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NIMYBS on the rise in Miami's Upper East Side

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From the Herald: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/8874706.htm

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Tension roils over Upper Eastside plan

BY DAVID OVALLE

[email protected]

Miami's Upper Eastside neighborhoods are on a roll after successfully pushing the city to pass height restrictions along Biscayne Boulevard and forming a new chamber of commerce.

But, some say, an underlying tension in the area has crystalized over a development named Kubik.

The proposed project, a 14-story complex of lofts, offices and retail space smack in the heart of the Upper Eastside, has become a flash point between neighborhoods that disagree about whether redevelopment has become overdevelopment.

Kubik, which is not subject to recently adopted height restrictions because plans were submitted well in advance, comes before the City Commission on Thursday for a decision.

Some residents from the historic Morningside neighborhood across the boulevard from the proposed project have strongly opposed it. The complex, they say, will dwarf the neighborhood buildings and create traffic snarls.

But the project enjoys the support of many of the area's other prominent city activists, including some from the Upper Eastside Miami Council, a coalition of homeowners and business groups.

It also has endorsements from Upper Eastside neighborhood associations such as Palm Grove, where it is located, and Bayside.

Kubik's supporters say that nearby businesses will benefit from the influx of residents, and that it will promote a pedestrian-friendly feel on the boulevard. They argue that developers have worked with residents to make the complex as neighborhood-friendly as possible, including slicing two stories from the original plans.

''I think you can divide the neighborhood into two camps, those who understand the big picture and go for the greater good,'' said city activist Bob Flanders, who supports Kubik. ``And there are those who are looking at personal interests.''

On the other side, Andrew Dickman, the attorney hired by the Morningside Civic Association to oppose Kubik, said the development has galvanized ``a group of homeowners who want quality of life and have elevated their awareness of planning issues.''

ACTIVE RESIDENTS

''Morningside has an enormous number of intelligent homeowners who have a sense of empowerment,'' Dickman said. ``Morningside is very organized and they're willing to step into the fray.''

Alex Konietzko, Kubik's general manager, said that Morningside is ``a very concerned neighborhood that tries to maintain their way of life. We're trying to work with the community as much as possible.''

Morningside -- Miami's first designated historic neighborhood, generally located between Biscayne Boulevard and Biscayne Bay from Northeast 50th Terrace to Northeast 60th Street -- became known for its scrappy, vocal activism through Miami's financially troubled years.

''It's a pretty tight-knit neighborhood and I think that comes from the many battles we've had to fight over the years at City Hall,'' said Rod Alonso, a resident who was the former president of the civic association.

Like others in the Upper Eastside, Morningside residents wanted to clean up an area of Biscayne Boulevard plagued by prostitution and drug crime.

TENSIONS RISE

But as the city has inched out of its doldrums, the Morningsiders and others from the Upper Eastside have had to contend with what some see as overdevelopment, too many people moving into the neighborhood.

New tensions have arisen.

Earlier this year, there was a bitterly contested homeowner association election in Palm Grove. A slate of candidates ran on an anti-high rise platform.

They lost.

At a Miami Planning Advisory Board meeting earlier this year, barbs between activists from the pro- and anti-Kubik camps turned nasty.

''Even the people on the board did not feel comfortable with the fact that neighbors were attacking other neighbors,'' said Alex Rodriguez, the Palm Grove Homeowners Association president, who is pro-Kubik.

When Kubik first came before the City Commission in April, both sides packed City Hall, although many opponents grew tired and left because the item was delayed several hours. The chamber was filled again two weeks later.

Whatever happens Thursday, observers say the debates are likely to continue, however much neighborhoods want to have a united front.

''At least they have something to debate about now,'' said Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes the Upper Eastside. ``They didn't have anything to debate about for the last 20 years.''

Upper East Side Graphic:

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And the opinion of the very good, but usually anti-development Architecture columnist, Beth Dunlop: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/livin...lop/8842595.htm

BETH DUNLOP/ARCHITECTURE

High-rise plan casts shadow on Morningside

This is not the site you'd expect for a condominium -- an oddly shaped two acres of upper Biscayne Boulevard with a pizza parlor at one end and a historic landmark at the other. Yet a developer is planning to squish a too-big ''loft'' condominium complex into this too-small space. It's a proposal full of misbegotten notions of urban planning, issues that are political, philosophical and pragmatic.

The project is called Kubik. It will have 347,746 square feet worth of parking, shops and lofts. For the record, this is bigger than the typical Super Wal-Mart -- turned on its end, of course. Kubik is to be an inch shy of 150 feet tall.

From the few available computer-generated images, the architecture looks sleek and modern and might fit in on Brickell, or downtown. But the 293-unit Kubik is planned for Miami's historic Upper East Side, most specifically just opposite Morningside, and as such, it is generating plenty of opposition and controversy. As it should. It's the proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing.

