The Bal Harbour Council puts off voting on a plan to expand Bal Harbour Shops.
BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
A proposal to expand Bal Harbour’s upscale shopping mall has been put on hold.
At Tuesday’s local planning agency meeting, the Bal Harbour Council unanimously voted to defer an ordinance by Bal Harbour Shops to amend land usage for two locations: Church By The Sea, 501 96th St., and Village Hall, 655 96th St.
The owners of Bal Harbour Shops want to purchase the sites to expand the mall to include retail stores, a high-end movie theater and a banquet facility, said attorney John Shubin, representing the Whitman family, who owns the mall.
“Many of you have probably lived here a long time probably knowing that the idea of expansion at The Bal Harbour Shops has been thought about by the Whitman family for probably 20, 30, 40 years,” Shubin said. “So there is no secret that expansion has been on the mind of the Bal Harbour Shops.”
A contract to purchase both properties and a site plan had not been finalized, he added.
The item will be discussed at next month’s council meeting. The proposal would need two votes to be considered.
Mayor Jean Rosenfield said it was too soon for the council to decide the issue.
“We are committed to an open transparent process on all matters that come before the Bal Harbour Village Council,” she said. “I will make certain that all parties are heard on this matter prior to any decision being reached.”
In September, the Bal Harbour Shops submitted its application to amend the land usage on the Church By The Sea’s 0.62 acres from institutional to commercial, and Village Hall’s 0.336-acre property, from municipal to commercial.
Developer and owner Stanley Whitman, who was at the meeting, 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. Currently, the mall houses 100 stores, from Prada to Gucci to Bulgari, in addition to Neiman’s and Saks.
Shubin said the Whitmans submitted the application because of Amendment 4. If approved on Tuesday, the proposed statewide amendment to Florida’s constitution would require voter approval of changes to comprehensive plans that guide development in cities, towns and counties across the state.
The amendment, if approved, would give voters veto power over elected officials’ decisions, such as the type the Whitman family is seeking.
Shubin said an approval by the council would have at least started negotiations, but also noted the process would not move forward unless there was a demand from retailers.
“We would like a signal from you of an affirmative vote that is worth our time and effort to at least begin the dialogue,” Shubin said.
Not knowing the impact of Amendment 4, resident Neil Alter said approving the proposal would be premature.
“It seems like they are pulling the cart before the horse,” he said. “I don’t know why it is necessary to approve something when, in effect, the respective counter parties have had no opportunity to consent to the process.”
Surfside’s interim town manager, Roger Carlton, suggested the council be cautious, noting that traffic could become an issue if expansion occurred. Surfside lies just south of Bal Harbour.
“The studies for both of these applications of traffic acknowledges that 53 percent of the traffic movement coming to and from [the mall] is south of 96th Street,” he said. “Yet the study that was done on traffic is to the north of 96th Street.”
Bal Harbour resident Dina Cellini said she wouldn’t be opposed to the mall’s expansion. “If this expansion is fabulous and tremendous for the community, in many respects it’ll sell itself,” she said.