State ethics officials are saying Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine does not have a conflict of interest in an upcoming vote to increase the height for a planned mixed use development next door to one of his properties in Sunset Harbour.
A developer, Deco Capital LLC, wants the city to give it an exception from the city’s development rules by allowing the firm to build up to 90 feet high — 40 feet taller than what is currently allowed. The exception would apply only to Deco Capital’s land on the east side of Purdy Avenue
Some neighbors have decried the project, and others support it. The plan cleared a commission committee last week, but the City Commission has to vote on it March 9 before sending it to a city land-use board.
Critics have raised concerns over whether the mayor would benefit from increased property values.
The mayor had asked City Attorney Raul Aguila for an opinion on whether or not he can vote on the change because he owns an adjacent property. Aguila opined that Levine has no conflict, but he asked for opinions from the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics & Public Trust.
This week, state ethics officials said Levine had no conflict because any potential personal benefit to the mayor is “speculative.”
“ … it appears that any gain or loss which would inure to the mayor from the ordinance is remote and speculative [uncertain], and, thus, that he will not be presented with a voting conflict regarding the ordinance,” wrote C. Christopher Anderson, III, deputy executive director of the ethics commission.
On Friday, Levine adviser Christian Ulvert gave this statement:
“The opinion from the independent state ethics commission clearly states that Mayor Levine has no conflict in voting on the ordinance amending the City’s land-use regulations. We appreciate the commission weighing in as it keeps with the Mayor’s commitment to always lead with the greatest ethics and integrity.”
At Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, Levine said he would comply with opinions of the state and county ethics boards. Ulvert said the county has not given its opinion yet.
It appears that in the case of a rezoning, state ethics officials have in the past told local elected officials to abstain from voting when they own adjacent property. According to a September 1989 decision regarding a rezoning vote for the Venice City Council, the Commission on Ethics decided a council member who owned adjacent property did have a conflict of interest.
“Where the council member’s property would increase in value as a result of approval of the rezoning, the fact that the precise amount of such increase is uncertain does not mean that the measure would not result in ‘special private gain’ to the council member, requiring the council member to abstain from voting,” the opinion said.