Candidate Questionnaire: Group 3 Responses

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The Miami Design Preservation League sent a questionnaire regarding preservation and development issues to all candidates for the Miami Beach November 2nd 2021 general election. We will be posting each set of responses to our blog and sharing those with our stakeholders. The Group 3 Commission candidate responses we received are listed below.

Note: MDPL is a 501c3 and cannot endorse candidates.

Group 3

Question 1. If elected, I pledge to support historic preservation in Miami Beach.

Melissa Beattie: Yes

Stephen Cohen: Yes

Alex Fernandez: Yes

Historic Preservation. Please select the degree to which you agree or disagree with the following statements:

Question 2. Preservation of historic structures and neighborhoods contributes to the city’s attractiveness to tourists and to the quality of life of its residents.

Melissa Beattie: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Stephen Cohen: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Alex Fernandez: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Question 3. Miami Beach’s rich architectural landscape is ongoing and should be documented to identify significant structures for historic designation and ensure that designated structures are maintained and preserved, according to the objective criteria of our City code.

Melissa Beattie: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Stephen Cohen: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Alex Fernandez: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Question 4. Preservation of historic structures and neighborhoods should be integrated in the City’s practices in addressing and mitigating sea level rise. 

Melissa Beattie: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Stephen Cohen: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Alex Fernandez: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Question 5. New construction should harmonize with historic structures and should not overwhelm streetscapes in footprint, volume, or height. 

Melissa Beattie: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Stephen Cohen: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Alex Fernandez: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Question 6. Review of building design or urban planning should be conducted in concert with generally accepted historic preservation principles. 

Melissa Beattie: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Stephen Cohen: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Alex Fernandez: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Question 7. Miami Beach’s historic buildings are not only important in telling the story of our community, but are recognized as nationally significant to our nation’s history. This includes structures of all types – hotels, apartment buildings, office buildings, retail buildings, single-family homes, and more. 

Melissa Beattie: 4/5 (Agree)

Stephen Cohen: 4/5 (Agree)

Alex Fernandez: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Landmarks and Historic Designation

Question 8. Some preservationists and Miami Beachers feel that the Historic Preservation Board has become increasingly lax in its regulation of historic districts and landmarked properties, in that it has allowed increasingly out-of-context changes to landmarked buildings and new construction within historic districts. Do you agree with this assessment, and if so, what have you done/would you do as an elected official to help address this? 

Melissa Beattie: Agree. Too often, the Historic Preservation Board, the Design Review Board, the Planning Board, and its membership stray from their responsibilities and cower when making difficult decisions and buckle under pressure from lobbyists, developers, and other special interests. As a first-time candidate and political outsider who has had been President of her Homeowner’s Association, I have witnessed the mismanagement in city hall and CIP neighborhoods projects, I look to restore integrity to the office of City Commission and restore greatness to Miami Beach.

Stephen Cohen: Yes, I would like to see a ballot question for height increases decided by the electorate, especially when adding FAR from vacating the streets. I have advocated for this including collecting signatures a petition with Daniel Ciraldo in 2016.

Alex Fernandez: I do agree that we need to improve upon our protection of historic districts and landmarks. This is why I will lead for the appointment of HPB members who will be good stewards of our community’s historic assets. Boards like the HPB should be looked up to as the experts on preservation and their input should be sought, encouraged, and respected. As a member of the Planning Board, I have asked Planning Staff for HPB’s position on matters that may affect preservation or historic districts. I will continue to do so when elected to the City Commission.

Question 9. How have you worked/would you work as an elected official to reduce the inordinate influence of the real estate industry over policy in Miami Beach and in city government?

Melissa Beattie: To answer the question, I would need to better understand what’s implied in “inordinate influence”.

Stephen Cohen: 100%. I think City Hall should focus more on residents and keeping us safe.

Alex Fernandez: I will always be open to the suggestions of MDPL to correct the inequities that exist. At minimum, I believe that we need to provide for better opportunities for historic preservation advocates to provide input at meetings. This includes adopting the right procedures to ensure that historic preservation items are scheduled to be heard at a time that facilitates public participation. To this extent, we can continue to provide for greater public participation by adopting virtual participation as a permanent practice beyond the pandemic. Additionally, I believe that broader public notices could be provided to the community and measures should be considered to prevent the indefinite deferral of applications. Lastly, we should explore ways to provide the historic preservation community with greater standing on matters related to preservation.

Question 10: Where does/would preserving neighborhood scale, character, and historic resources fit into your priorities, and how have/would you go about achieving it? What obstacles or conflicts have you encountered/would you anticipate, and how have you dealt with/would you deal with those?

