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Miami’s Future Archipelago of Floating Houses

A team of Dutch developers would like to bring a little bit of Atlantis to Miami. Earlier this month, Dutch Docklands submitted a letter of intent and request for zoning variance to the City of North Miami Beach in order to erect 29 multi-million dollar floating homes and an “amenity island” in Maule Lake. Connected via the Intracoastal Waterway to Biscayne Bay in the south, Maule Lake began its life as a limestone rock quarry. Now, like Cinderella’s fairy Godmother (mixed with a touch of Ursula, the sea witch), Dutch Docklands seeks to transform the once humble aquatic rock pit into an archipelago of luxury homes.

The project, deemed Amillarah Private Islands, would be the first of its kind in the Western hemisphere, but floating homes have long proliferated in the Netherlands. Collectively, Dutch Docklands and its architectural partner on the project, Koen Olthius, have constructed more than 800 floating houses in Holland, in addition to floating hotels, mosques, a resort and even a prison in other parts of Europe and the Middle East.

The architects pitch Amillarah Private Islands as an environmentally sound answer to rising sea levels in Miami. Others are not so convinced. Environmentalists and local residents worry about the manatees and other marine life that pass through the lake and connected water bodies. Project construction could have a deleterious effect on the water quality—not only in the lake, but also in the adjoining Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve and the nearby Oleta River. The City’s civil engineer also worries about long-term pollution from stormwater run-off from the properties.

In addition to the potential environmental ramifications, there are legal issues to be addressed. In the 2013 case of Lozman v. Riviera Beach, the Supreme Court held that floating houses are to be treated as homes and not vessels under the laws of the United States. This allows owners to receive mortgages, purchase insurance and declare homestead exemptions, among other things, for such floating properties.

 

Nevertheless, administrative challenges remain—for example, parking requirements and police patrol access. Further, as Bilzin Sumberg Environmental Practice Group Chair, Howard Nelsonpointed out to the Miami Herald, variances to ordinances regulating waterways are rarely granted.

With all the environmental and legal impediments to development, the tenability of Amillarah Private Islands is anything but certain, but the plans offer a fascinating glimpse into the potential future of coastal housing.

© 2020 Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLP

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About this Author

Howard E. Nelson, Environmental Practice Attorney, Bilzin Sumberg Law Firm
Partner

Howard E. Nelson has over 20 years of experience in environmental and land use law and over 25 years of experience in zoning and regional planning. He represents clients throughout all phases of the development process—from site location through permitting and construction, as well as in permit appeals and defense of environmental enforcement matters.

Howard focuses a substantial portion of his practice to the analysis and remediation of site contamination issues, representing several national homebuilders in pre-acquisition...

305-350-2386
Shalia Sakona, LItigation Attorney, Bilzin Sumberg Law Firm
Associate

Shalia Sakona is an associate in the Litigation Group. Her practice is focused on complex commercial litigation, including the representation of sellers and originators of mortgage loans against major financial institutions in mortgage repurchase and indemnification suits throughout the U.S. 

While attending law school, Shalia interned with the general counsel of a commercial real estate investment and development company. She also served as a notes and comments editor for the Boston College International and Comparative Law Review

305-350-7216