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Plans to expand Bal Harbour Shops put on hold again

BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Special to the Miami Herald
The Bal Harbour council once again put the brakes on plans to expand the village’s upscale shopping mall — for now.

The council voted unanimously to defer two proposals that would amend land usage for two locations: Church By The Sea, 501 96th St., and Bal Harbour’s Village Hall, 655 96th St. The parcels of land are key to the Bal Harbour Shops proposed expansion plans.

The council had also voted to defer the item at last month’s meeting.

Council members agreed that representatives of the Bal Harbour Shops, the village and Church By The Sea should meet in a workshop before presenting the matter to the council again.

“Personally, I would love to see the shops expand,” Councilman Martin Packer said at the Nov. 16 meeting. “It’s good for the village because we would get increased taxes, however, the sense of the council and am sure it has come across is that the council wants to see something concrete not specifically something.”

A date for the workshop has yet to be set.

The owners of Bal Harbour Shops would like to purchase both sites to possibly expand the mall to include retail stores, a high-end movie theater and a banquet facility, said attorney John Shubin, representing the Whitman family, which owns the mall. Developer and owner Stanley Whitman opened Bal Harbour Shops in 1965 on the site of the former World War II army barrack. Whitman persuaded Neiman Marcus to open its first store outside of its native Texas. In 1976, Saks Fifth Avenue followed.

In September, the Bal Harbour Shops submitted its application to amend the land usage on the Church By The Sea’s site of just over a half acre from institutional to commercial, and Village Hall’s site, about a third of an acre, from municipal to commercial.

A contract to purchase both properties and a site plan has not been finalized, Shubin said.

Also at the meeting, Bal Harbour has chosen to change its election date process in order to save money.

The village council voted unanimously on second reading to change the election date to be held in conjunction with the national elections on the first Tuesday in November of even numbered years.

Currently, elections are held on the first Tuesday in April of odd numbered years.

The change would save the village money — and boost turnout, Mayor Jean Rosenfield said.

“Other benefits for our residents include a greater interest in the November nationwide election, as well as the opportunity for our residents to participate in the early voting option,” she said. “We hope that these factors will translate into greater participation by our residents in the voting process.”

The village must reimburse the Miami-Dade County Elections Department for all its costs associated with the election by hosting elections in April, said Jay Smith, community outreach director.

Bal Harbour resident Brian Mulheren applauded the action. “We save money,” he said. “It is a good thing.”

Approving the ordinance means that the term for current council members would be extended by 19 months. Terms for council members are four years. Candidates qualifying period will also be adjusted.

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