SkyRise opponent sues to block referendum

07/15/2014 6:09 PM

07/15/2014 7:56 PM

An activist behind a petition to stop a 1,000-foot tower from being erected on Biscayne Bay filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to invalidate an August referendum on the SkyRise Miami tower and Bayside Marketplace renovations.

Architect Charles Corda said he’s not opposed to voters deciding on the projects. Rather, he said, the Miami City Commission erred last month when it approved a ballot question that asks voters to either support or oppose both the SkyRise tower and Bayside lease extension and amendment.

The question — already being printed on ballots by the county elections department — asks voters if they support 99-year Bayside leases that would bring the city a $10 million upfront payment, require a minimum of $27 million in Bayside improvements, and allow for the development of the privately financed $400 million SkyRise tower.

SkyRise, an entertainment skyscraper, would sublet space from Bayside under the agreement approved by the commission. But Corda said the fine print of the deal shows that the projects are separate and unrelated, and therefore law requires that the question be split in two.

“I oppose the SkyRise project but I don’t oppose the renovation of Bayside,” said Corda, who just last year led a charge against a plan to overhaul the waterfront next to Miami City Hall. “The ballot question as it’s written right now doesn’t give me the option to cast my vote the way I’d like to.”

Commissioners voted last month to place the question on the Aug. 26 ballot at the behest of SkyRise developer Jeff Berkowitz, who said he needs swift approval of the lease agreement to avoid losing investors. But Corda says the ballot language is vague and overstates the value of minimum annual lease payments.

He named both the city of Miami and Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley as defendants, and has asked for an expedited hearing.

Christina White, chief deputy supervisor of elections, said that the department had not received a copy of the suit, but that absentee and election day ballots were already being printed. “From our perspective, logistically, the question is already on the ballot,” she said.

White said should Corda’s suit succeed, it would likely require that new ballot language go before voters in the following election, in November. But Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez wrote in an email that she doesn’t think there’s any chance of that happening.

“We do not think it has any merit,” she wrote about the lawsuit.

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