Candidate Questionnaire: Mayoral 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 Mayoral candidate responses we received are listed below.

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

Mayor

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

Jean Marie Echemendia: Yes

Dan Gelber: Yes

Gus Manessis: 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.

Jean Marie Echemendia: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Dan Gelber: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Gus Manessis: 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.

Jean Marie Echemendia: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Dan Gelber: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Gus Manessis: 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. 

Jean Marie Echemendia: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Dan Gelber: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Gus Manessis: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

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

Jean Marie Echemendia: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Dan Gelber: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Gus Manessis: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

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

Jean Marie Echemendia: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Dan Gelber: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Gus Manessis: 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. 

Jean Marie Echemendia: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Dan Gelber: 5/5 (Strongly Agree)

Gus Manessis: 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? 

Jean Marie Echemendia: I do agree with this! I was just on Collins Avenue and recently saw the building just north of Faena Residences. Why was the decorative facade work removed, and who approved this? I understand this building needs to be restored, but all the art work on it is now gone and what’s left is only the stone shape of the building. I was upset about this! There is a way to restore and preserve without taking part. I think there should be a more strict code and stringent laws to enforce this, especially by billionaire developers. If I were an elected official, I would push for new laws that prevent this from happening. For example, Oko recently received a height variance. The heigh variance should have been with a requirement that they restore that Art Deco hotel to the north first. We’ve been too easy on deep pocketed developers and their requests for variances and increased FAR. This has to stop!

Dan Gelber: I have endeavored to make sure our HPB reflects our values as a community and belief that our history (including our architecture) is vital.

Gus Manessis: Maybe a couple of projects were allowed to be changed and or knocked down like The Amerikana, but otherwise I have seen great strides and better rules and laws put in place due to the due diligence of The Historic Preservation Board. Take for example the company I work for manages 24 condominium buildings in the South Beach area, approximately more than half are Art Deco Buildings most are Historically Landmarked so when I try to change out lets say for instance windows they are right there to guide us on what type of windows are allowed this is just one example of how the Historic Preservation is on point doing a greater job throughout the past years.

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?

Jean Marie Echemendia: Absolutely! We are now officially over-built and over-developed. I have spoken on Zoom meetings that the 48th floor tower on 5th and Alton is like a middle finger on the city. Not only are these massive towers not necessary, we don’t have the infrastructure to support so many people living on our little island. Our sewage is taxed and in dire need of renovation.

Dan Gelber: I approach every subject with a resident-centric lens, and recognize that oftentimes our community of residents have passionate and sharply divided views on issues. As Mayor I have worked hard to ensure my office is open to the community, meeting with any resident who seeks a meeting and hiring staff dedicated to prioritizing residents and constituent casework, a position that did not previously exist in the office. Protecting and heeding residents’ influence is something I will continue to do in my final term.  

Gus Manessis: That is a Big Yes.

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?

Jean Marie Echemendia: I am a historic preservationist. My favorite 2 types of architecture are Art Deco and Mid-Century. I would not allow these types of buildings to be demolished just because they’re in dire need of repair / restoration. What I would do is heavily fine the owners for keeping their place in shambles. The Meruelos are a disgrace with how they have allowed the Deauville to decline. If they don’t want to operate it anymore, close it and sell it, but keep it nice! Why should their greed be an eyesore to the community. This has gone on here for as long as I can remember. It has to stop! Let’s heavily fine these property owners that allow their holdings to decay in hopes of one day being able to demolish them. We should also never allow demolition of historic property. I want Ocean Drive to be a Unesco World Heritage Site to forever prevent it from being changed. I see on the Zyscovich plan to “renovate” Ocean Drive, there are 2 stories being built on top of the Art Deco buildings on Ocean Drive. This will look like a Disney version of Art Deco. Shame on them for trying to push their developer agenda and sneaking this in on the back pages of this proposal!

Dan Gelber: Preventing the commercialization and cannibalization of neighborhoods has been extremely important to me as Mayor. I have been very intent on making sure that any projects considered fit the scale and feel of the neighborhood around them – including when I voted against a potential development on 41st street which was too tall for the neighborhood and another on West Avenue. It can be a challenge navigating our Commission towards consensus when there are 7 different and passionate perspectives, but it is a challenge I embrace and will continue to tackle in my final term.

Gus Manessis: Its definitely in my top 2 after ridding our streets of crime. I am hoping to be able to get more insight and information the first 60 days in office while working alongside the preservation board this will allow me to make better and informative decisions.

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?

Jean Marie Echemendia: I would implement more stringent measures to our property here, especially historic property. Once a building or home is bought that is in disrepair, no matter from what era, it should be painted on the outside in a tasteful manner so the neighborhood is not aversely affected by decaying real estate. We should also ban the demolition of historically significant structures from mid-1960s and earlier. There has been plenty built in the 1970’s and later that is downright ugly. if a developer wants to build new, they should buy ugly mid-1980’s and beyond structures or empty lots and build accordingly. Tearing down historic property is chipping away at the architectural integrity and charm of our community and its not right.

Dan Gelber: Short term rentals (STR) are a scourge on our community and detract from quality of life everywhere they go. I’ve supported and pushed for protections in our Code for residential areas against these predatory business practices, and will continue doing so. 

Gus Manessis: I would again have to consult with the preservation board to get a better understanding on a certain zoning and planning changes. I am not not expert in Historical preservation but I do have some knowledge from managing historical preserved buildings, and the love of our architectural city landscape.

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?

Jean Marie Echemendia: I would tell them they should’ve bought something else, somewhere else. And to hurry and restore their property and/or sell it before they get heavily fined by the special master for leaving it to decay. Our historic character must be preserved!

Dan Gelber: Shortly after I became Mayor I led our Commission in passing sweeping historic designation of properties around north beach, in some cases with objections from property owners, creating the North Shore and Normandy Isles Local Historic Districts. This was the largest historic designation in over 20 years and that speaks for itself. I believe we should explore all possible incentives to encourage single family home owners to maintain historic elements of their properties.

Gus Manessis: This is something we would have to tackle case by case, in some instances there could be a middle ground agreement that could be reached that could still keep the integrity and style of building.

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

Jean Marie Echemendia: Yes

Dan Gelber: Yes

Gus Manessis: 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)

Jean Marie Echemendia: Yes

Dan Gelber: Yes

Gus Manessis: 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.

Jean Marie Echemendia: I agree

Dan Gelber: I agree

Gus Manessis: 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.

Jean Marie Echemendia: I agree

Dan Gelber: N/A – did not respond “I Agree” or “I Do Not Agree”

Gus Manessis: 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.

Jean Marie Echemendia: I agree

Dan Gelber: I agree

Gus Manessis: I agree

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