Historic Waterfront Properties – A Treasure or a Teardown?

A New State Law Could Doom Historic Waterfront Properties, Starting With a $45 Million Gables Estate Masterpiece

A waterfront mansion designed by famed architect Alfred Browning Parker could be among the first historic Coral Gables properties to be lost under a new state law that allows owners to demolish homes located in low-lying areas susceptible to flooding.

The three-story residence, at 140 Arvida Parkway in Gables Estates, is currently on the market for $45 million. The seven-bedroom, five-bath home, built by Parker in 1963 as his own residence, has not been designated historic and could be a teardown. “Build your dream home or renovate the existing property,” reads the online listing from Compass, the realty firm.

The possibility that the home – most recently the residence of the late philanthropist Bunny Bastian – could be bull-dozed has alarmed preservationists and city officials. “As a result of this law, there will be no oversight on whether a home is significant or not,” said preservation advocate Karelia Martinez Carbonell. “Allowing old homes in coastal areas to be demolished and rebuilt because they are vulnerable to sea level rise is like killing patients because they are vulnerable to disease.”

The Arvida Parkway property, along with many other homes in coastal areas of the Gables, were placed in potential jeopardy in March 2022 when the Florida legislature adopted House Bill 423, which limits local governments’ ability to block demolition of some single-family homes in or below base flood elevation. The law, which went into effect July 1, does not apply to homes designated historic before Jan 1, 2022.

In August, the Gables City Commission unanimously passed a resolution that condemned the state’s action and asked the legislature to rescind it. The city “currently has over 1,200 historic landmark properties and may have a significant number of undesignated properties that are potentially eligible for historic designation,” the resolution states. Moreover, the state’s move “encroaches on the city’s home rule power and overrides its ability [to] regulate the protection of historic structures through its zoning authority…”

Historic Waterfront Properties

Similar objections to the law were made by the cities of Miami Beach and Palm Beach, which, like Coral Gables, have many historic homes as well as rigorous preservation standards. With the Arvida Parkway home up for sale, it is not certain it would be knocked down by a new owner. But that has been the trend among speculative South Florida developers buying up older properties near the coast and replacing them with bigger homes for wealthy buyers.

Last fall, Miami attorney Alexander Almazan, representing a client interested in buying the property, asked Gables officials to confirm that the house could be demolished without opposition from the city. In an October 2022 response, Gables Development Services Director Suramy Cabrera said that since the property had not been designated historic and was in a flood hazard area, a “permit to demolish the entire structure would only be administratively reviewed” and a “demolition permit would NOT (sic) be routed to the Historic Preservation Department for review.”

While declining to identify his client, Almazan said, “That is a property on which a prospective buyer would be interested in building something new. The law (HB 423) was vastly overdue, so we can combat things like climate change.”

The 140 Arvida property, owned by Bastian’s trust, is described in its Compass listing as having 200-feet of direct frontage on Biscayne Bay, with unobstructed views of Key Biscayne, Stiltsville and the ocean. A waterway at the rear of the property is ideal for docking a yacht.

“The idea that the Alfred Browning Parker Gables Estates opus is in jeopardy is extremely troublesome and infuriating,” said Randolph C. Henning, author of “The Architecture of Alfred Browning Parker: Miami’s Maverick Modernist” (University Press of Florida, 2011). “That home is, without question, one of Parker’s undisputed and unequivocal masterworks. Its loss would be a devastating tragedy on many levels.”