Miami-Dade County

Florida Supreme Court won’t hear SkyRise lawsuit by activist

The Florida Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear an appeal by a Miami activist challenging a government deal allowing the construction of the SkyRise observation tower behind Bayside Marketplace.

Grace Solares sued the city of Miami in August of 2014, arguing that city officials violated their municipal charter when they granted developer Jeff Berkowitz the ability to build a 1,000-foot, $430 million tower on the bay. She lost in circuit court, and the Third District Court of Appeal dismissed her case in May on the grounds that she lacked the standing to sue the city because she couldn’t prove she’d been specially injured by the project.

Solares and her attorney, Linda Carroll, appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which decided against hearing the case and said it would not consider a rehearing.

The ruling leaves the residents of Dade County in quite a fix because the local government can do whatever they want ....

Attorney Linda Carroll

The court’s decision ends a year of litigation. But, perhaps more significantly, it could have implications for several other lawsuits challenging high-profile, voter-approved projects in the city.

Currently, attorneys for the city, Berkowitz and the owner of Bayside Marketplace are arguing that auto magnate Norman Braman should not be allowed to continue as a plaintiff in a second lawsuit challenging the SkyRise referendum because, unlike co-plaintiff Raquel Regalado, he is not a voter in the city. The city is also waiting for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on another appeal from Coconut Grove businessman Stephen Kneapler, whose challenge of an $18 million redevelopment of Grove Key Marina was also dismissed on the grounds that he lacked standing.

On Friday, Key Biscayne resident and developer Martin Margulies lost a challenge of the roughly $108 million in subsidies granted to the developer of the Miami Worldcenter when a judge ruled he lacked standing. His attorney indicated that he may appeal. Meanwhile, the issue of standing has been a central issue in a lawsuit challenging the voter-approved Flagstone mega yacht marina and hotel project on Watson Island.

Plaintiffs fighting against what they believe are bad government deals argue that the courts have become more aggressive in tossing lawsuits over the issue of standing. They say recent court decisions favoring the city of Miami never touch on the legitimacy of their complaints, and chip away at the public’s ability to hold their government accountable.

Reached by phone Tuesday, Carroll, Solares’ attorney, said she was disappointed.

“The ruling,” she said, “leaves the residents of Dade County in quite a fix because the local government can do whatever they want and there is no recourse through the courts, certainly anything having to do with a charter violation.”

However, when it ruled against Solares in May, a panel of the Third District Court of Appeal stated that “the argument that Solares must have standing because otherwise no one would have standing is the perennial argument of those who lack standing.”

Alan Dimond, a Greenberg Traurig attorney representing General Growth Properties, the owner of Bayside Marketplace, said the courts are simply setting precedent to maintain “good public policy.”

“The judiciary says we can’t just have every citizen having the right to challenge every government election that they don’t like,” he said.

A hearing on Regalado and Braman’s SkyRise lawsuit is set for Oct. 5. Until that suit is resolved, a $10 million payment to the city by General Growth Properties will remain in escrow.

David Smiley: 305-376-2284, @newsbysmiley