By John Charles Robbins
A plan to construct a new residential tower on the waterfront in Brickell advanced after review by the city’s Urban Development Review Board.
Over the objections of neighbors complaining of added traffic and the planned density, the board recommended approval of the project with conditions.
The property at 1111 Brickell Bay Drive already houses the 32-story Yacht Club at Brickell apartments, which would be redeveloped, adding a 61-story apartment tower and garage.
Amico Yacht Club at Brickell LLC proposes the mixed-use project for the 2.4 acres, calling it a mixed-use luxury retail, hotel and apartment residences development.
Plans from Stantec Architecture Inc. show 15,486 square feet of commercial and retail and 34,669 square feet of offices.
Zoning permits 48 stories, reaching a total of 80 stories through use of the Public Benefits Program bonuses, the developer says.
The 61-story tower is to rise 690 feet 2 inches and have 560 apartments. The property fronts Brickell Bay Drive to the west and Biscayne Bay to the east.
The developer would demolish the existing garage and build a new one. Plans include a new pedestrian garden walk to and along the bay; new arrival area, resident lobby and pool deck; and floor-to-ceiling windows, glass balconies and updated interior paint and finishes on the existing building.
The developer has presented the plan with two options. One is a mix of residential, commercial and retail. The other has fewer residences but adds hotel rooms.
The developer is requesting several waivers, including a 10% increase in the size of the floor plate, 10% reduction in the required space between towers, permission to have entrances off a primary frontage, side yard setbacks above the eighth floor, up to a 50% reduction in required parking and more.
Iris Escarra, an attorney representing the developer, told the board of the plan to renovate the existing building. It currently is home to 357 apartments. The so-called residential option would renovate the smaller building to hold 322 residences.
The hotel option would remodel the building to house 258 hotel rooms and 178 residential units.
Architect Jon Cardello, with Stantec, said he is excited to work on the project. He said the addition of retail to the site with “an active retail edge” helps make Brickell Bay Drive more pedestrian-friendly.
Mr. Cardello said the site layout will activate the waterfront with a new public access point and the project will also activate the public baywalk.
The project fully complies with the city’s waterfront setbacks, Ms. Escarra said.
Mr. Cardello said the developer is sensitive to the appearance of the parking garage and that those levels will be nestled and screened, including an artistic treatment on part of the façade. The bay side of the garage will be lined with residential units, he said.
An active and shared amenity deck would have three swimming pools and a fountain, the residential units will extend down to the second floor, and there will be outdoor dining.
The project will have a new grand entrance and drop-off area on the site’s south side, Mr. Cardello said.
Due to Federal Emergency Management Agency rules governing base flood elevations, the site will incorporate stairways leading to the ground floor levels and employ terraces too.
The site is large enough to accommodate the higher elevations, stairs and landscaping and still provide a clear view of Biscayne Bay, according to Mr. Cardello.
It is being considered a transit-oriented project, said Ms. Escarra, noting the Metromover, Metrorail, city trolley stops and nine bus stops nearby.
1111 Brickell Bay Drive is about 857 feet from the Metromover Tenth Street Station.
The site is across the street from Florida East Coast Realty’s Panorama Tower, an 83-story mixed-use project now rising at 1101 Brickell Ave.
The city’s zoning allows an up to 30% reduction of required parking for projects near mass transit. Reductions between 30% and 50% require special payments to the city, if the waivers are granted and the project is built.
Ms. Escarra reminded the review board that the Panorama project was granted a waiver to allow reduced parking.
She explained other requested waivers. Miami 21 requires all access be from secondary frontages, however, 1111 Brickell Bay Drive only has two principal frontages: the bay and Brickell Bay Drive. She said this triggers an automatic waiver.
All loading and unloading will be internalized, she said, but all access has to be from Brickell Bay Drive.
The zoning requires 60 feet between towers, but the proposal would have at least one corner or edge of the smaller building about 54 feet from the new 61-story tower, she said.
Board member Neil Hall referred to the “massive” reduction in parking being requested and wondered what public benefit would result.
“It’s a trade-off – define that,” he said.
Ms. Escarra said the project increases the public access to the waterfront and helps activate the site with retail uses. She said there will be substantial public benefit within a limited footprint.
While the southern end of the property will include the new grand entrance, the developer will keep and improve a north pedestrian pathway to the waterfront and baywalk, said Ms. Escarra.
