Bal Harbour Shops Takes Legal Action Against Village Regarding Handling of Proposed ExpansionJanuary 25, 2024
Whitman Family Development, the owner of Bal Harbour Shops, is responding to the village’s opposition to its proposed mixed-use expansion of the upscale shopping center under Florida’s newly enacted affordable housing law. The luxury shopping destination filed a lawsuit against Bal Harbour on Tuesday, just two weeks after applying Florida’s Live Local Act. This application seeks approval to construct towers reaching up to 275 feet on the 18-acre property, featuring 528 residential units, 40 percent designated for workforce housing, a 70-room hotel, and an additional 46,000 square feet of retail space.
Upon news of the application, discontent spread among elected officials and village residents, leading to grievances expressed during a recent council meeting. Bal Harbour Shops alleges that the village assured its residents of a moratorium instead of following state law to process the application. In response, the council authorized the village manager to safeguard the quality of life in light of the proposed expansion.
John Shubin, an attorney representing Whitman Family Development, expressed concerns about the village council’s actions, stating that the public’s apprehension appears to influence officials to take positions inconsistent with the Live Local Act. This law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in March, offers height and density bonuses to developers who allocate 40 percent of residential units to individuals earning up to 120 percent of the area’s median income for a minimum of 30 years. It overrides local government regulations on density and height, allowing property owners to construct tall structures if they include workforce housing.
Shubin emphasized the hope that the village recognizes its responsibilities under the Live Local Act and processes the application appropriately despite a perceived strain in the relationship between Bal Harbour Shops and the village’s building official.
Bal Harbour Mayor Jeffrey Freimark declined to comment, and requests for comments from Village Attorney Susan Trevarthen and a village spokesperson went unanswered.
The complaint argues against Freimark’s suggestion that the existing development agreement might restrict construction based on state law, asserting that Bal Harbour Shops explicitly reserved the right to additional development capacity if subsequent laws and regulations allowed it.
The complaint also contends that the village has a history of exclusionary zoning and housing practices, suggesting resistance to affordable housing. Bal Harbour residents, known for opposing height increases, are particularly concerned about the Shops’ expansion, with Saks Fifth Avenue, a longstanding anchor tenant, seemingly aligning against the plans.
The expansion would occupy space initially designated for a Barneys store, and the complaint claims that the village’s opposition is rooted in a perception that affordable housing contradicts the community’s exclusive and luxurious identity.
Amid statewide tensions with the Live Local Act’s preemption, some municipalities, like Doral, have implemented moratoriums. At the same time, the Florida Legislature is considering potential changes to restrict local restrictions on floor area ratio and adjust height limitations for Live Local projects.