Melissa Beattie: Miami Beach’s growth is inevitable. What we must seek to achieve is SMART GROWTH — growth and development that does not conflict with the scale and character of our neighborhoods and Art Deco architecture. Striking a balance between our rich Art Deco architectural history and future development is of the utmost importance.

Stephen Cohen: Communication to the community is the biggest issue, I see. Residents are not properly informed on new projects or changes to the neighborhood. Resident input and community involvement is the key.

Alex Fernandez: Preserving the character of our neighborhoods is high in my priorities together with addressing our challenges with safety, short term rentals, traffic, and resiliency. We can achieve this if we uphold our current ordinances. As I have on the Planning Board, I will proudly continue to protect areas like the Gilbert Fein Conservation District from height increases and support the expansion of our designated areas as I did with the North Shore Historic Tatum Waterway Expansion. We should also focus on the enforcement of our codes related to proper maintenance and upkeep of buildings to prevent demolition by neglect. Ideally, I would like to see a dedicated Code Enforcement Unit trained specifically to help ensure historic properties remain properly maintained and safe. Additionally, I have witnessed conflicts between our City’s vision to be both resilient and historic. However, these do not have to be mutually exclusive goals as evidenced by MDPL’s Center for Resiliency and Sustainability.

Question 11: In general, are there changes to our zoning and planning code you would seek to implement or support, and if so, what are they?

Melissa Beattie: Currently, the Miami Beach City Code has the requisite mechanisms to enforce existing rules and regulations — the composition of quasi-judicial boards can be the problem (DRB, HPB, PB, etc.).

Stephen Cohen: I would like to the see City Hall focusing more on workforce housing and housing for the middle class within scale. Much less focus on luxury condominiums, more height, and FAR

Alex Fernandez: On the Planning Board, I have been a proponent for the expansion of the Art Deco / Mimo Overlay. Currently the South Beach area of the overlay only includes Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue in South Beach. I was able to gain the support of my colleagues on the Planning Board to recommend for the expansion of the overlay to include the properties on the western side of Washington Avenue. This would provide for minimum distance requirements and limits on the amount of tattoo parlors, t-shirt shops, smoke shops, liquor stores, convenience stores, etc. that proliferate block after block of our historic district – in this case, Washington Avenue. So many prominent street corners of Washington Avenue are anchored by buildings of architectural significance however, we have allowed these to be occupied by liquor stores, fast food restaurants, markets, pharmacies (selling prepackaged liquor), convenience stores, and t-shirt shops. Hopefully we can enhance our unique cultural, retail, and dining experience by expanding the overlay.

Question 12: What would you tell a property owner who was opposed to their property being landmarked, given that you as a City Commissioner must ultimately uphold the Historic Preservation Board’s designation based on the objective criteria in the City code when it comes before the City Commission?

Melissa Beattie: I cannot give a clear, sincere answer to that question today.

Stephen Cohen: If the property is designated, the designation should stay in place. I would like to see incentives and improved permit process to help owners keep historic properties in good condition.

Alex Fernandez: Each situation is unique and there is no blanket answer we could give a property owner opposed to their property being landmarked. However, to avoid these situations, we could consider requiring disclosures for uniformity in educating potential purchasers that property under contract may be in a historic district or could potentially be a landmark for preservation even when not located in the district. Being a historic community is prominent to our identity as a city and destination and those who seek to relocate or invest here should share in our pride.

Question 13. The Design Review Board should have all pertinent information on architecturally significant structures before considering their alteration or demolition.

Melissa Beattie: Yes

Stephen Cohen: Yes

Alex Fernandez: Yes

Question 14. I pledge to nominate and/or confirm qualified candidates to all land use boards (Design Review Board, Historic Preservation Board, Board of Adjustment)

Melissa Beattie: Yes

Stephen Cohen: Yes

Alex Fernandez: Yes

Question 15. The City Charter stipulates that any weakening of the powers of the Historic Preservation Board requires approval by the voters. Understanding the intent of the Charter, the governing document of our City, I promise to support and uphold the powers and lawful decisions of the Historic Preservation Board.

Melissa Beattie: I agree

Stephen Cohen: I agree

Alex Fernandez: I agree

Question 16. The Historic Preservation Board has a series of required duties, including recommending structures for historic designation based on objective criteria that follow national standards. If elected, I pledge to support the fact-based findings of the experts on the Historic Preservation Board.

Melissa Beattie: I agree

Stephen Cohen: I agree

Alex Fernandez: I agree

Question 17. I understand that my role as a Mayor or Commissioner is not to second guess or try to subvert the lawful actions of the Historic Preservation Board. The position for which I will be elected is not one of historic preservation expert.

Melissa Beattie: I agree

Stephen Cohen: I agree

Alex Fernandez: I agree

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