Doral

A developer wanted more residential units. The city said no, so the developer sued.

Masoud Shojaee, president and chairman of Shoma Group.
Masoud Shojaee, president and chairman of Shoma Group. Miami Herald File

A development company is suing the city of Doral after the City Council refused to increase the density of its project even though the company said it met all of the city’s requirements.

The three council members who voted against the measure — former Mayor Luigi Boria and Councilwomen Christi Fraga and Ana Maria Rodriguez — cited concerns over increasing the city’s density.

Shoma Group, a firm spearheading a mixed-use project dubbed “Sanctuary at Doral” along Northwest 41st Street and 94th Avenue, filed a lawsuit against the municipality after council members voted 3-2 against granting the company special building rights.

About six months ago, with the aim of creating more affordable housing for those working in the city — particularly U.S. military personnel who work at the nearby U.S. Southern Command — the council passed an ordinance that allowed developers to build extra housing units if they agreed to incorporate more affordable workforce housing into their plans.

The council passed the ordinance 4-1.

“It is recognized that a shortage of workforce housing exists in the City of Doral, which is detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare. The current housing stock in the City is not affordable to many workers in Doral and thus they are forced to live in other areas of Miami-Dade County, and commute into and out of Doral,” it says in the ordinance.

“The purpose of this regulation is to provide a workforce housing density bonus (WHDB) to property owners with land located in certain land-use categories for the planning and construction of housing affordable to workers in the City of Doral.”

The city amended its mixed-use, land-use category to provide a workforce housing density bonus of up to 30 percent. The catch? The developer would have to make two-thirds of those bonus units workforce housing.

Initially, the Shoma project was capped at 138 housing units, or 19 per acre. Because it met certain “standards of excellence” mandated by the city, the city increased Shoma’s units from 19 to 25 per acre, or 182 units.

In addition, because Shoma agreed to incorporate workforce housing into its plans, the city bumped up Shoma’s housing density from 25 units per acre to 32.5. That meant Shoma could build an extra 55 units, bringing the number of units to 237, a 30 percent increase.

Two-thirds of those 55 extra units have to be workforce housing, bringing the workforce housing units to 37.

In order to qualify for this density bonus, the company must file an application with the city. The city staff then recommends whether the City Council should approve of the plan. City staff recommended the council approve the project at a Sept. 28 council meeting, records show. Later that day, the council voted down the measure 3-2, with Boria, Fraga and Rodriguez dissenting.

“Each of the five City Council members considered the merits of the application, voted independently, and the application was denied by a 3-2 vote,” said the city’s communications manager, Evan Owen, in an email. “The City of Doral and Sanctuary at Doral LLC are currently in litigation and both parties are working diligently to reach an amicable conclusion.”

Fraga cited concerns over increasing Doral’s density.

“I cannot be supportive at this time of high density,” Fraga said during the council meeting. “I think the workforce housing component, although innovative, needs a lot of work. I understand the need for workforce housing in our community, but again, creating higher density in a project of this size concerns me.”

Vice Mayor Pete Cabrera disagreed.

“We put this into motion as part of our master plan,” Cabrera said. “There are rights that you cannot deny a property owner. If you do, you’re gonna get sued and it’s going to cost us tens of millions of dollars. We may or may not not agree with something, but once we approve it as a council, it becomes our code; it becomes our law. Our personal beliefs and desires no longer have a bearing on that.”

In the lawsuit, Shoma says the “denial is inconsistent with the city’s adopted comprehensive plan,” citing Florida Statute 163.3215.

The sanctuary project was approved in June 2016. The seven-acre site would allow for business, office and residential use, as well as parks and public facilities. The project would include 30,000 square feet of retail space, four residential buildings, a courtyard, pool, dog park, soccer field, bike paths, pedestrian walkways and transit shelter.

A spokeswoman for Shoma Group did not return phone calls and voice messages.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan

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