To the would-be developer of seven new houses, it was a routine “ministerial” decision.
To neighbors, it was a seal of approval on new “McMansions.”
But to South Miami city commissioners, a Tuesday night decision on whether to waive land-use regulations was a case study in confusion.
The City Commission cast six votes on the matter, with one commissioner switching sides twice — the second time after the city attorney said his first flip was invalid because it was based on a private conversation during a break in the quasi-judicial proceeding, in which commissioners are supposed to act like judges and base decisions only on facts presented in public.
In the end, the commission rejected one of the developer’s two requests, and the developer’s attorney threatened to sue.
At issue is a development company’s request for a “waiver of plat” so it could more easily build houses on a 2.7 wooded acres at 6520 SW 56th St. According to the developer’s lawyer, denial won’t stop the project, but will make it take longer and cost more.
The developers’ attorney, Melissa Tapanes Llahues, has said that the decision to grant or deny a waiver of plat is a “purely ministerial or administrative function,” and that “a local agency may only deny a plat if the agency demonstrates that the application did not meet the objective legal requirements for approval.”
In essence, she was saying there is little room for judgment or discretion on the part of the commission.
But neighbors worry that the houses would destroy wildlife habitat and be a poor fit for the neighborhood.
On Tuesday, two residents showed up to speak in favor of the application, including a friend of one of the developers. They said they wanted new homes in the area.
About half a dozen people spoke against the waiver, saying they felt the proposed lots did not conform to the character of the rest of the neighborhood.
The shape and size of the lots prompted a planning board member who recommended denial, Yvonne Beckman, to offer up a challenge and reward to the commissioners: If they can compare the “five narrow, skinny lots” to “the entire city of south Miami and find a similar lot, I’ll give you $10.”
“If they would put four houses in there instead of trying to stick in five, those would be more in character,” Tina Pellicane said, referring to the five proposed lots on the south side of the property. She also said the character of the neighborhood was based in part on the significant tree canopy on that site. “In a sense, building any homes on it all is destroying the character of the neighborhood,” Pellicane said.
One of the criteria for approval of a waiver of plat under the city’s land-development regulations is that the building site created is “of the same character as the surrounding area.”
The city’s planning staff analysis of the second waiver application stated that while the proposed lots are larger than most of the surrounding properties (another criterion), the proposed 75 foot frontages “are potentially not of the same character as the surrounding area.”
The “waiver of plat” application process has been anything but expeditious. It was approved by the city’s planning board twice: first unanimously, and then 3-2 after the commission had kicked the issue back to the board to consider anew.