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A proposed luxury condo on the site of the old Silver Sands hotel would rise 14 stories and require variances and a change to the island’s zoning code, according to documents filed before a Village Council workshop meeting set for Thursday. 

The variances are similar to those used for the Oceana condo adjacent to the Silver Sands, a single-story, low-key property with 56 rooms. But the “text amendment” to the zoning code would clarify that the density limit now applying to the Silver Sands could be transferred to the new condo. One variance is meant to make the property more resilient to flooding by going three feet over the current flood elevation. 

Housekeepers make rounds at the Silver Sands motel in Key Biscayne, Fla. May 12, 2024. FIle. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

The site plan submitted to the Council depicts a fully landscaped site, complete with a spa, two pools, a restaurant, and a meeting room that could be used for community functions. The structure would be 150 feet tall, similar in height to the Oceana Condominium. 

But the requested zoning change raises a question of whether Key Biscayne residents would get to vote on the project under a provision of the Village Charter that necessitates referendums on certain kinds of zoning changes. 

The provision’s applicability is in question after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill last year that may have nullified Key Biscayne’s referendum provision, but it’s not clear if the statute has been tested in court. Village Attorney Chad Friedman did not respond to a question about the Charter. 

In formal filings, representatives from Terra Acquisitions, the purchaser, said their goal is to keep the density the same and to manage traffic and environmental issues to high standards. Representatives have had a series of meetings with community members over the past several days, the Independent has learned, to gather community support for transforming the Silver Sands. 

A person familiar with the project, who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak, said developers believed no public vote would be required because of the change in state law. 

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Indeed, in a letter requesting the change, the developers said they believed that they have the legal right to build even if the Council were to reject a code amendment because the plan does not increase density, in their view. 

The Silver Sands motel in Key Biscayne, Fla. May 12, 2024. File (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

“The Applicant submits this text amendment in an abundance of caution and by submitting this text amendment, the Applicant and Property owner do not waive and expressly reserve all legal rights to challenge the Density Moratorium as applied to the Property,” wrote attorneys John Shubin and Ian DeMello. 

Key Biscayne’s charter provision, known as Section 4.15, was added by voters in 2007 after the development of the old Sonesta Hotel. The Oceana Condominium now stands on that lot. 

In May, as word of the Terra project had spread, the Council adopted a “zoning in progress” measure as a defensive move about another state law, the Live Local Act, that could also impact development on the island, where density is a hot-button issue. Terra has not invoked the Live Local Act, which only applies to affordable housing projects. 

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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...