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Friday, November 04, 2016

' Lot splitting in favor of growth over preservation'

Along with a lot of other people we attended the Historic Preservation Board’s meeting on Tuesday, regarding 3701 Park Avenue in Coconut Grove. This is a 35,000 ft., lot being split into two, and now designated as an historical house. The developers did a thorough presentation on how they would preserve the original 2300 ft. house, demolish the 4-car garage/chauffer’s quarters (which straddles what was originally two lots a"nd then build two 5000 ft. homes on the property. They have obtained support from some neighbors as well as some stiff opposition, not to the renovation of the older home (which will go from 2300 ft. to 5000 ft. plus), but to the lot split.
3701 Park Ave. Coconut Grove

Their lawyer seemed in agreement that this is actually a ‘building site’ by NCD-3 code and therefore needs a warrant to divide it into two 18,000’ lots. Their argument was that by going through the historic preservation board, they were being open and transparent, publicly showing their plans and hoping the board would approve waivers on lot width and the splitting, among others.  Arguments that this was the realm of the planning and zoning board and this would set a bad precedent on lot splitting resulted in deferral until the next meeting on December 3, when the head of P/Z is supposed to show up and bless or deny the lot split. The sense is they’ll approve it anyway, as P/Z apparently didn’t object the lot split when meeting with the historic housing board.

We thought it would be good for you to dig into this a little more. The former owner spoke up on how that lot itself was part of the heritage of the property. The lawyers for the developers tried to make the case that early 20th century houses were customarily 50-80 wide and ½ acre deep, which approaches these dimensions. They cited homes in the NE of the US. That might have been true there, but certainly that is not the style of early homesteads in the Grove, which had large lots and smaller homes. That rebuttal, voiced in the meeting, was left unchallenged.

In the end, this looks like typical lot splitting in favor of growth over preservation. Our position was that part of the historic designation should have included the lot itself, in its full size. We simply don’t have a lot of large lots like that left in the Grove and they are being routinely split.

The problem with the warrant process is two-fold: 1) only abutting neighbors are involved and they often don’t get notified or realize the importance of protest within 15 days 2) the city can grant the subdivision anyway, even over protest. It is an uneven application of the intent of the law, which is to curb increased density.  If you have the resources or activisim, you can win, otherwise, you lose.

When this development is done, any trace of the historic look/feel of that property will be permanently gone. The garage/quarters gone, the old house renovated but ‘tacked onto’ an expansion which nearly triples the size of the residence, and a brand new home built on the other half of the property.

Having said all that, the developers at least aren’t plopping down more ‘box homes’ and have thought out this carefully, and have solicited input from neighbors.

In the end, however, this is just another lot split and loss of a big lot with an historic home to a more densely populated couple of lots.

For many of us, that just doesn’t feel right, especially to the former owners and people who have lived in that house and spoke up in opposition.

Just thought we’d let you know. La Brisa is a great example of a way to preserve a grand old home and estate, as was Marta Week’s handing over her 8 ½ acre estate to Deering Estate 2 years ago. It is a pity this one isn’t going a similar route, or at least approval of the new custom home but not the building of a second. 

Frankly, passing legislation that strictly forbids subdividing lots would go a long way to avoid all the exceptions that are routinely given.  And Francisco Suarez’s proposal to ban starting construction on a lot until final plat approval would fix some other problems, like illegal subdividing and then starting construction and claiming it is too late to follow the law. 

John Dolson
DSP Geosciences and Associates, LLC

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Blogger John Snyder said...

This project, if approved, will set a horrible precedent that can then be used to justify lot sub-divisions all along Douglas Rd. and Main Highway as well as between Main and the bay. Imagine the Kampong with townhouses crowding out room for canopy trees. In this area the large properties are often multi-lot building sites, some are not platted lots; many structures on those sites are old and can be declared historic. Will they then be sub-divisions of 3-5 modern houses which reduce the green space from 90% of the lot to 39%, less if you consider the need for two 2000' septic systems, as is the case for 3701 Park Ave? The developer promulgated quite a bit of misinformation at the meeting. The lots are actually 16,418' after the 20 ft. dedication required along Douglas Road. The lot coverage and green space were based on the wrong lot dimensions. Green space after the project would be only 39% (27% if you allow for septic) not 50%. If the city or county decides that a traffic circle or a right turn lane to Ingraham will be needed that area will be paved. Write your commissioner.

November 04, 2016 8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said the developers will always try anything they want to make a penny at the expense of our community and nature (green space).

November 04, 2016 9:06 AM  
Blogger James said...

Again, in fairness, some of this anger should fall on sellers as well. I find it disingenuous that the previous owner was at this meeting arguing for no development, when this is the first sentence in the listing for the property when it was last sold:
"LOVE & TREASURE HER, RE-INVENT, or RE-DEVELOP this outstanding acre estate." Judging by sales records, the seller made about 800k on the sale. If they were so set on saving the property and keeping it as is, I'm sure they could of taken less money and sold it to someone who would of preserved it. I'm not saying we shouldn't have regulations, but I find it disingenuous and a bit hypocritical for everyone to rip developers for being greedy but not sellers for taking an obviously inflated price knowing the property can only be a money maker for the developer if it's a tear down.

November 04, 2016 11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Interesting article and hope that your followers will have the same concern for zoning/development issues when La Brisa, now owned by Ransom Everglades, comes up......?

November 04, 2016 12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last paragraph especially important, seems it would fix a lot to ban development until final approval. And also fix tremendous loophole where developers can start construction (I've literally seen it on my street happening illegally pre 8am before anyone can do anything, not to mention waiting 2 or 3 months for P/Z to respond or take action and then its TOO LATE because construction has started. That is so lame, and so ridiculous. Say goodbye to tree canopy, say hello to overdeveloped housing monstrosities on old Grove streets everywhere you look. Your street is next!

November 05, 2016 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You guys should move to some socialist/communist country. We have private property rights in America!

November 05, 2016 4:11 PM  

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