For six months, Liz Fate has been unable to open her windows, because when she does, dust from an unpermitted construction site across the street covers her floor and furniture.
She complained to the city of Miami, the Florida Department of Transportation, whose contractor is using the site, and the Miami-Dade County Department of Environmental Resources Management, but nothing happened. Finally last week she complained to the City Attorney’s Office and The Miami Herald, which contacted several government agencies to inquire about the situation.
Within hours, city code-enforcement inspectors visited the property and cited owner David Lombardi for lacking a permit and for improper storage of construction materials in a residential neighborhood.
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Now it turns out Lombardi’s tenant, American Engineering and Development, never had city permits to be there to begin with.
“They are operating illegally,’’ said city Zoning Administrator Barnaby L. Min. “If they do not have permits they should not be operating.”
American is leasing the site, 2238 NW Second Ave, from Lombardi — a prominent Wynwood developer and landowner — and using it as a staging area for the construction on nearby Biscayne Boulevard.
Lombardi and the contractor now have until April 11 to either obtain the proper permits, which require approval from the city, or shut down. FDOT has spoken with American Engineering and issued a statement saying that the department will monitor the company’s efforts to reduce dust and comply with the city’s regulations. The department also told the contractor it can’t start work at 5:30 a.m. and must wait until 8 as required by city rules.
A spokesman with the Miami-Dade Department of Environmental Resources Management said that while the dust might be a nuisance, inspectors had tested the air on four separate occasions, and found it didn’t pose a health risk for residents.
The government’s belated actions aren’t enough for Fate. She wants the project stopped altogether.
“We can’t make it safer; we just need to shut it down,” she said. “It needs to be shut down immediately.”
Lombardi said that he believes the work is allowed because the site is zoned light industrial. He doesn’t think Fate’s efforts to stop the work will be successful.
“Would she prefer that we parked containers for the port there?” he said. “I mean, does she understand where she rented? She rented in a neighborhood that’s zoned light industrial. If she wants Brickell Avenue, go rent on Brickell. The rents are triple.”
Min, the zoning administrator, said that only a portion of the property is zoned industrial, and that only that section could be used for the storage of construction material.
City Commissioner Richard Dunn, whose district covers the area, echoed Min’s comments.
“Whatever the law is, it should be upheld,” he said.
Miami Code Enforcement Director Sergio Guadix said he planned to give the contractor time to respond before asking police to stop the work.
Fate lives in Wynwood Lofts, which is also owned by Lombardi. She first started calling city officials and Dunn’s office at the end of September. In the last month, she started going door-to-door at the on the other side of the site, at the New Horizon Square apartments in Overtown.
Pamela Green is one of the residents there who supports Fate’s efforts. From her bedroom window in her apartment at 225 NW 22 St., she can see a pile of dirt and slabs of asphalt towering above a dump truck. The dull roar of bulldozer engines is punctuated by bangs and thuds — the sound of rocks crunching against metal. When one of the bulldozers backs up, she hears a high pitched beeping, often followed by another crashing noise.
Green, 40, says that crews often start working at the site at about 5:30 or 6 a.m., six days a week. When she opens her windows to take advantage of a breeze, brown dust coats her floor and furniture.
She and other residents at New Horizon Square want the work stopped and moved elsewhere, and they’re joining Fate in asking that the city officials and the commissioner to step in.
“Come and see what noise pollution we’re living up under, and what air pollution we’re living up under,” she said. “Would you like for that to be in your backyard?”
Dunn agreed to meet with residents on Thursday. Fate welcomed the news, but questioned why he had never responded directly to residents concerns after his office had received dozens of complaints during the last several months.
“I think it’s great that he wants to engage with community, but I don’t want this to be a stage from him to do P.R. work," she said.
Whatever the city does, it will be too little too late for residents like Shelia McNeil, 54, who also lives in New Horizon Square. She has had to live next to the noise and dust for almost a year, despite the fact that American Engineering never had the correct permits to do the work to begin with.
“You barely get a full nights sleep around here and the house stays full of dust,” she said. “Even with the windows closed we still manage to have a house full of dust. It’s disrespectful to our neighborhood, they don’t care.”
Fate is pressing onward. Not only does she want the project stopped, but she would like the neighborhood to be compensated in some way. The issue may well be taken up by the City Commission, or end up in court.
“I’m not stopping until it’s fixed so it never happens to anybody again,” she said.