News: Paul Pry Pages

City of Miami Beach Meetings

By Anne Newport Royall


 Friday November 4, 2011

TOWING WARS PART … (honestly I have lost count)

The Zoning Board quickly dispatched its few items and progress reports before getting to headliner file 3535, an appeal by Beach Towing over the use of another property.

In less than 20 minutes, the Board granted a variance to Donovan Gougon to build a small swimming pool in his front yard, and released the Mimosa Condominium on Indian Creek from all conditions associated with their parking lot.

Stuart Miller’s new Olympic-sized lap pool, however, would have to wait another 60 days. This new pool, other pool, Jacuzzi and expanded patio will replace the current pool at his 6 and 7 Star Island home. The President and CEO of developer Lennar owns several properties on exclusive Miami Beach Island. A concern of Miller is to make the backyard, which faces Biscayne Bay, a little more private from the prying eyes of the tour boats that cruise by several times each day. After discussion of what effect moving a patio wall out four feet made on the notice of the application, the Board was forced to move possible approval of the project into 2012.

At 9:30, the Board called a recess, as Kent Harrison Robbins, attorney for Beach Towing, had yet to appear.

When he did arrive, and after shaking hands with opposing council, Javier Fernandez of Akerman Senterfitt, negotiations commenced between Fernandez and his clients Keith Menin of the Galbut clan and Alex Diaz of Tremont Towing.  The conversations became so animated at one point, the gentlemen took their discussion outside.

Board Chairwoman Sherry Roberts finally called them to the well, “I thought at the last meeting we had a kumbaya moment and we would not be here again, but here we are.  Welcome.”

This day’s appearance is an appeal of an administration determination by Richard Lorber, Planning Director.  Lorber determined that the application for a conditional use permit for 1746 Bay Road could go in front of the Planning Board in August of this year.

The new owners of this property, formerly the corporate home of Windjammer Cruses, seek to convert the office building and warehouse into a restaurant and towing operation that utilizes robotic parking lifts to store 54 cars.

Beach Towing contends this use by Tremont Towing is not permitted and further believes that the notice and staff report was in error since it did not contain specific mandatory conditions for mechanical parking.

Back in June, the ZBA denied that appeal, finding that the proposed use was permitted in areas of the City, which allow for garages to be main commercial uses.  The Planning Department felt that denial cleared the way for the matter to move to the Planning Board.

Before the August 23 meeting of the Planning Board however, Beach Towing appealed the denial to the appellate division of the circuit court.  Beach Towing informed the City of its actions, and requested that the matter be removed from the August Planning Board agenda.

According to the staff report for this days hearing, “at first the Planning Director agreed with (Beach Towing) and sent an email to the Planning Board members that the matter would not be heard, based on the appeal to the circuit court.  However, after careful research on the subject, the City Attorney’s Office informed the Planning Director that the appeal to the circuit court did not have to automatically (stop) the process.”

The item was placed back on the agenda.

Beach Towing appealed that decision to place the item back on the August 23 Planning Board agenda.

This appeal, filed on August 18, did stop the application from being heard, as per the automatic stay provisions of section 118-137 of the City Code.

“As the Board is by now aware, this case is the latest in a series of appeals and counter appeals resulting from a conflict between two competing towing companies,” the staff report continues. “In fact, the repetitive nature of these serial appeals has resulted in a recent amendment to the Land Development Code.”  This action, reported by the Miami SunPost!, permits applications to move forward through the hearing processes even if an appeal is filed with the caveat that the applicant holds the City harmless for anything that happens and prohibits the issuance of building permits, business tax receipts or occupational licenses sought by the applicant until all appeals are resolved and certified as final by the City Attorney.

Back to the matter at hand. While the item as put back on the August agenda, it was pulled again once the appeal was filed to  protest the decision to put it on the agenda.  The Planning Board did not hear the application in August, rendering this appeal today moot.  Furthermore, the new rules regarding appeals are now in effect, so appeals or not, seems the application can move to the Planning Board.

But that did not stop Robbins, who submitted 97 exhibits and an additional 27 pages of documents to Board members days before this days meeting.

Board Member Brian Rosenfeld wanted to limit the presentations of the attorneys in this matter, based on all the information they have in hand.

“I am here to show that this application should have been (stopped) with out this appeal’” Robbins said in his opening remarks.

Opposing Counsel Fernandez objected to all of the material submitted by Robbins being placed into the record.

City Attorney Gary Held concluded that providing Board members with information, no matter how much, was all right.

Fernandez apologies to the Board for even being there, “This has been a tedious process,” he concedes, imploring the Board to affirm the staff recommendation and declare this appeal “moot.”

Robins would not be denied and in a clam and clear voice continued on, “This is a right of automatic stay issue,” he says.  “We have followed the rules.  We have not waived our rights.”

He also argued that while the administration believes that the new ordinance is “procedural” he believes that any changes to the powers of the Zoning Board belong to the voters of the City.

He also objected to the new ordinance, saying that the “rules of the game should not be changed in the middle of the process.”

