Jan 18, 2024 - News

Development moratorium considered in Bal Harbour Shops dispute

Rendering of Bal Harbour Shops' expansion.

A rendering shows the proposed expansion of Bal Harbour Shops, with hotel and residential units. Photo: Courtesy of Bal Harbour Shops

The village of Bal Harbour is fighting back against a mall expansion project that would exceed local height restrictions by nearly 400% in the name of workforce housing.

Driving the news: The village council voted this week to consider suspending all new development in an effort to stop Bal Harbour Shops from building a new hotel and residential complex at the mall.

  • Speaking to a group of angry residents Tuesday night, Mayor Jeffrey Freimark said the fight is headed to court.

Why it matters: The project, which has outraged residents and elected leaders, invokes a 2023 Florida law that allows developers to override local zoning rules if they build income-restricted housing.

  • Under the Live Local Act, qualifying residential projects can circumvent city council votes and have their projects administratively approved.
  • The tiny town of 3,000 people isn't the first local municipality to pause development due to the new law.
  • Doral issued a six-month moratorium on development in July. Elsewhere in Florida, the Pasco County Commission has threatened to sue developers over the law.

Details: The Bal Harbour Shops project would rise 275 feet tall, about five times higher than the 56 feet currently allowed on the property, and include 600 "high-end" residential units, 70 hotel rooms and 45,000 square feet of additional retail space.

  • To qualify under the law, 40% of the residential units would need to meet the state's definition of affordable housing, which means a single renter making up to $87,000 would qualify.
  • Freimark has said the village is reviewing the project to see if it complies with the Live Local Act and a development agreement for a separate ongoing expansion at the Shops.

The latest: Matthew Whitman Lazenby, president and CEO of mall owner Whitman Family Development, threatened litigation in a Tuesday letter to Freimark over arguments he says the village has used to stop the project.

  • Freimark has said the developers would need additional floor-area ratio, or the square footage allowed on a specific lot, that neither local zoning rules nor the Live Local Act gives them.

What they're saying: Lazenby tells Axios the project complies with the law, would be in scale with surrounding high-rises and benefits local workers priced out of the real estate market.

  • "Bal Harbour is a thriving community today, but too many hospitality and service workers, teachers, nurses, and first responders are forced to commute long distances into the village because they can't afford to live within its boundaries," he says.

What we're watching: Lazenby, who did not attend the council meeting, says he plans to host "one or more information sessions" with village officials and residents to discuss the project.

What else: The council voted Tuesday to waive a $20,000 spending cap for the village manager to "protect the village's interests."

  • Members also voted to address the "conflict" that village lobbyist Ron Book, who represents Bal Harbour's interests in Tallahassee, is also a lobbyist for the Shops. Freimark said he must choose between the village or the mall.
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