Miami gives county OK to partially demolish Coconut Grove Playhouse

Written by Genevieve Bowen on February 14, 2023


Miami-Dade County has been given the green light from the City of Miami to proceed with plans to partially demolish the Coconut Grove Playhouse.

The city approved the county’s application for a special waiver to permit deviations from the zoning code and allow partial demolition of the historic theater.

Activists fighting to preserve the landmark filed an appeal requesting that the city’s zoning office reverse its final decision.

On Jan. 27, the city granted the waiver with conditions. It is valid for two years during which a building permit or certificate of use must be obtained.

Conditions of the waiver stipulate that it is solely for partial demolition of the existing structure, does not constitute approval for subdivision of the land, and requires that Article 17 of the city code for tree protection be adhered to. Additionally, a full review is required at the time of building permit application by the zoning office, and any substantial changes may require a new waiver.

David Winker, a Miami attorney representing the group acting to save the playhouse, confirmed an appeal was filed on Feb. 10 and is to be heard at the next available Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board meeting.

The appeal contends that the decision is void because of existing code violations and liens on the property. According to Miami’s zoning code, the city is prohibited from issuing a waiver approval if the property is subject to ongoing code enforcement action, which the playhouse site is.

The appeal also states the waiver approval was based upon an incomplete application that lacked significant pieces of information about the project, without which a legally appropriate review is impossible.

As part of the ongoing battle to save the historic theater from demolition, Coconut Grove residents are trying to block the county from using $23.6 million in bonds that voters dedicated for restoration of the playhouse.

In 2004, Miami-Dade County voters approved a ballot measure for bonds, some of which were expected to fund the reconstruction of the Coconut Grove Playhouse to restore its structural integrity and add to its performance and educational capabilities.

The county’s proposed plan includes demolishing over 80% of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, reducing theater seating from 1,130 to 300 and replacing 60% of the performance space with leased commercial space.

Some Coconut Grove residents said they were outraged upon learning that over $20 million allocated for the restoration of the playhouse would be put toward its destruction instead.

In August 2022, Mr. Winker filed a complaint on behalf of those residents seeking a declaration that the county acted unconstitutionally and outside its statutory powers as well as an injunction prohibiting the county from using bond funds for the demolition. The lawsuit is still in progress.


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