June 2, 2023


Just Do Travel

Miami Beach Planning Board Recommends Exception for Finvarb Hotel in Sunset Harbour

The Miami Beach Planning Board recommended the City create an exception to an ordinance that would prohibit future hotels in Sunset Harbour to allow developer Ronny Finvarb to proceed with his proposed Palomar Suites. To ease concerns of Board members and the neighborhood, Finvarb agreed to limit occupancy in the suites to a maximum of six. 

The request for an exception came after Finvarb’s SOBE 18 LLC went “hard” on a contract to purchase a vacant property at 1790 Alton Road on February 1. At that point, according to attorney Mickey Marrero of Bercow Radell Fernandez Larkin & Tapanes, Finvarb’s “substantial” deposit was nonrefundable, he had negotiated an agreement with Kimpton to operate the suite hotel, and was well into the design process. Ten days later, the City began discussing the hotel prohibition as part of the new Sunset Harbour Overlay. Finvarb has since closed on the property.

“Our client did everything that a property owner should do in good faith,” Marrero said. “He did a great deal of due diligence,” meeting with City staff about his plans, “well before any of this was mentioned” regarding hotel prohibitions.

The location proposed for the suite hotel is across Dade Boulevard from Finvarb’s Palomar Hotel. Building on that success, Finvarb wants to offer options for families and business travelers with rooms that include kitchens and launderettes. Though the hotel will be small with only 36 rooms, residents and some Board members expressed concerns about the overall occupancy if each suite was rented at its allowable capacity of eight. In response, Finvarb volunteered a covenant to limit the maximum occupancy to six. 

The prohibition on hotels is just one aspect of the ordinance which provides a height increase to 65 feet for office uses on properties fronting Dade Boulevard between Alton Road and Bay Road, properties fronting Alton Road between 20th Street and Dade Boulevard as well as those fronting Purdy Avenue between 18th Street and Dade Boulevard. It would also eliminate the minimum parking requirement for non-residential uses above the ground floor while allowing developers to provide parking for office uses above the ground floor up to the level required in parking district 1 without counting against FAR (floor area ratio) limits. There are also limits on the number of lots that can be aggregated for retail, personal service or restaurant uses and maximum lot size for non-office developments.

Recommendations from a Neighborhood Vision Plan developed by the Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association were incorporated into the ordinance including the hotel prohibition, requirements for a clear pedestrian path of ten feet as well as ground level uses to provide neighborhood activation. There are also setback requirements above 55 feet and limits on height for rooftop structures. 

At last month’s Planning Board meeting, Board members asked the developer and community to see if they could come to an agreement, but the neighborhood association maintained its opposition to an exception.

Geoffrey Aaronson, Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association Board member, said he was concerned not only with the maximum number of guests who could be at the hotel at any one time but also with the tourists it would attract. “The location of this hotel is not exactly attractive to the Class A tourists who would be coming to Miami Beach,” he said. “It doesn’t have a water view. It’s on Alton and Dade Boulevard, a heavily trafficked area.”

Resident Robert Borak said the location has been an empty lot for years. “I would like to see that go away.” The proposed project, in his opinion, will “bring in exactly who we want to come in and spend money in this area.” In response to Marrero’s comments that a restaurant of a similar caliber to Morini which has been successful at the Palomar would be located in the suites hotel, Borak said, “I cannot express how excited I would be to see that.”

Finvarb said he found the Neighborhood Vision Plan compelling and argued the proposed hotel checks all the boxes of the plan’s four principals – scale, walkability, mixed use, and sidewalk animations. “We’re not going for any height or any variances,” with the hotel, he said. “We are creating a very, very high-level hotel with an amazing restaurant like Morini which is only going to enhance the walkability in this little pocket that is currently surrounded by an Office Depot, a car wash, and a vacant Michaels. If a vacant Michaels and a raw piece of dirt is what people vision as being walkable, that isn’t the case, so we are adding to the walkability.”

“We’re looking to further contribute to this wonderful area,” Finvarb said. “Please just consider the fairness here.”

Fernando Rivera, General Manager of the Kimpton Palomar, noted the room rates the 96-room hotel commands. The previous weekend was fully booked, he said, at an average rate of $355. At the suite hotel, he said he expected longer stays at $500-600 per day. 

During Board discussion, Planning Board member Nick Gelpi said, “I do find it unfair that the owner did the due diligence and [City] staff was not aware of anything.” 

“I like the Overlay a lot,” he said. “I just find it unfair” with regard to the timing.

Tanya Bhatt said she thinks “It’s time for Miami Beach as a city to look at the Code that governs how many people can stay in hotel rooms.” The issue, she said, “is not just the proliferation of hotel rooms [but] the number of people that get packed into a hotel room.”

She acknowledged the neighborhood spent “the better part of a year” crafting the Neighborhood Vision Plan, “but for circumstance of timing, this project would be moving through the process.” In this case, she said, “where somebody is doing everything the way he or she should be doing it… the timing seems pretty unfair.”

“Whatever we need to do to try to make this fair, we should,” Mark Meland said. 

Planning Board member Alex Fernandez asked for a separate vote on the exception to allow the Finvarb hotel to move forward and was the lone “no” vote. Despite the agreement for occupancy limits, he said he could not go against the wishes of the neighborhood.

The Sunset Harbour Overlay ordinance changes passed unanimously, 6-0.

The measure now goes to the City Commission.

The Planning Board item including the Staff memo and Neighborhood Vision Plan can be found here.

Rendering courtesy GEK Architecture