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Miami Herald - 11/21/04 -

Buildings get 30-day reprieve:

A county board has granted a temporary reprieve for two historic buildings on Miami Beach. The buildings' owners want them demolished.

By Nicole White

Two historically significant buildings on Miami Beach have been temporarily saved from the wrecking ball.

The Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board agreed Wednesday to grant a 30-day reprieve to determine the fate of the coral rock house at 900 Collins Ave., and the Villa Maria at 2800 Collins Ave.

The coral rock house, built in 1918, is one of four such structures remaining in the city, and is one of the five oldest buildings in Miami Beach.

Owners and attorneys for both properties argued that the buildings are structurally unsafe and should be demolished.

Kent Harrison Robbins, an attorney representing a prospective buyer of the Villa Maria, a two-story Mediterranean villa built in 1924, told board members that tests done to parts of the two-story structure revealed damage too significant to save the building, Harrison Robbins said. Phil Azan, the city's building official, disagreed.

''There is no imminent danger to that structure,'' Azan said.

Villa Maria is home to 34 families that receive subsidized housing vouchers from the Miami Beach Housing Authority.

The Miami Beach Community Development Corporation is trying to raise the money needed to purchase the building and guarantee housing for the low-income residents, said Commissioner Matti Bower.

''We have gotten to a point where the first thought is to demolish our historic buildings and not save them,'' Bower said.

``It's really sad and in the case of the Villa Maria it would mean losing more affordable housing on Miami Beach.''

As for the coral house, Eileen Chafetz, the attorney for owner Ivor Rose argued that it is a ``danger to the public.''

''Not only is it in imminent danger of collapsing, it is in the process of collapsing,'' Chafetz told the board.

Despite the arguments, the Unsafe Structures Board voted to allow the city's Historic Preservation Board time to consider if and how the structure can be saved. The vote was praised by preservationists.

The coral rock house ''is one of the foremost historic structures in the city,'' said Nancy Liebman a former Miami Beach Commissioner and preservationist who attended the meeting.

''That building has been there longer than any other structure, including the Art Deco buildings,'' she said. ``This city should do everything to fix it.''