Mixed use projects are uprooting old strip malls and outdated buildings all over South Florida — and Key Biscayne took a modest step in that direction Tuesday with a new project at the long-moribund entry block to the island.
The Village Council approved a new site plan by a 5-2 vote for a new office, shopping – and, yes, sports – complex.
The Key Biscayne Gateway complex would sit at 12-24 Crandon Boulevard. It will sport more than 10,000 square feet for retail and about 15,500 square feet of office space. It will also contain 100 underground parking spaces.
Designed by architect Hamed Rodriguez – the mind behind some modern new homes on Key Biscayne – the project may be unpretentious in size based on Miami standards but is no less ambitious. It plans four rooftop padel ball courts – which isn’t exactly tennis, squash or pickleball but a relative of all three.
The spot on Crandon Boulevard has a rich history. It is where the La Carreta restaurant served up cafecito and where the storied nightclub Stefano’s Lounge once stood.
Developer ES KB Partners LLC bought the property in 2015 for $15 million – a far cry from the $1.1 million it sold for just four years earlier, according to property records.
Lucas Boccheciampe, a resident and a real estate agent, told the Village Council on Tuesday night, that clients he brings to the island are taken back by the outdated – and sometimes dilapidated – retail and office spaces.
And, indeed, there is a very 1985 look to the shopping centers on Key Biscayne.
“Everything is a mess. Having a very brand new building is going to be very good,” Boccheciampe said. “We are moving into the evolution of the island and we need something newer.”
The few who spoke against the construction were nearby residents who worried about traffic, as well as light and noise pollution. There was also a padel ball enthusiast who was thrilled with the planned courts, saying interest in the sport is growing exponentially.
Attorney Mario Garcia-Serra – who represents the developer, said the island is replete with innovative and modern new residential designs.
“I think our commercial properties lag behind a little bit,” he said. “This will be at least an example of something new that works well and is sort of commensurate with or equivalent to the quality of residential developments we have.”
“It is important to see what is sensible for a town like this because it is a quaint town but it has a dynamic where folks living here want something new,” Rodriguez said after the vote.
Rodriguez is on the Coral Gables’ Board of Architects and is the pencil behind Villa Valencia condominium in that city and the nearby Sunset Medical Building.
Still, Garcia-Serra said he didn’t know that the project would get the green light until the vote. It all almost went sideways when Council Member Brett Moss made demands that the whole project be redesigned and Council Member Fernando Vasquez, an engineer, expressed concerns about stormwater drainage.
Both were no votes in the end.
“I have concerns on the scale and the mass of the building,” said Moss, an architect by trade. “It’s intense and you are going to feel it.”
He wanted Rodriguez to split up the complex into various sizes and reduce the height. Rodriguez said the height of the floors are designed to accommodate perspective tenets.
Councilman Ed London disagreed with Moss. “I think it looks fantastic,” he said.
Village staff, reporting to the Council, found the low-intensity mixed-use complex met all criteria except for traffic concerns: “The development location and driveway access will further worsen the existing conditions.”
ES KB Partners LLC has agreed to pay more than $115,000 on intersection improvements, particularly to mitigate concerns over merging traffic coming out of the new onto Crandon Blvd.
The project also asked for no variances – something Council MembeAllison McCormick lauded – and, in theory, could have been much larger and added housing units under a new state law the Village opposed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed affordable housing legislation that allows developers to supersede municipalities’ zoning, density and height requirements.
Vazquez’s concerns about the storm water drainage at the new building comes after last week’s torrential rains flooded Key Biscayne as the city launches a complete redo of the system – starting with the area around the schools.
He said the reliance on French drains – usually a covered trench – is a recipe for failure and with Key Biscayne Gateway elevated, he worried the water would end up evading adjacent properties.
“I’m going to break it to you: French drains don’t work,” he said.