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Six items on the ballot in upcoming Miami Beach election

A woman walks outside Miami Beach City Hall to vote during early voting for the general election on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, in Miami Beach.

A woman walks outside Miami Beach City Hall to vote during early voting for the general election on Wednesday, October 28, 2020, in Miami Beach.

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Miami Beach voters will head to the polls in August to vote on six ballot questions about real estate, residency requirements and a new park name in South Beach.

Election Day is Aug. 23 and there will be two weeks of early voting from Aug. 8 to Aug. 21 at Miami Beach City Hall and the North Shore Branch Library. There will be vote-by-mail drop boxes at the two early-voting sites. The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot from the Miami-Dade County Elections Department is Aug. 13 at 5 p.m.

More voter information — including a sample ballot — is available at votemiamibeach.com.

Referendum 1: Naming Alton Road park ‘Canopy Park’

The first referendum on the August ballot asks whether voters want to name a newly opened 3-acre public park in South Beach as “Canopy Park.” The park, built between Alton Road and West Avenue from Sixth to Eighth streets, was one of the public benefits promised in a development agreement for the construction of the Five Park condo tower next door. The City Commission first proposed “Sunset Park” after that name received the most votes in an online poll, but later changed their support to “Canopy Park.” It is up to voters to make the final decision and give Canopy Park a thumbs up or down.

Referendum 2: Architect on Board of Adjustment

Referendum 2 asks voters whether to require the city’s Board of Adjustment to include an architect. The board oversees applications for variances to the land development rules and appeals of administrative decisions. Currently, the appointed board is comprised of two citizen members at-large and five members who can represent any of the following professions: Law, architecture, accounting, financial consultation and general business.

The ballot question, proposed by Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, asks whether the board should be required to include at least one architect.

Referendum 3: Proof of residency to run for office

Political candidates in Miami Beach are already required to have lived in the city for at least one year prior to qualifying to run in an election, but Referendum 3 would add an extra requirement by mandating that candidates submit physical proof of their residency.

The current law only requires that candidates sign an oath attesting that they have lived in Miami Beach for the required period. Physical proof of residency can include a Florida ID, voter registration card, property tax receipt or lease agreement. Even if the referendum passes, the city could not challenge a candidate’s eligibility to run, according to a May 4 memo from the city attorney. That would require a lawsuit against a candidate by a private citizen.

The referendum was sponsored by the late Commissioner Mark Samuelian, whose opponent in 2021 was disqualified after a judge ruled candidate Fabian Basabe did not abide by the residency requirement. Samuelian, who won reelection without opposition, died in June.

Referendum 4: Converting apartment hotels to residential buildings

Referendum 4 seeks to give owners of apartment hotels in the South of Fifth neighborhood an incentive to convert their transient buildings into full-time residential projects in exchange for the ability to develop buildings with more square footage and units.

Apartment hotels, which have a mix of apartment units and hotel rooms, are banned in a large area of the South of Fifth neighborhood, but there are seven that were approved before the ban came down last year. This referendum, which was sponsored by Samuelian, would give owners 0.25 extra floor-area ratio — meaning a 10,000-square-foot property would receive 2,500 more internal square feet. In total, the referendum would result in a maximum of 13,888 total extra square footage and 32 additional units if all seven properties are converted into residential projects. The City Commission banned apartment hotels after residents in the area complained that some of them attracted nuisance tourists and crime.

While not included in the referendum, the commission also plans to give property owners additional height — between 10 and 20 extra feet — if they convert to residential uses. The owners must agree not to rent any of the apartment units on a short-term basis, meaning less than six months, and they must obtain a building permit or certificate of use for the residential conversion by Dec. 31, 2025.

Referendum 5: Density increase for health center land swap

This item asks voters whether to approve increased density in part of South Beach to allow developers to build a mixed-use structure at 710-720 Alton Road, the current site of a community health center that city officials say is in disrepair. The developers have agreed that, if the referendum passes, they will build a new and improved community health center at nearby 663 Alton Road.

Specifically, voters will decide whether to approve a floor-area ratio increase from 2.0 to 2.6 in the area between 5th and 8th Streets from Alton Road to West Avenue.

City officials, including referendum sponsor Commissioner Ricky Arriola, have emphasized that the project would give the area a new, revitalized community health center. The northern half of the existing health center is currently closed due to structural issues. County Commissioner Eileen Higgins has also proposed building a library on the second floor of the new health center.

Details of the developers’ mixed-use structure at 710-720 Alton Road would be hashed out with the city if and when the referendum passes. The developers have requested a maximum height of 180 feet, while city staff have recommended a 150-foot maximum.

Referendum 6: Requiring voter approval to vacate streets for increased density

Referendum 6 would require a voter referendum before the city could “vacate” streets or other public property to allow developers to increase the density of their projects. Vacating a street means a city turns over control of a public roadway to a private property owner.

Rosen Gonzalez, who proposed the referendum, says it addresses a “loophole” that has allowed developers to increase the density of their projects without voter input.

In most cases, voters must approve any increases in floor-area ratio beyond what is normally allowed in a particular location. However, when the city surrenders control of a roadway to a developer, the developer can include that roadway’s area in density calculations and increase the size of their buildings.

Mayor Dan Gelber spoke against the referendum at a City Commission meeting in May, saying the practice has provided substantial benefits in the form of successful projects and payments from developers to the city.

In 2014, Miami Beach agreed to vacate 87th Terrace to the developers of a condo tower at 8701 Collins Ave. after the developers offered the city $10.5 million. That arrangement helped fund completion of the city’s beachwalk, but faced scrutiny after the deadly collapse of adjacent Champlain Towers South in Surfside last year. A lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims emphasized that the deal allowed the developers to perform construction just feet away from the Champlain property line.

This story was originally published July 25, 2022 3:40 PM.

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Aaron Leibowitz is a municipal government reporter for the Miami Herald. He writes about local politics in every city, village and town in Miami-Dade County and sometimes beyond.