A Miami activist challenging recently approved plans for the massive and polarizing Miami Worldcenter complex learned Thursday that the city will allow him to appeal — if he can scrounge up a quarter-million dollars.
Through a nonprofit, Brad Knoefler filed his appeal of the Worldcenter’s administratively approved development application on April 6, and the city accepted it with a $1,000 payment. But 10 days later, his attorney received a letter stating that the city had erred and he’d need to pay the same steep fee the project’s developers paid when they filed their plans.
“Since your client is not an abutting property owner, please remit the balance of $235,653.60 within 15 days of this letter to preserve the appeal,” Deputy City Attorney Barnaby Min wrote Thursday.
The change of heart by the city is significant. Should Knoefler’s appeal move forward, it would likely cost the developers of the 27-acre project weeks and perhaps months at a time when they’re pushing to break ground. With the filing of an appeal, the city stays the issuance of the approval to build and requires that construction be halted until the appeal is resolved.
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That would require one or two public hearings before a city zoning board and the city commission.
A Worldcenter spokesman declined to comment Thursday, but the developers have been aggressively pushing to break ground by “mid 2015” on the $1.2 billion first phase, which includes about 1,000 residential units and a large mall anchored by Macy’s and Bloomingdales.
Meanwhile, residents are grousing about being shut out by City Hall. During a candidates’ forum Wednesday night, Rosa Palomino, one of eight people running for the city commission seat that oversees the area where the Worldcenter is being built, told an audience that “there is a fault in our system designed to keep residents out of the process.”
Knoefler could not be reached on his cellphone. His attorney, Paul Savage, called the city’s fee structure “untenable” in a letter submitted with the appeal of Worldcenter’s “warrant” approval, filed on behalf of Knoefler’s nonprofit, the Omni Park West Redevelopment Association. The larger fee, he wrote, “will have a chilling, if not illegal, effect on the ability and right for affected persons to appeal Warrant determinations for this 27-acre project.”
The $236,000 bill is not arbitrary. When it comes to appealing warrant approvals, the city charges property owners next to the project in question a nominal fee. By law, anyone else would pay a nickel per square foot in order to process the appeal. At more than 4 million square feet, that creates a hefty bill to appeal the Worldcenter’s plans.
Knoefler, who has tangled repeatedly with the Worldcenter developers, runs the Grand Central Lofts club, which he sold to the developer and which exists in the project’s boundaries. His Omni Park West nonprofit created a temporary park on the old Miami Arena site, but neither is considered an abutting property owner.
Savage hoped the city would charge the nonprofit only a small fee, based on an exception carved out for charitable organizations. As of 12:16 p.m. Thursday, the city agreed with that position, according to Olga Zamora, chief of Miami’s Hearing Boards. A few hours later, Min said that exception doesn’t apply.