Historic Miami Beach threatened amid real estate resurgence

MIAMI BEACH Fla. Mon Aug 25, 2014 5:52pm EDT

The mansion located at 22 Star Island Drive is seen in Miami Beach, Florida in a 2013 archive photo. REUTERS/Arthur Marcus Photography/Handout via Reuters

The mansion located at 22 Star Island Drive is seen in Miami Beach, Florida in a 2013 archive photo.

Credit: Reuters/Arthur Marcus Photography/Handout via Reuters

MIAMI BEACH Fla. (Reuters) - Conservationists are urging Miami Beach officials to protect more of the city's historic homes after some decades-old properties were bulldozed to make way for mega mansions.

Local groups raised concerns this month after homebuilding giant Lennar Corp CEO Stuart Miller filed plans to raze an 83-year-old house once owned by legendary Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher and build a 22,000-square-foot mansion in its place.

"It's one in a line of really amazing homes that in any other municipality would already be designated as historic," said Daniel Ciraldo, chair of the Miami Design Preservation League's public policy committee.

Neither Miller nor a spokesman for Lennar replied to requests for comment.

Miami Beach is home to several protected neighborhoods, including the Art Deco district on South Beach. The iconic, neon-lit Ocean Drive, a common backdrop for movies and television, faced destruction before being designated as historic in the mid-1980s.

But a resurgence in the local real estate market has fueled the demolition of older homes, including some without air conditioning and situated below sea level.

"A lot of these homes are not in the greatest condition," said City of Miami Beach Planning Director Thomas Mooney.

In 2011 and 2012 homeowners knocked down more pre-1942 homes than in the previous seven years combined, Mooney said.

Preservationists want the city to require all demolition projects for pre-1942 homes to go before a historic preservation officer. City officials, however, have declined to propose such a plan.

"We're on a balance here and it's a balance of individual property rights versus historic preservation versus sea level rise, and I think we have to weigh them altogether," said Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Under existing rules, a homeowner who wants to tear down a house built before 1942 only has to submit the request and plans for the new home to a planning committee.

Earlier this year a Miami plastic surgeon known as the "Boob God" and his wife, a cast member on the Real Housewives of Miami, were cleared to tear down a $7.6 million Star Island home designed by a prominent, early 20th century architect. The couple are now building a 20,000-square-foot estate with a game room and wine cellar.

Preservationists also lost a bid this month to save the courtyard of a nearly century-old church on Lincoln Road, site of a trendy outdoor mall on Miami Beach.

The church was designed by Florida's first registered architect and built by the Fisher family. Church owners have agreed to a 50-year, $100 million lease that will bring in a two-story retail complex.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Daniel Wallis, David Adams, Dan Grebler and Eric Walsh)