Theyre going to have their opportunity. Jimmy Morales can come and lobby us, Sarnoff said, adding: You cant talk out of both sides of your mouth.
But Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora said its irresponsible, and possibly illegal, for Miami officials not to take impacts on the causeway and Miami Beach into account. Gongora, who said he was stunned to read about the proposed expansion in the newspaper, complained that Miami officials did not give their Beach counterparts so much as a courtesy briefing.
That was one of the most disconcerting aspects of the project. I learned about it in the Miami Herald, like a lot of people, said Gongora, who wants his city to sue. This started out as a luxury yacht marina, but it has gone on steroids.
The Beach commission will take up the issue at its next meeting, on Wednesday.
Flagstone, led by Mehmet Bayraktar, won the right to develop Island Gardens in 2001. His proposal was based around the marina and two hotels, and included a modest shopping area. The plans were approved by referendum, a requirement for all public-private waterfront development deals in Miami.
To the Miami commission in June, however, Ross and Perez presented a dramatically expanded vision for the site that would add not just substantial retail but also a conference center, 100 hotel rooms and more parking to the original scheme. The partners said they aimed to complete the project by 2017. Perez, the prolific Miami developer whose projects include IconBrickell, said it would be his crowning glory.
City officials said they are renegotiating the lease terms to increase revenue to public coffers based on the larger amount of retail.
Only Commissioner Frank Carollo objected, noting the original deal was more than a decade old and proposing the city hold out for a better payoff by rebidding the project.
Because the city regards the changes as relatively minor, officials say the expanded project doesnt require extensive new approvals or a new referendum a claim some critics ridicule.
It seems like a pretty big leap. How do you take a project from 200,000 square feet to half a million, add 100 hotel rooms and say there is no additional impact? It doesnt make sense, Stern said. This is a critical issue. We cant just shrug it off.
One legal question Gongora, Stern and other critics have raised is whether the city of Miami can even legally approve the expansion without the DDA.
The plan that caps development in the DDA district, which is governed by state approval known as a Development of Regional Impact, or DRI, has been managed by the DDA since the order was first instituted in 1987. The DRI allows for management of growth while encouraging development because it exempts individual developers from seeking state approvals for projects with major regional impacts. Instead, developers in the district pay fees into city funds to improve roads and other services.
Several legal experts, including Beach city attorneys, say that likely means that only the DDA can decide to move retail space from downtown to Watson Island.
Relateds own attorneys at legal powerhouse Greenberg Traurig assumed the same, and even drafted legal documents for the DDA to begin the process.
But the state Legislature essentially did away with new DRIs in urban areas when it gutted the state growth-management law three years ago, and while existing DRIs remain in force, state enforcement has been relaxed. This week, a state spokeswoman in Tallahassee said the city can initiate the change on its own, without the DDA.
The state also now says the city can move development credits through the area covered by the DRI without state review because the total amount of development in the district doesnt change.
But given Watson Islands location and the projects potential impacts on the neighboring jurisdiction of Miami Beach, some experts also believe the DRI requires the state to step in and review the expansion. Miami land-use lawyer Jeff Bercow, who has served as a pro-bono counsel to the DDA, said in an email to agency officials that the changes require state review of the impacts. The email was released in response to a public-records request by Venetian Islands resident Stephen Herbits, who is suing for more records, including all communications between city officials and the developers.
Both those questions could become the subject of litigation to block the project, the experts say.
Sarnoff, a lawyer, said the law governing DRIs is so unsettled hes not sure what it requires.
To say the law is not clear is an understatement, Sarnoff said. I dont care who sues who. Let a judge decide what the DRI says. Thats how you clear up a law.
Miami Herald staff writers Martha Brannigan and Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.