She also noted that any reduction of parking above a 30% reduction is expected to cost the developer $25,000 per space, paid to the city.
A city planner said the amount is yet to be approved, but the money would go into the city’s new transportation trust fund.
One neighbor who said he lives and works in that area objected to the proposal, which he said would increase density by 140%.
He said the narrow two-lane street is already impacted by slow traffic, and when Panorama opens it will add 872 rental apartments and the accompanying traffic. Adding hotel rooms and another tower of residences will only add to the traffic congestion, he said.
The man said he likes the plans to improve the waterfront on the site but suggested the city only allow improvements to the existing building.
Attorney Tucker Gibbs told the board he represents a company that owns property across the street from 1111 Brickell Bay Drive. He said that company has serious concerns, particularly about how the project can say it’s going to be pedestrian-friendly when all the added traffic will have to use Brickell Bay Drive. Wouldn’t that, he asked, diminish the walkable urban environment?
The project will force the added cars to re-circulate through the neighborhood, causing conflict and “serious safety considerations,” he said.
Mr. Gibbs complained of the massing of the project, saying “you’re cramming a lot” onto a site that already has a building on it.
He said his clients also are concerned that the new garage will be close to the north property line.
“We urge the project be refined,” said Mr. Gibbs, and the number of waivers reduced.
Victor Diaz, who said he represents other interests in the neighborhood, opposed the waivers and said the project intends to cram the new 61-story tower too close to another building to the north. He asked the board to have the developer return with “a more urbanly contextual building.”
Ms. Escarra told the board that the developer has tried to reach out to stakeholders in the neighborhood as part of community outreach and desires to continue that outreach to address concerns.
“It’s a well-designed project,” said board member Fidel Perez. “I like the way you’ve done the waterfront.”
He quickly added that he sees the requested waivers for less parking and the planned density to be very aggressive.
Mr. Perez said what bothered him the most was the residential vs. hotel option. He asked why the developer was presenting the project that way, instead of simply picking one.
“The hotel gives you a better opportunity to get more of a parking reduction,” said Mr. Perez.
Mr. Cardello mentioned the push to advance a population that depends more on ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, and “public transportation needs to be encouraged.”
Will it include a hotel, Mr. Perez asked directly.
“We’d love the hotel option,” responded Mr. Cardello, but the developer needs the flexibility of not including the hotel.
“It’s important to decide which way to go,” Mr. Perez said. “Determine one way or the other, to convince me.”
Mr. Perez agreed with one critic, saying the developer needs to rethink the design and façade of the parking levels on the north side that abuts the neighbors.
“Now it’s just a blank wall 13 stories high,” he said.
Mr. Perez also suggested adding retail into the northwest corner of the new structure.
Mr. Hall mentioned the traffic on busy Brickell Avenue and its current challenges. He said most people are “still in car mode” and haven’t gotten away from private vehicles.
Mr. Hall said he agreed with Mr. Perez in preferring the developer pick one option and pursue it, but he praised the look.
“It’s a very exciting project to view and be around,” Mr. Hall said.
He said it is a “dense, dense area” and the site is a tight space, but the design is done brilliantly.
“You’ve done an extraordinary job creating very articulate spaces,” said acting board chairman Anthony Tzamtzis, “especially the street level retail.”
He also likes the way the lobbies relate to the street and the design of the southern pedestrian pathway.
Mr. Tzamtzis said he understood some of the concerns raised and also wished the developer would not proceed with options.
Ms. Escarra referred to the options and suggested the market will determine if a hotel should be included. She said rather than present it as a residential project and later come back with alterations for a hotel, the developer wanted to “put all of our cards out on the table” now.
“Everything is kind of changing,” she said.
Mr. Tzamtzis said there can be great consequences in reducing the parking required, and he agreed the requested waivers were aggressive.
“I have mixed feelings,” he said, asking for an improved pedestrian pathway on the north.
Mr. Perez made a motion to recommend approval with conditions, the first being that the project be limited to a 30% parking reduction if developers proceed with both options but they can get an up to 50% reduction if they pursue the hotel option.
Other conditions the developer’s team agreed to include redesigning the north façade of the new structure and trying to add uses to the northwest corner to make it more open and pedestrian-friendly.
Plans show that even with a reduction in parking the project will provide 955 spaces.