Written By Jack King, BT Contributor APRIL 2015
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS
Last month’s “Letters” section included a missie from a gentleman in Virginia who spends 10 to 12 weeks a year in Miami and who questioned my critical comments concerning Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff and his governance. It was a very polite letter, mostly asking me to explain my comments about Sarnoff.
Generally, I don’t comment on issues I’ve already written about unless there’s an error. No error here, but it dawned on me that this might just be what the letter writer is looking for. So let’s get on with it.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the operation of the City of Miami has gone to hell over the past 25 years. In that time, the city commission members have stopped caring about residents and have shown that they care only about themselves and their moneyed buddies.
Where do I start? How about the Flagstone Property Group project on Watson Island? When the transaction was signed about 14 years ago, it looked to be a pretty good deal for the city. It would provide a much-needed marina for larger boats and wouldn’t have a very big footprint, which allowed us to imagine that even with the development, the island’s long-awaited park concept would survive.
Ha! What fools we were!
Over the past 13 years, Flagstone has built nothing -- absolutely nothing. Yet the city has allowed the developer to modify and enlarge the plan without updating the pittance Flagstone must pay the city each month until the project is completed.
And one of the chief cheerleaders for this project? Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
But we have a guardian angel in the form of a small group of Venetian Islands residents who filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the development. The lawsuit is now in the courts.
Let’s also consider what’s going on in Coconut Grove. Several years ago the city decided it wanted to develop the waterfront. The Scotty’s Landing restaurant lease was up, Sarnoff wanted something better, and he had a group of investors ready to go.
Unfortunately, development of city-owned waterfront generally requires a municipal referendum. It passed with flying colors. Well, sort of. Four out of five of the city’s commission districts approved it, but Coconut Grove voters rejected it by a large margin.
Obviously, Grove residents were not onboard with the “shopping mall on the water” idea.
After numerous hearings and commission approval, however, the city signed a lease agreement. Again, it didn’t take long for lawsuits to be filed; and oddly enough, the suits were for multiple reasons. They’re still running through the court system.
The people who got the deal? All cronies of Sarnoff.
Wait, it gets worse. After the referendum, the developers moved ahead with the project. But their first set of plans showed much more retail and restaurant space than they’d previously indicated, which created another problem: parking. So they designed a new parking garage showing the “corrected” number of spaces needed.
Fortunately, Charles Corda, an architect in the Grove, looked at the plan, did the math, and figured out that the square footage of the parking garage didn’t match the number of parking spaces depicted. In fact, it was about 160 spaces short. Thank you, Department of Off-Street Parking.
Next door to this property is the site of the former convention center, which was torn down in 2013 amid plans for a Regatta Park with acres of open green space. Wow, eight acres of green! So what did Sarnoff do? He took four acres out of the park and allocated it for the missing 160 parking spaces needed for that new waterfront mall.
And what did that leave? How about two acres each for Regatta Park and a city park? Which turned out to be not nearly enough for Regatta Park, so down the drain went that plan.
What it did do, however, was leave a four-acre park for Sarnoff’s condo development buddies.
For months now I’ve been asking for a site plan for Regatta Park. I’ve gone to numerous meetings and have seen nothing that faintly resembles a site plan. So by now, yes, I’m somewhat cynical when it comes to dealing with the City of Miami.
Now you know why the City of Miami has been unable to hire and keep quality managers. The turnover is horrendous. Nobody wants to work for these clowns on the city commission.
And perhaps now you can see why Sarnoff wants to get his wife elected to his commission seat. Keep that money coming, and keep it in the family!
Just to show you how involved Sarnoff is with the waterfront developers, he’s been complaining about the lawsuits for months, telling everybody who’ll listen. He even developed a handout that shows how much money the city was losing and has had his staff distribute it throughout the Grove.