News: Miami Beach Towing Companies Declare War on Each Other

By John Zur
SunPost Staff Writer

Search for online reviews of the only two towing companies that rule South Beach – Beach Towing and Tremont Towing – and you’d be hard-pressed to find a favorable comment. You’re bound to find expletives and words such as “theft” and “evil” to describe the positions hundreds have been left in, having to fork over hundreds of dollars to free their car from the purgatory that are the lots of Beach Towing and Tremont Towing.

And recently, the towing companies are feuding with each other over Tremont’s proposed lot. The trouble began when Tremont’s new owner, Russell Galbut sold the lot where they had been towing cars for years. Then, he temporarily moved Tremont’s lot to the former Windjammer site, where he is set to build a commercial project – on the property located at 1747-1759 Bay Road – that will include one or more restaurants and other retail space, including a state-of-the-art parking garage.

The project has been delayed due to appeals of administrative decisions submitted to the zoning board of adjustment by Beach Towing attorney Kent Harrison Robbins. Robbins did not return SunPost phone calls.

“This is just unmitigated greed by Beach Towing,” said Keith Menin, a principal in 1747 Bay Road. “They are filing these frivolous appeals and abusing the processes of government to unjustly enrich themselves.”

In filing such appeals, Beach Towing has been taking advantage of a “stay provision” in the City of Miami Beach Code that has prevented 1747 Bay Road from moving forward with its project by obtaining approvals from other city boards while the appeals before the zoning board are pending.

City Commissioner Michael Gongorra was reached for comment and said that as far as he knows, no laws are being broken by building this structure.

Beach Towing has filed four such appeals to delay 1747 Bay Road, one of which has been withdrawn, and two of which have been denied by the zoning board. The fourth appeal is yet to be heard. In this manner, Beach Towing has already delayed 1747 Bay Road’s project for about one year, while 1747 Bay Road has been paying carrying charges and property taxes on its property.??The City Commission has referred the matter to the planning board for its consideration of a change to the City Code to prevent further such abuses. The next City Commission meeting will take place on Wednesday May 11th at 9:00am and is open to the public. At that meeting, it is expected that a decision will be made on Commissioner Ed Tobin’s motion to tow to a lot on Terminal Island.

Tremont Towing, was run by long-time Miami Beach civic leaders Edwin and Grace Gonzalez, they will retain a minority interest in Tremont, while turning over active operation of their towing company to Galbut. The couple said they want to relax and spend more time with their family. ??Beach Towing and Tremont have been at odds since well before 1747 Bay Road began to seek approval for its multi-use project. An attorney for Beach Towing, Rafael Andrade, recently admitted in a speech before the City Commission that Beach Towing’s goal is to obtain a substantially larger share of the City’s business than Tremont, claiming that Beach Towing has more parking and is therefore entitled to more City tows. And of note is that Tremont’s current lot does not fulfill the required 100 parking spots to keep the city’s towing contract. ??In March 2009, Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez sold the property located at 1916 Bay Road, on which Tremont had operated for more than 20 years, to Bay Road partners, a company co-owned by Miami Beach developer Scott Robbins. At the request of Bay Road Partners, Mr. and Mrs. Gonzalez signed a deed giving the City of Miami Beach a 65% interest in the property, and Tremont leased the property back for two years.

Former City Commissioner Victor Diaz is currently representing Bay Road Partners in a lawsuit against Tremont for removal of tenant and damages. Diaz, who was a City Commissioner when the joint venture between the City Bay Road Partners was approved by the Commission, alleges in the lawsuit that Tremont failed to move off of the site several weeks ago when its lease expired.??Tremont has responded to the lawsuit by stating that it allowed the City to have partial possession of the property before the lease’s termination date so the City could begin construction of a parking garage it has planned for the site. Edwin Gonzalez has stated that Tremont only needs a little more time to move Tremont to an alternative site it will be using until 1747 Bay Road has completed its project.??While the City of Miami Beach has an ordinance prohibiting the City from doing business with only one towing company, an end to Beach Towing’s campaign to dominate the towing industry in Miami Beach does not appear to be close. Attorneys for Tremont Towing and 1747 Bay Road have expressed the opinion that the actions of Beach Towing, which have been publicly supported by one member of the City Commission, may expose Beach Towing and possibly the City or culpable city officials to legal action arising under state or federal anti-trust laws.

While the City sorts out the matter between Tremont and Beach Towing, one thing is for certain: towing isn’t going away anytime soon for residents and visitors to Miami Beach.

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