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Concerned that the Silver Sands, a small, sleepy beach motel could soon be sold, Key Biscayne is moving to adopt new zoning rules as soon as this week. The objective, officials say, is to stop developers from using a Florida affordable housing law to build new high rise buildings anywhere in the Village. . 

An interim zoning measure being recommended by Village Manager Steve Williamson is expected to come for a vote at Tuesday’s Village Council meeting. 

The state law, the Live Local Act, overrides many municipal land use rules for affordable housing projects. Passed in 2023, it has already led to battles on Miami Beach and Bal Harbour. And critics fear a revision — now sitting on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk — will remove even more local control and further shift the balance in favor of developers.

The Silver Sands motel in Key Biscayne, Fla. May 12, 2024. Fearing a possible sale, Key Biscayne officials plan on enacting zoning changes to blunt the impact of a new Florida law promoting affordable housing development. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

“The potential for abuse,” says Council Member Frank Caplan, “is extreme.” The measure could allow a structure as tall as the island’s tallest building, the 26-story Casa del Mar condominium, to be built in many spots. 

“A developer could package anything, without constraints,” Caplan said, as long as the developer meets the affordable housing requirements. Under Live Local, 40% of units must be “affordable” to households earning 120% of the area median income, about $109,000 for two people.

Caplan had little specific information about the Silver Sands, a single story, low-key property with about 50 rooms. But the spot’s prime location on the Atlantic Ocean beach makes it a tempting project, and its fate has been talked about on social media for weeks. The nearly four acre parcel has a market value of $71 million, according to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser. 


A boy walks from the Silver Sands motel on the Atlantic Ocean beach in Key Biscayne, Fla. May 12, 2024. Fearing a possible sale, Key Biscayne officials plan on enacting zoning changes to blunt the impact of a new Florida law promoting affordable housing development. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Meanwhile, a revised Live Local bill, SB 328, passed the Florida Legislature with strong bipartisan support this year. The so-called “glitch bill” was supported by both of Key Biscayne’s lawmakers, State Sen. Alexis Calatayud and State Rep. Vicki Lopez.

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Proponents say the Live Local law is aimed at cutting red tape and “not in my backyard” opposition to affordable housing at a time of exploding rents. Indeed, in Key Biscayne, the term “affordable housing” is pretty much an oxymoron. The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $5,250, according to Zillow. 

But while some see a desperate need for new housing stock, others say the law doesn’t really help the target demographic of lower income working families. They say Live Local will enrich developers, granting them the ability to make billions without regard to sound urban planning concepts — resulting in disruption to cherished local ways of life. 

Manager Steve Williamson is asking the Village Council to declare a special status known as “zoning in progress” intended to restrict, but not block, a potential new affordable housing project. The resolution would give the Village time to debate permanent zoning changes.

“We will propose added administrative and review requirements since state law disrupts the typical Village of Key Biscayne site plan review procedures,” Williamson wrote in a memo. 

Caplan, who has been working on the changes, says action is needed swiftly with the potential of a Silver Sands sale on the horizon. 

“It’s so familiar, it’s so unobtrusive. But that’s going to be changing,” he said of the motel. “We have to get out in front of it.” 

Bal Harbour Could Be Example

Key Biscayne looks to be borrowing a page from Bal Harbour, where last month the Village Council passed legislation aimed at curbing 528 proposed high-rise apartments and a hotel at the luxury Bal Harbour Shops. 

In this rendering filed by Bal Harbour Shops, proposed affordable housing is seen. The developer is demanding approval under the Live Local Act, which is aimed at spurring new housing construction, but local officials say the law doesn’t promote sound local planning (KBI via Village of Bal Harbour)

In response, Bal Harbour adopted a “poor door” law that would prevent a building from having separate entrances for luxury and affordable units, as well as other code changes. 

“History shows us how opportunistic developers can bend laws like Live Local to create segregated housing that clusters affordable housing units in the most undesirable area of the development,” the Village says on its website

Bal Harbour Shops quickly filed suit against the Village, arguing the Legislature clearly meant to prevent local governments from interfering with affordable housing projects. It is asking a judge to order the Village to follow the law. A hearing in the case is set for Tuesday. 

Similar to Bal Harbour, Key Biscayne’s  set of possible legal definitions would place guardrails on developers seeking to to invoke the Live Local Act, Caplan said. 

The Williamson memo recommends that affordable housing projects:

  • meet “equal access” and demographic standards.
  • have minimum unit sizes. 
  • provide mandatory easements for critical infrastructure. 
  • allow “proper scrutiny” for impacts to traffic, parks, and stormwater systems
  • add new code provisions to “protect the status of Crandon Boulevard as the commercial center of the Village,” by setting commercial space requirements. 

Mayor Joe Rasco said he hopes the Council acts swiftly. 

“This is about us taking proactive steps,” he said.

Editor-in-Chief

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow...