River Cities Gazette

Medley seafood company's bid for special exemption use shot down

NO WAY: Gary DiPalo was one of more than a dozen Medley business owners that showed up at the April 7 meeting to sternly voice their objections to a possible special exemption for a seafood company to be allowed to move in and found their voices were heard this past Monday when the council unanimously denied the request.
NO WAY: Gary DiPalo was one of more than a dozen Medley business owners that showed up at the April 7 meeting to sternly voice their objections to a possible special exemption for a seafood company to be allowed to move in and found their voices were heard this past Monday when the council unanimously denied the request.
Gazette Photo/BILL DALEY

River Cities Gazette

Employees of the Casablanca Fish Market showed up in force at Monday night’s Medley Council meeting, decked out in their blue Casablanca T-shirts.

But less than 30 minutes after they arrived, they were on their way out, quietly exiting the council chambers and perhaps feeling blue instead of wearing it.

After some major hooting and hollering at last month’s council meeting by neighboring business owners over a potential resolution to possibly approve a Special Exemption Use within the M-1 Zoning District that would have allowed the company to move in and start a business, Casa Blanca’s bid was shot down unanimously by the Medley council.

At the April 7 meeting, the resolution appeared to have some support from Mayor Roberto Martell and Councilman Jack Morrow, with Vice Mayor Griselia DiGiacomo and Edgar Ayala clearly against and Susanna Guasch simply wanting to gather more information.

But at Monday night’s meeting, all five had their minds made up, despite the objections of attorney Sacha Linares, who represented Casa Blanca but never got the opportunity to approach the podium.

“What you would be doing is basically giving the community or the other business owners an absolute veto over the property owner,” Medley town attorney Steve Helfman said, explaining to the council before the vote was taken after he was asked last month to look into a possible compromise or solution for both sides. “This would clearly be an improper delegation of the authority of the council. I really wish there was a way we could come up with a mechanism but the council either needs to approve this subject to the  reasonable conditions that have been recommended by staff, or deny this application.

“I don’t think there is a conditional approval that leads to the community at large or a certain group of neighbors the right to just call and complain and then the property owner, who has invested however much money just loses their rights to go forward. That’s not a workable solution.”

After the vote was taken, Casablanca owner Luis Blanco attempted to come up to the podium followed by Linares but both were denied, causing some small banter between Linares and Helfman.

“The public hearing has already been conducted, there was one hearing, it was a special exception hearing and it was continued until tonight and the council has voted against it,” Helfman said. “If you wanted to make that argument, you should have been here for the first meeting. I’m sorry you weren’t here but the vote has been taken, it’s over.”

“We wanted to put forth the points that Casablanca does meet the criteria for a special exception, that under case law, special exception must be granted if the owner meets all of the criteria set forth by the zoning code,” said Linares. “It’s actually a very antiquated zoning code that still allows for chicken coops, so had they come and applied for a chicken coop, they would have gotten approved on the spot.

“It’s very sad. Casablanca is an excellent company, a very well established company with an impeccable record with the City of Miami where they’ve had a business for over 20 years and it woud have brought over 35 jobs to the Town of Medley.”

“What happened is that I met with some of the people from Casablanca and also the other business owners and they were unanimously against it and we can’t risk losing 10 businesses for one,” Martell said after the meeting, admitting that the objection in numbers from the neighboring business owners who showed up last month influenced his “change of heart.”

“I feel bad for Casablanca, I tried all I could but I saw that the business people around there didn’t want it. We had our town attorney try and find a solution for it and came up with nothing, so what do we do?”

“To me it was very clear from the start that the neighboring businesses were complaining that they were going to be subject to the smell and then they’re saying they would not allow the smell to come out, which is impossible,” said DiGiacomo. “If it’s fish, it’s going to smell like fish. My mind was made up last month. These places have had this problem so often in the past (foul odor from seafood companies) we looked at every option and when no solution could be found, it became obvious that there was no way we could go through with this.”

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