Bal Harbour Shops Owner Sues Village to Add Affordable Housing
The battle has officially begun: The owner of The Bal Harbour Shops is suing Bal Harbour’s municipal government for allegedly blocking the luxury mall’s mixed-use expansion plan, which includes nearly 250 affordable housing units.
Earlier this month, Whitman Family Development, which owns the 18-acre mall, filed a proposal to build 528 apartments, of which 40 percent would be earmarked as workforce housing and the rest would be priced at market rates. The plan, designed by SOM, also called for 45,700 square feet of additional retail space and a 70-room luxury hotel.
The fourth-generation family-owned firm is invoking the Live Local Act, a housing law enacted by Florida’s legislature last year. The law allows developers to bypass local zoning rules if the projects meet certain criterias, as the Whitman family claims they have.
In the lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court this week, Whitman Family Development is alleging that the village government illegally instituted a moratorium, blocking the expansion and violating the new state law.
“By opposing the creation of attainable housing at the Bal Harbour Shops site, the Village of Bal Harbour’s leadership is undermining the spirit and letter of the Live Local Act and doing its part to ensure South Florida’s affordability crisis is here to stay,” attorney John Shubin, who represents The Bal Harbour Shops.
However, Bal Harbour Mayor Jeffrey Freimark told Commercial Observer that the village has not enacted a moratorium.
Whitman Family Development is “now filing a lawsuit based on assumptions of what they feel we might do,” said Bal Harbour council member Buzzy Sklar. “Matthew Whitman Lazenby [chairman of Whitman Family Development] is doing this for one reason and one reason only: He needed a workaround to get the height that he tried to go after two years ago that he lost.”
The Whitmans have long sought to expand the Bal Harbour Shops, one of the fanciest malls in the country, home to Chanel and Gucci boutiques, among others.
After a nearly decade-long battle in 2017, the developer secured approval to nearly double the property’s current retail space to 500,000 square feet, accommodating 35 new upscale stores and restaurants. The $550 million expansion is now underway.
In 2021, Bal Harbour residents voted down a proposal that would have allowed the Whitmans to circumvent height limits.
The alleged moratorium copies the City of Doral, which last year passed a six-month moratorium in response to the Live Local Act. In October, the municipality lifted the restriction and reached a settlement with The Apollo Companies, which had filed a proposal for a 17-acre mixed-use development using the state law.
Whitman’s suit comes just a week after Bal Harbour village officials held a public hearing lambasting the expansion plan and threatening a lawsuit.
The proposal will “cause significant damage to our community,” Freimark said. “I am angry.”
Julia Echikson can be reached at email@example.com.