The Biscayne Times

Dec 16th
Plenty of Water, Now for the Land PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
March 2015

Dutch Docklands faces a problem: the need for dry land

LDutchDocklands_1ast month North Miami Beach got some publicity from National Geographic magazine.

It wasn’t a historical piece on how an 883-year-old Spanish monastery was taken apart in the 1920s by William Randolph Hearst, kept in boxes for a few decades in a Brooklyn warehouse, and eventually reassembled on W. Dixie Highway.

Nor was it about how a former rock mine was transformed into an expansive space of recreation and natural wonder known as Greynolds Park, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

It wasn’t even a psychological analysis about why NMB police officers need old mug shots to practice their shooting skills.

Nope, the feature focused on another old rock mine in NMB called Maule Lake, and a community of floating islands, Amillarah Private Islands, that doesn’t yet exist. The gist of the article was that Amillarah, which is being proposed by floating-community developer Dutch Docklands, could be the way of the future, with the seas likely to swallow swaths of Florida during high tide in the not-too-distant future.

DutchDocklands_2“The Dutch project sounds like one more loopy development in a long history of loopy Florida developments,” declares National Geographic writer Laura Parker. “But its climate-conscious design sets it apart from most of the surrounding high-rises, which are going up with little consideration for the rising seas projected to frequently flood South Florida in the coming decades, and to submerge much of it by the end of the century.”

However, an important element is missing from Dutch Dockland’s plans: dry land. Without it, there will be nowhere for future residents and workers to park their cars or launch their vessels, and the Amillarah concept will die.

“Before they can move forward with any approval process with the city, just like any regular project, there has to be a point of ingress and egress,” explains Carlos Gimenez, Jr., a lobbyist and spokesman for Dutch Docklands USA.

Co-founded by Koen Olthuis, an architect specializing in designing floating luxury homes in the Netherlands, Dutch Docklands is already designing luxury island resorts in the Persian Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and in the Indian Ocean within the island chain republic of the Maldives. In June of last year, a Brickell-based subsidiary of Dutch Docklands, headed by Dutch Chamber of Commerce president Frank W.M. Behrens, submitted plans to build 29 luxury residential islands and “an amenity island” to the City of North Miami Beach’s planning department.

If built, each of the 6900-square-foot residential islands will have a sandy beach, swimming pool, patio, garden, and two boat slips. The islands will be 500 feet from shore and 80 feet from each other. They’re also envisioned to be self-sustaining, with each island using solar panels and hydrogen-powered generators for electricity, freshwater provided by “collectors and advanced filtration systems,” and a special “biological sewage facility” to “address wastewater and sewage,” according to Dutch Docklands application to the city.

DutchDocklands_3Since each of the islands will be considered property, they’ll be taxed -- providing a source of revenue for the cash-strapped city. (See “In the Market for a Hyper-Luxurious Floating Island?” in BT’s July 2014 issue for more details on Dutch Dockland’s application to NMB.)

The islands will also be strong enough to withstand hurricanes and tethered to the lake bottom with the same technology used to anchor oil wells in the North Sea, adds Gimenez, who is the son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Sr.

Dutch Docklands has an option to buy Maule Lake from a trusteeship headed by Raymond Williams, a descendant of the founder of the Maule Rock Mining Company. The trusteeship currently owns the 174-acre lake, but it doesn’t own any of the land around it. So Dutch Docklands has been contacting various property owners in hopes of obtaining some land. “They’re still in negotiations with several parties,” Gimenez says.

One of those parties is the Reef Club Condominium Association at 16558 NE 26th Ave. in NMB’s Western Shores neighborhood. Gimenez confirms that Dutch Docklands is negotiating the purchase or leasing of the association’s tennis courts, which are at water’s edge on the southern part of the lake.

The developer will have to overcome some hurdles. There’s some resentment directed toward the lake’s current owner after he initially opposed permits sought by the Reef Club’s condo association to rebuild docks damaged by Hurricane Wilma back in 2005. The association now pays the trusteeship $10,000 a year in rent, a board member told BT last summer. (See “From Cool to Not in My Backyard,” August 2014.)

There’s also apprehension from some residents living in Western Shores (including the Reef Club) and neighboring Eastern Shores about the project’s potential impacts on the area, including noise, view corridors, and traffic. Robert Goldberg, who has owned a unit in the Reef Club for eight years and opposes Amillarah’s creation, doubts the prospect of a “parade” of vehicles traveling along 26th Avenue -- some towing boats-- will win many allies among the people who live along that condo-dominated thoroughfare.

DutchDocklands_4Although Marina Palms Yacht Club & Residences developer Neil Fairman still expresses support for Amillarah, he currently isn’t willing to lease or sell any of the 29 acres of territory his company controls between 171st and 173rd streets on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard. That’s because it’s all been included in a survey being used to pre-sell Marina Palm’s 468 residences and 110-boat slips, Fairman tells the BT.

The Reef Club’s tennis courts and Marina Palms aren’t Dutch Docklands only options. Nor are properties in the residential neighborhoods of Western Shores and Eastern Shores, or the Aventura enclaves of Point East and Williams Island. There are several privately owned properties along Biscayne Boulevard, north and south of East Greynolds Park, adjacent to the western side of the lake.

They include 4.4 acres of riverfront vacant land northeast of 163rd Street and Biscayne Boulevard, where developers Inigo Ardid and Arnaud Karsenti still hope to build a pair of 25-story high-rises. Another 9.3 acres of land, much of it used for parking and located between the Marina Palms project and Aventura Bayview Condominium, are shared between Houston’s, Morton’s, and P.F. Chang’s restaurants. And just north of Aventura Bayview Condominium, on 4.7 acres of waterfront land controlled by Aqua Partners LLC at 17641 Biscayne Blvd., is a strip mall where a TigerDirect computer store and Artefacto furniture outlet operate.

Even if Dutch Docklands is able to obtain land somewhere, it still needs to receive the blessing of the City of North Miami Beach, Miami-Dade County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Fortuna Smukler, an Eastern Shores resident and critic of Amillarah, is sure the artificial islands concept will disappear, much like other quirky projects proposed in South Florida over the years. “This project isn’t going to get built,” she predicts. “It’s unpassable.”

Dutch Docklands won’t give up, Gimenez says. They’ll build Amillarah -- if not in Maule Lake, then somewhere else in the United States. Aside from looking at other privately owned bodies of water, Dutch Docklands’ representatives have been “all over the place,” including New York.

And Maule Lake? Well, if Dutch Docklands doesn’t buy it, someone else will. “There are a whole bunch of development groups that want to buy it and fill it and get rid of all the water,” Gimenez says.

Before these prospective builders can develop anything, they’ll first need to get the proper zoning. Right now, as Dutch Dockland’s environmental attorney Kerri Barsh notes, the former rock mine is zoned as an “open water and transportation corridor.”


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