This is an open letter from Charlie Urstadt, Chairman of the Miami Design Preservation League, on the plight of historic homes across Miami Beach.
Dear Mayor and Commissioners:
At yesterday's Design Review Board, I witnessed the sad spectacle of a property owner applying to demolish a beautiful, 8,000 square foot, architecturally-significant, historic home at 42 Star Island Drive so that they could build a new 20,000 square foot house and garage. The historic home is one of the most prominent in the city, visible to millions who travel on the MacArthur Causeway.
There is no law on our books that can effectively save an historic house from being demolished if the owner feels like it. If the Design Review Board is presented with a new plan they have no objection to, then they are bound to approve the demolition.
The lack of protection of pre-1942 architecturally-significant homes started coming into focus a few weeks ago when I noticed a steady stream of applications to the Design Review Board for total demolition of such homes. The Planning Department has provided the Miami Design Preservation League with the following information that shows a situation far worse than suspected.
Pre-1942 Miami Beach Homes - Partial and Total Demolition Applications (as of November, 2012):
2012 Partial Demos: 4, Total Demos: 24
2011 Partial Demos: 0, Total Demos: 3
2010 Partial Demos: 4, Total Demos: 4
2009 Partial Demos: 4, Total Demos: 0
2008 Partial Demos: 8, Total Demos: 5
2007 Partial Demos: 9, Total Demos: 1
It appears that many, if not most, of the demolition applications were from speculators who have no intention of living in the new houses.
Over the years, MDPL has received a steady stream of emails and calls from residents complaining about homes in their neighborhoods being demolished. In the last year, the emails and calls are coming at us almost weekly. The residents live mostly in waterfront areas like the Venetian Islands and North Bay Road but also are from Mid- and North Beach. They ask why nothing can be done to save the character of their neighborhoods.
And now we have the egregious destruction of 42 Star Island Drive - and the attendant publicity. I have been amazed by the outpouring of shock and anger I have heard from residents over this demolition. One enterprising young man (who I never met until yesterday), Daniel Ciraldo, created an on-line petition which has been signed by 310 supporters at last count. Judging from the comments included, the signers are overwhelmingly local and knowledgeable.
The petition can be found here:
Daniel, a long-time Beach resident, also took the time to create an impressive Power Point presentation for the DRB. This kind of independent reaction and initiative doesn't happen in Miami Beach everyday.
We, as a community, need to deal with what has become a serious problem...an epidemic.
Other neighboring cities have found solutions to this problem. I am sure that Miami Beach, where voters recently voted overwhelmingly to support historic preservation, will find a way to deal with the issue.
In the coming weeks, I hope we can work together to create a new ordinance that will satisfy the concerns of the many unhappy residents watching the loss of valuable historic homes and the wasteful destruction of perfectly good structures.
Miami Design Preservation League