Commission paves way for South Beach complex
By DAVID SMILEY
The Miami Herald
With only a rough concept of what a developer wants to build at the gateway to South Beach, Miami Beach commissioners gave conditional support Wednesday to a potentially massive complex while hoping to finagle more control over what is eventually designed.
At the request of Russell Galbut of Crescent Heights, the commission agreed 6–1 Wednesday to alter land-use and zoning regulations governing the former South Shore Hospital site at 600 Alton Rd. to allow commercial development. The requested changes must be reviewed and approved by the Department of Community Affairs and other regional authorities before commissioners can take a second and final vote on the issue.
Galbut is planning a high-end retail and mixed-use complex on the two-block, 2.4-acre site one block north of the MacArthur Causeway and Alton. He says he is shopping the concept to potential tenants, but hasn’t designed anything yet because current development regulations only allow medical uses, such as a nursing home or hospital.
Some commissioners and neighbors expressed concerns about paving the way for the project with little idea of what it could look like - at up to 400,000 square feet.
"I’d like to kind of see what’s going to go there," Commissioner Jonah Wolfson – the lone dissenting commissioner – told Galbut.
The problem with that, according to Galbut's attorney, former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin, is the city can’t base a decision on a zoning and land-use change on a site plan – a statement reinforced several months ago when the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Palmetto Bay incorrectly denied Palmer Trinity school’s zoning change request based on its intended use of the property.
Rather, Kasdin said the requested change is valid because the area is surrounded by commercial development and another medical center makes little sense.
"This issue is a no-brainer," Kasdin said. "A hospital today is an obsolete use for that site."
Still, commissioners were able to get a guarantee from Galbut and Kasdin that before a final vote is cast to change the site’s zoning and land use, a conceptual site plan will be presented before the commission – even if it has no bearing on their vote.