North Miami / NMB

North Miami Beach

Developer can go ahead with scaled-back plans for luxury home in North Miami Beach

A developer can build a multi-million-dollar home with a rooftop terrace in the Eastern Shores neighborhood of North Miami Beach, but he can’t build it tall enough to include an elevator.

North Miami Beach council members voted 3-2 to allow the flat roof, but the property owner dropped his request for a height variance that would have allowed an elevator after he saw he didn’t have enough votes.

The developer, Abraham Galsky, wants to build the luxury home on a lakefront lot in the 3100 block of Northeast 165th St.

Mayor George Vallejo and council members Marlen Martell and Anthony DeFillipo, voted to allow the flat roof, while council members Barbara Kramer and Beth Spiegel dissented.

In an unexpected move, council members Frantz Pierre and Phyllis Smith said they had conflicts of interest that prevented them from voting.

Under state law, city council members are required to vote on any matter that comes in front of them — unless they have a conflict of interest. The law is intended to prevent officials from dodging controversial votes. But in Miami-Dade, the county ethics law defines conflict of interest broadly, giving officials ample wiggle room.

Pierre told the Miami Herald that he couldn’t vote because he was thinking about buying the minimalist, four-bedroom, 6,300-square-foot home, which is estimated to go on the market for $4.2 million.

“I have five children and it is exactly something my wife and I want for the future,” said Pierre. When asked about if the price was in his range, he said, everything is negotiable.

According to his most recent financial disclosure, filed in 2012, Pierre’s only sources of income were his job as a Miami-Dade County elementary-school teacher, where he earns about $53,000 per year, and his compensation as a councilman, which is about $30,000. He listed no assets or liabilities.

Smith, who is a licensed real estate agent, initially said she was not involved in any contracts or negotiations for the purchase of the house, but later said she was.

“I am negotiating a different contract in a different area, and the people I’m negotiating with have met with the owners and they have spoken to me about this project,” said Smith.

This came as a surprise to Galsky, who said, he and his partners are under no current negotiations or contracts from Pierre or Smith.

“We have never spoken to Councilwoman Smith, nor do I know of any contract she is talking about. As far as Councilman Pierre, he did call us last weekend but the conversation was very brief. There were no serious inquiries or questions,” said Galsky.

This caught some of the other council members off guard, and they questioned interim city attorney Dotie Joseph about whether the decision to allow Smith to recuse herself meant others should too, since most of the council members are involved in real estate as agents or married to someone who was.

“This is just ridiculous,” said Councilwoman Kramer. “I have a problem with this because in the future we may not have a quorum for any new house that comes up, “

“We need to give the people of this city and this applicant a fair hearing from a full board,” said Mayor Vallejo.

Last month, the council members complained that the proposed 4,000-square-foot rooftop terrace was too big and would invite noisy parties. Even though the revised plan had a smaller rooftop terrace less than half the size, the owner decided to withdraw his request for the height variance.

“After the two council people left, it was obvious we weren’t going to have the votes to get it passed,” Galsky said.

Galsky said at this point he plans to go ahead with the house with the smaller rooftop terrace and no elevator.

A similar issue is being decided in the Town of Golden Beach, where most of the multi-million-dollar homes enjoy breathtaking beautiful oceanfront and inter-coastal views. Currently, there are homes with rooftop terraces, but last month an ordinance was passed on first reading to prohibit rooftop terraces with elevators. Beachfront properties are exempted. A second reading is scheduled for March 18.

In other action, the council voted 5-2 to pay interim city attorney Dotie Joseph at an annual rate of $165,000 for as long as she remains as acting city attorney. Last month, the council abruptly fired their longtime attorney, Darcee Siegel, who was making $188,000 yearly.

Joseph defended herself when Kramer suggested a salary of $150,000 and no contract.

“In other situations the interim city attorney is paid exactly the same as the actual city attorney. At the end of the day, Darcee was making about 180 and I was making 90 [as assistant city attorney]. I’ve taken on Darcee’s entire duties, plus I still maintain most of mine. I think something in the 165-170 range is more than fair,” Joseph said.

Spiegel and Kramer voted against the motion.

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