Eleazar David Melendez
A long-time opponent of the Island Gardens project proposed for Miami's Watson Island is claiming newly uncovered city documents prove construction of the sprawling mixed-use development is illegal.
Stephen Herbits, who's fighting several legal battles with the city over the project, filed an emergency motion Friday saying the public documents "are proverbial smoking guns concerning the legality" of the project.
Herbits lives at 1000 Venetian Way, the closest building to the proposed Flagstone Property Group project, and his balcony faces the development site. He is asking the court to sanction the city for delaying the release of records from August until this month. Herbits maintains the delay is evidence the city is conspiring to illegally push the project forward.
Approved by city voters in 2001, Island Gardens would include 221,000 square feet of retail space, 346,000 square feet of leisure space, 450 hotel rooms in two towers, 155 timeshare condos, a mega-yacht marina and parking for 1,610 vehicles.
Herbits has not been granted standing to challenge the city's actions and is in part arguing he should be allowed to sue based on the city's alleged pattern of disregard for the law.
Herbits and other neighbors have repeatedly sought to stop the development and accused the developer of quietly working with friendly Miami officials to increase the project size and illegally keep the lease alive.
In the latest filing, Herbits' attorney, Sam Dubbin of Dubbin & Kravetz in Coral Gables, plays up the significance of documents the city handed over March 5. The lease "required the developer have all permits in play and commence actual construction on or before June 2, 2014," according to the emergency motion.
In the past, the city has said the developer complied with that portion of the lease by conducting preliminary construction-related activities, such as taking photographs of the sea grass that will be affected by the project. City officials have also publicly stated the developer's activities late last year did not require a building permit.
Since the permit was pulled in August, that shows Flagstone needed a permit to "commence actual construction," did not obtain it in time and violated the lease, the motion claims.
In an email, lobbyist Brian May, who represents the developer, said the latest action was "not a big deal" but "more of the same."
"Flagstone clearly started construction by performing the environmental mitigation required for the marina," May wrote. "This is just more of Mr. Herbits and his legal shenanigans against the city, none of which have yet to establish any merit."
City attorneys did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
As part of the motion, Herbits is asking the court to impose significant sanctions on the city to ensure no other significant public records on the Watson Island project are being held back. He wants the judge to order a responsible city official to certify under penalty of perjury that all related documents have been made available and allow depositions of city employees to guarantee that's the case.
In an escalation of previous demands, Herbits wants the court to refer the matter to the state attorney's office and wants criminal charges to be brought against city officials for violating the state's public records law. Violations are first-degree misdemeanors punishable by removal from office and up to a year in jail.