Miami-Dade County

Judge denies motion to halt vote on Coconut Grove waterfront plan

A judge on Thursday denied a request from a local activist to halt Tuesday’s vote by Miamians on whether to approve a major waterfront renewal project on city-owned land in Coconut Grove, and the 50-year lease that goes with it.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley said paralegal Grace Solares failed to prove her contention that the ballot language is misleading or that irreparable harm would result from allowing the vote to proceed. Solares filed an emergency motion with the court on Tuesday, a week before the Nov. 5 election and after thousands of early and absentee votes had already been cast.

“Seeking injunctive relief is an extraordinary measure,” Bagley told Solares and her attorney, Linda Carroll, after an hour-long emergency hearing in a courtroom filled with Grove residents fighting the development plan.

Solares argued the city charter forbids leases longer than five years on city-owned land, and that the charter question on the ballot is misleading and provides insufficient information. Assistant City Attorney Warren Bittner countered that the city is following the charter, which requires a lease of more than five years to go to public referendum. He also contended the 73-word question provides sufficient information, with more available on the city’s website.

After the judge’s decision, Carroll asked for a transcript of the ruling, telling the judge she plans to file an emergency motion to stop the vote with the Third District Court of Appeal.

Miami voters will decide whether to approve a city-backed proposal from Grove Bay Investment Group to tear down two existing restaurants, Scotty’s Landing and the Chart House, on a seven-acre parcel next to Miami City Hall, and replace them with three new restaurants. The plan also calls for refurbishing a marina and renovating two historic Pan American Airways hangars now used for boat storage at the site. One hangar would be converted into a marine supply store. The developer would also contribute $5 million towards construction of a city parking garage on South Bayshore Drive, and build a pedestrian promenade from the roadway to the water, ending at a new public pier over Biscayne Bay.

The 50-year lease would include two optional 15-year renewals, and the city is guaranteed rent of at least $1.4 million a year.

The proposal is one piece of a broader city plan under which the nearby Grove exhibition center will be demolished and replaced with a park.