He then tempted the Board with a resolution, “Settlement meetings are underway,” Robbins reported.

Good thing, as this latest attempt to stop the project was denied by the Board.


 Tuesday November 8,2011


Dozens of SoFi neighbors filed the Commission Chambers on the third floor of City Hall.  The topic on so many minds was a proposed amendment to the RPS-4 district, in order to increase the maximum allowable height for residential apartment structures on oceanfront lots from 75 feet to 100 feet.  This small zoning area consists of three blocks and approximately 25 lots south of Fifth Street along the Atlantic Ocean.

Back in 2002, these same people fought long and hard to establish the 75-foot height limit in this historically designated area.  Fast-forward to 2011 when the activists  now want to raise the limit to ensure condominiums get built.

Residents of 301 Ocean Drive were promised a residential project on the neighboring property 321 Ocean Drive in exchange for their support in a higher height.

Many properties in SoFi have turned from residential to commercial and transient.  Long-time residents fear these uses.  The new owners of 321 are playing on those fears to get what they want.

A previous proposal for 321 Ocean was met with a strong push back from the neighborhood, as a hotel, with controversial accessory uses was seen as a “bad neighbor.”

“Permanent residential structures are seen by the residents of South Pointe area as providing a better balance to the existing commercial uses in the area,” the Staff report on the proposed ordinance states.

To put in extra safeguards, Staff has recommended that any projects wanting to avail themselves of the extra 25 feet in height meet a slew of conditions, including, but limited to special review by the HPB.

And the prohibition of accessory uses to the project, like a restaurant or nightclub.

And although the height of the proposed structure could be increased, the total allowable building size, or FAR is not increased, while the density is reduced to a maximum of 60 per acre.

This will give you a higher building, with less, but bigger units at the end of the day.

“I am responsible.  I drafted this ordinance,” stated the president of 301 Ocean Drive Condominium Frank Del Vecchio.  “The major benefit of this ordinance is to enable residential development to go forward.”

Dr. Morris Sunshine continued, “I live next door to a hotel,” he said, complaining about the bad neighbors, “This is a clear public benefit for the community.”

While Dr. Jeff Donnelly, representing the Miami Design Preservation League, one of the lead proponents of the 2002 ordinance quibbled with one of the conditions, MDPL supported the change.

Many current MDPL board members make up those now pushing for this change.

Jane Gross was the first Board Member to speak against the proposal, “I have a lot of problems,” she started, “I remember how hard it was to get the 75 foot limit.”  Her husband, former Commissioner Saul Gross was the Commission champion for the reduction all those years ago.

“I live next door to a hotel and its horrible, it is horrible,” added Board Member Jo Manning, whose Drake Condominium on Ocean Drive is neighbors with The Z hotel, the former home to Table 8.  (Table 8 was run out of town by the Panning Board after habitual violations of its conditional use permit for the Ocean Drive patio.) “The community support for this is overwhelming.”

“Anytime we make a change to Historic Preservation guidelines it is a serious matter.  I am so for this,” Manning concluded.

Board Member Henry Lazes was “a dissenting voice’” he said.  “We are speaking about building more, building taller at a time in my life where Miami Beach is tipping over.”

Board Chair Herb Sosa admitted being “torn with this one.  I can’t even remember how many times I have been on the side of lowering heights.”

“One of my responsibilities is to listen to the community, I don’t want to be the negative one here.  I am uncomfortable with this,” Sosa admitted.

Mayor Matti Bower who cut her political teeth on the preservation issue asked a question about short-term rentals.  He fear was that the proposed development at 321 could become transit uses, in light of a new State Law that limits a municipalities right to restrict property rights of owners.

City Attorney Gary Held believed the City could control the use through the restrictions in the condominium documents that would become covenants that run with the land.

“Policy and reality is different when it comes to short-term rentals in this City,” reminded Mrs. Gross, whose husband is a realtor.

In the end, the ordinance amendment passed unanimously and will go to the City Commission December 14 for first reading.


Also on the Board’s agenda for discussion was the state of the trees on Pine Tree Drive.

The autopsy of the fallen dead Australian Pines is complete, and the conclusion is “not as bad as we expected,” conveyed Dr. Chris Latt, the City’s arborist.

The proposal to remove 41% of the trees has been reduced to 26%. Instead of 121 trees needing immediate removal, only 76 are in danger now.

Chairman Sosa wanted to know what the options for replacing the trees that need to be removed.

“None” replied Latt, “There is no plan for replacement.”

Latt did share that Attorney Michael Larkin had done some pro-bono research on the possibility of replacing the trees with the same invasive species. “Although they are not really pine trees, you know.”

“These trees predate the buildings we are here to protect,” Sosa declared.

“Just replant the trees” in an act of civil disobedience suggested Board Member Manning.

“What are they going to do, throw you in jail?”

Dr. Latt was not wiling to perhaps relocate to another state to do that.

The final decision on what to do and how to do it will need to be worked out with the City and County Commissions, as Pine Tree Drive is a County Road.

Do you have a meeting or issue for Anne to follow?  Contact her at

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