one isn’t.”

She said that Peres has legal precedent on his side, and if the city insisted on beach access, it could result in litigation.

“Theoretically, what they’re arguing is if we did this, then we’d be required to pay them,” Boutsis said.

Larkin also noted the project was designed by Miami-based architectural firm Arquitectonica to minimize the number of units and reduce the “condo-canyon effect.”

“Most important, this new development will reduce the impact of the project on the Miami Beach community and traffic on Collins Avenue by reducing the existing number of condominium units from 110 in the old building to a maximum of 89 in the new building,” he said.

Residents across the street such as Eda Velaro still believe the building will be too imposing.

“The view of the ocean is so important,” she said “The ocean air is why I live here.”

The Design Review Board meets Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. at City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Dr., but the issue may not get resolved then.

City planners are still insisting the builder rotate the building to preserve views. They also are raising concerns over the planned underground parking because it doesn’t consider the impact of sea level rise.

Because of the unresolved issues, the staff is recommending the item be deferred to December.