The area around Morningside is largely (with one tragic exception, the 10-story ''Falls'' building built in the 1970s) single-family or low-rise and historic. Kubik is planned for a triangular block on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard bounded by Northeast 58th Street and Fourth Court. It is adjacent to the urban commercial oasis generated by Soyka's restaurant. Though the site is largely filled with two-story apartment buildings, it is also home to the Northeast Miami Women's Club, designed by the great Art Deco architect V.H. Nellenbogen and completed in 1940. This is an exquisite, architecturally inventive building -- a kind of ''Baroque Deco'' -- with a turret-entry, a scalloped portico and porthole windows. It's a gem worth preserving.

The Andiamo Pizza/Leo's Car Wash building is at the tip of the triangle. Current plans keep Andiamo but not the car wash, which is a shame, if only because where else can you find a combination that quirky?

LITTLE VILLAGE

What the neighborhood cries out for is a little urban village, a low-rise complex of shops-over-stores with well-planned courtyards or cul-de-sacs for parking. The models for such development exist, and are plentiful, but they rely on an architecture that builds places for people, not for profit. The Soyka complex across the street is a great start in this direction, and yet all progress is about to be negated.

But this is Miami, where money talks, and people don't walk -- not because they don't want to but because the environment sends them to their cars. So no urban village is in the works here.

Interestingly, the Kubik proposal is sliding in on Miami's ''old'' zoning regulations, where the sky -- quite literally -- was the limit (which is to say that there were no height limitations); this spring, the city enacted new, slightly stricter regulations for Biscayne Boulevard, which would have required this building to be some 30 feet lower. An earlier plan, done by Hellmuth Obata Kassabaum, proposed much stricter controls, with buildings that would foster the Boulevard's pedestrian experience; it actually makes special mention of the need to reinforce an urban village in the Morningside area.

Overall, the HOK plan was aimed at creating a linear neighborhood, a street you'd actually want to walk along. And indeed, the Kubik development does propose shops that would line the project's 422-car parking garage, but that is not the urban experience HOK envisioned. This area needs people on foot, and eyes on the street (any primer on ''defensible design'' would tell you that). It does not need 422 cars coming and going from a high-rise.

The Kubik project takes full advantage of the city of Miami's great zoning hat trick -- the computation of what is called ''gross lot area.'' The logic and the language behind this are incomprehensible, at least in my experience, but one thing I do know: Translated into plain English, ''gross lot area'' means ``developers win, neighborhoods lose.''

Here's how it seems to work: You have a piece of land that is actually, say, two acres (the Kubik site is fractionally bigger than that). For development purposes, the city tosses in almost anything within eyesight (or not) -- streets, sidewalks, bay bottom, neighboring parkland, or so it would seem -- and comes up with a mythical (and much larger) number upon which to base its computations. Up pops ''gross lot area,'' which is a fictional number that allows the developer to build just about twice what should be allowed and at least twice (if not three times) what good planning would allow.

In this case the actual, measurable site is 97,503 square feet, basically 2 1/3 acres. Factor in the gross lot area and the bonuses (for some inexplicable reason, this high-rise on a parking podium is considered a ''planned unit development'') and you get your Super Wal-Mart plus.

That is not to say that tall buildings do not have their place in South Florida. Miami has an urban core, where they are more appropriate, a downtown served by public transit and where residents can walk to nearby office buildings. But in the neighborhoods, especially on the city's upper east side, the urban amenities -- pharmacies, groceries, cinemas, streetcars -- are not in place. There's no public transit, except for buses. Most jobs are not within walking distance. Supermarkets are few. And worse, haphazardly placed high-rises that tower over low-scaled neighborhoods are aesthetic, psychological and social intrusions.

Kubik isn't the only such bad project on the books. High-rises are popping up in almost every imaginable and even unimaginable (between two ''on'' ramps on a causeway, for example) location. We ought to be asking for more (and indeed, neighborhood groups are doing just that) than random high-rises that will suck the life out of our city streets.

ZONING SHAPES

Zoning is both a qualitative and quantitative way of shaping city growth, but somewhere along the way, most cities have abandoned the less-measurable. At a recent City Commission hearing, Morningside residents stood at the podium, reciting the zoning code in an ironic litany of what ought to be. The code calls for buildings to ''respond to the neighborhood context,'' by taking into consideration the architectural and environmental characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood. It also requires the creation of transitions in bulk and scale and mandates that the fa

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if anyone is paying attention, it was approved.

chalk another one up for development.

Miami commission approves Biscayne development

By DAVID OVALLE

[email protected]

Miami City Commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved Kubik, the controversial development that has divided neighbors in Miami's Upper Eastside.

The project, targeted for Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 56th and 57th streets, would be a 14-story complex of residential units, retail and office space.

Kubik had the support of many of the area's most vocal activists. But some residents, many from the nearby Morningside neighborhood, said the complex's height would dwarf adjacent buildings and draw too much traffic.

Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes the Upper Eastside, said he was uncomfortable with similar developments -- and neighborhood debates -- appearing before the commission in the future. But Winton said he not mind Kubik's height.

''No matter what decision we make, we're the bad guys,'' he said. ``I'm not offended by it. I'm not offended by the way it looks, by the way it seems to sit on Biscayne Boulevard.'

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