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Doral approves zoning change for new luxury development

The Doral City Council voted Wednesday to approve a zoning change for a real estate project that until June was partly owned by the children of Mayor Luigi Boria.

The vote came after a six-month delay due to an ethics inquiry into the matter. The mayor said he requested an opinion from Miami-Dade Ethics Commission on whether there was a conflict of interest.

An investigation by El Nuevo Herald in July found that Boria had given money to his children, Alexander and Lorena, before they bought their share of land to be developed by Grand Floridian at Doral LLC, the company they founded in June 2012 with Venezuelan businessman Juan Carlos Tovar.

The project got initial approval in February but a final vote had been delayed after the ethics question was raised.

Tovar, with a loan from the Borias, bought the Borias’ shares of the company in May. Tovar is a former business client of Luigi Boria.

The mayor had not participated in discussions or votes on the matter so far, opting to recuse himself on his own.

The ethics commission released its opinion on the matter earlier this month, stating that Boria had not violated any ethics code but recommending that he refrain from voting on the matter in the future. The decision recognized that the gift from the mayor to his children was linked to the initial capitalization of Grand Floridian.

A gated community with 66 homes is planned for the 17 acres on Northwest 107th Avenue at 68th Street — a few blocks from a landfill. The homes will start at $1 million.

On Wednesday, Boria stepped away from the dais before the vote, after reiterating the commission’s opinion that he had not violated any ethics code.

“I will continue to recuse myself,” he said.

The remaining council members all said they had put the vote off until after an opinion was released in order to ensure there were no conflicts of interest.

“This was not personal matter but more of a public trust issue,” said Councilwoman Christi Fraga.

Vice Mayor Bettina Rodríguez Aguilera said she appreciated the investment in the city, and she was glad the matter had been settled.

“We look forward to going to the open house soon,” she said.

City Manager Joe Carollo noted that he told city staff to analyze this project closely to ensure it met city codes and requirements.

“I told them that this particular project they had to scrutinize, not just like any other particular project, but even more so because of the circumstances,” he said.

Before the zoning hearing, at the council’s last budget hearing before the new fiscal year, the council approved a lower tax rate and a $38 million budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The rate, set at $1.9280 per $1,000 of taxable property, is the second-lowest in the county. Only Aventura has a lower rate.

The median price of a home in Doral is about $177,000 in assessed value. The owner of such a home would pay about $250 in city property taxes under the proposed tax rate. That’s a $32 decrease from last year, assuming the owner qualifies for the standard $50,000 homestead exemption and the home’s assessed value increased by 1.7 percent, the maximum allowed this year for an owner-occupied home.

After the council had voted to keep the current tax rate the same in August, Boria proposed a rate 29 cents lower in early September — a move that the mayor pushed in hopes that it will help the city in its efforts to annex one square mile of land in the northwest area of the city.

The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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