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Miami Beach

City wants judge to clarify rules for convention-center vote

Miami Beach has gone to court to determine whether a proposed charter amendment applies to the city’s current plans to redevelop its 52-acre convention center district.

Beach attorneys on July 29 filed a lawsuit against Let Miami Beach Decide, a political committee led by Commissioner Jonah Wolfson.

But the city isn’t seeking money in the lawsuit. Instead, officials want a Miami-Dade circuit judge to decide how large a majority of Beach voters would have to approve leases of public land for the redevelopment plan.

After a months-long competitive bidding process, Miami Beach commissioners recently chose a development team for a $500 million renovation of the city’s aging convention center. Plans also call for the team, South Beach ACE, to lease the surrounding public land from Miami Beach to privately develop a hotel, retail shops and restaurants.

The leases between the city and South Beach ACE require voter approval by a simple majority, according to the Beach’s current charter. A city charter is the document that lays out all of the laws of a municipality.

But Wolfson was behind a petition drive to change the city’s charter to require a super-majority of voters approve the leases.

The proposed charter change needs to be approved by voters before taking effect. Wolfson collected enough signatures in his petition drive to force the city to put the proposed amendment on the Beach’s November general election ballot.

Voters at that time will also be voting on whether to approve the leases with South Beach ACE.

What’s not clear, however, is whether the proposed amendment applies to South Beach ACE. Miami Beach’s city attorney wrote in a lengthy legal opinion that it probably doesn’t “because it would impact vested rights and impose new duties and conditions on the proposers as well as upon the City.”

Let Miami Beach Decide, however, thinks the charter amendment should apply because the city’s bid documents for the deal state that merely participating in the bid “creates no rights of any participant until and unless a lease is signed,” according to court records.

Let Miami Beach Decide also filed a counter-claim that the city can’t ask voters to approve the leases in November because they haven’t actually been negotiated yet.

According to the group’s counter-claim, the leases shouldn’t be put out to vote “until the agreement that is the subject of the referendum has actually been agreed to by the respective parties providing the accurate and final terms of the agreement to the public in order to allow that a well informed electorate may make a decision based on accurate information.”

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