Custom home projects face obstacles from historic preservation

Lennar Corp. Chairman and CEO Stuart A. Miller bought a prime waterfront site on Miami Beach’s Star Island to build his dream home, but there was one problem: The 1.35-acre lot had a home built in 1931 that was protected by the city’s historic preservation laws.

Miller found a way around this sticky issue. The city approved his plan to relocate the historic house to the rear of the property and rotate it 180 degrees, making way for his 27,000-square-foot mega mansion. It’s not clear how much extra this cost him, but Miller took out a $40.5 million construction loan with Bank of America for his home project.

Few people can wield that kind of financial muscle for a custom home job. The issue of historic preservation can surface for all ranges of property types, from waterfront sites to quaint homes in historic working-class neighborhoods. Homebuyers who plan to demolish or significantly renovate a property should first check with an attorney or an architect to understand whether it has a historic designation, said attorney Wayne Pathman, head of the land use and zoning practice at Pathman Lewis LLP in Miami.

Architecture firm Choeff Levy Fischman helped the owner of 27 Star Island Drive – a company controlled by DenTek Oral Care CEO John Jansheski – win approval to build a mansion and relocate a small home from 1925 away from the water to serve as a guest house. Architect Raphael Levy said it wasn’t feasible to renovate the historic home and bring it up to code. If it remained on the water’s edge, it would probably be damaged by rising water in the coming decades, he said.

“We demolished all non-historic structures and saved what was historic,” Levy said.

To move the house, the construction crew inserted steal beams and severed it from its foundation. They placed it on a new foundation within the 40,000-square-foot lot.

Architect Paul Fischman worked with another client who wanted to remodel a historic home on a 10,000-square-foot lot in Miami Beach. A mix of Art Deco and Mediterranean styles, the home had significant architecture. Fischman obtained the original architectural drawings and incorporated those designs into the additions. The new impact-resistant front door is nearly identical to the original door, he said.