Residents want a voice in Bal Harbour’s future development. Upcoming referendum may grant them their wish.

On Jan. 26, Bal Harbour Village residents will vote on a Charter amendment to require that new development plans be reviewed by the Village Council and receive resident input through mandated public hearings.

The referendum, which was prompted by a community-led petition that received over 200 signatures, calls for resident participation, government accountability, and transparency on proposed plans in the Special Business Improvement Area that are outside current height limits.

“In our world today, it is a very real possibility that we could see important anchor retailers exit our Village and leave vacancies where prominent businesses once stood. I signed the petition because I want our Village to maintain its character through a process that allows our community to adapt, while requiring a Council vote and community feedback before anything is approved,” said Bal Harbour resident Shoshana Halpern.

Currently, the Village Charter does not allow the Council to review any project that goes above the current height limit. The amendment will change this by creating a review process that allows the Council to consider these projects and vote them down if they are not good for the community.

The amendment strictly applies to the Special Business Improvement Area — which only counts Bal Harbour Shops within its boundaries. Still, there are some members of the community that have expressed concerns that it could lead to overdevelopment throughout the Village. However, the amendment language itself reads: “Shall Sec. 80 of the Charter be amended, only as to the Special Business Improvement Area.”

“My family has been a steward of Bal Harbour’s development for over 50 years, and we are proud to have created a community landmark that reflects the Village’s character,” said Whitman Family Development President and CEO Matthew Whitman Lazenby. “We have no plans to build a towering skyscraper in the Village — and would never turn Bal Harbour into another Sunny Isles.”

The retail industry has been devastated in recent years, with several well-known stores having to file for bankruptcy and close down locations. That trend has now been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 15,500 stores closed in 2020, according to Forbes, leaving vacancies in shopping centers and malls throughout the country.

For Bal Harbour Shops, which just celebrated its 55-year anniversary and contributes hundreds of thousands to Village coffers, this amendment means the ability to respond to these rapid changes and maintain its viability as a local business.

Village residents who vote absentee are already beginning to receive mail-in ballots for the special election, and others will have their chance to weigh in on the Charter amendment on Election Day, Jan. 26, at Bal Harbour Village City Hall.

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