Miami Beach

Miami Beach removes art from multimillion-dollar home amid fight over code violations

Miami Beach removes art from the wall of a house

Workers from Museo Vault removed art from the wall of a house in Miami Beach, Florida, on June 25, 2019. The City of Miami Beach says the owners have had repeated code violations.
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Workers from Museo Vault removed art from the wall of a house in Miami Beach, Florida, on June 25, 2019. The City of Miami Beach says the owners have had repeated code violations.

On Tuesday morning, a fine art storage company pulled a truck up to a multimillion-dollar Miami Beach home and removed artwork from the exterior wall without the owners’ permission.

Under close supervision from city code enforcement and police officers, three workers from Museo Vault Fine Art Storage unscrewed a massive sculpture piece by piece and wrapped it in blankets before loading it into the back of the truck. The artwork — a series of metallic triangles resembling flames — had covered a white wall surrounding the property. A freestanding metallic sculpture, which the workers did not remove, towered over the front gate.

The problem? Miami Beach says the artwork at 5101 Pine Tree Dr. violated the city’s zoning rules and that the owners refused to remove it.

Code enforcement officers had cited Richard and Maria Meruelo in 2018 and again this past May for failing to comply with the city’s design review criteria, which regulate new construction and alterations to existing buildings including some changes to the exteriors of single-family homes. The owners appealed the most recent violation to the special master earlier this month, but lost the appeal. The case was closed on Monday.

The Meruelos were not present while the artwork was removed and did not respond to requests for comment.

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A section of the artwork decorating the outside wall of a house at 5101 Pine Tree Dr. in Miami Beach. Sam Navarro Special for the Miami Herald

Mayor Dan Gelber said that code enforcement had to take action because the property owners were violating city rules.

“No one can flout our laws and our ordinances,” he said. “We live in a community and you’ve got to respect your neighbors and it’s just not fair to simply do what you want without complying with any of the requirements. This wasn’t replacing the toilet without telling anybody.”

Gelber said the issue was that the owners didn’t comply with the design review criteria, not an objection to the art itself.

“I don’t think it was a taste-based decision. Code doesn’t do that,” he said. “If you didn’t have this process, there would be who-knows-what on every wall of the city.”

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Artwork decorating the outside wall of a house at 5101 Pine Tree Drive in Miami Beach. The city removed the artwork on June 25 after the owners refused to do so despite code citations. Sam Navarro Special for the Miami Herald

On Tuesday morning, drivers slowed down as they passed the house to peer at the unusual scene of code enforcement and police officers supervising art removal. Two neighbors, who declined to give their names, stopped by to film on their phones. One of the neighbors said that the artwork had been a topic of conversation in the neighborhood.

One of the workers, who declined to give his name, said that he’d never previously been hired by a city to remove artwork from a house. The property appeared to be under construction and the worker said he didn’t expect the owners to stop by while the art was being removed.

“That would be awkward,” he said.

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Workers from Museo Vault remove art from the wall of a house at 5101 Pine Tree Drive in Miami Beach on Tuesday. Sam Navarro Special for the Miami Herald

This isn’t the only fight between the city of Miami Beach and the Meruelo family.

In February, the city sued a family company — Deauville Associates LLC — over the disrepair of the Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach, which is owned by Belinda, Richard and Homero Meruelo. The city claims that the owners have not made necessary repairs to the hotel since it was damaged by Hurricane Irma and owe nearly $100,000 in outstanding resort taxes. The hotel is best known for having hosted the Beatles during their 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The Deauville closed in 2017 after Hurricane Irma and an electrical fire damaged the building. A city inspection conducted in 2018 found broken windows and concrete.

The Meruelos bought the hotel in 2004 and it was designated part of the North Beach Resort Local Historic District that year. Miami Beach requires properties within the historic district to be maintained.

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A company hired by Miami Beach removed artwork from the wall of a Pine Tree Drive home after the city cited the owners for violating the code by hanging the art without approval. Sam Navarro Special for the Miami Herald

The lawsuit is still pending and the hotel owners have filed a counterclaim arguing that the historic designation wasn’t in place when they first purchased the property and can’t be applied retroactively. The hotel owners have also previously said that they were having difficulties recovering money from insurance companies to pay for the needed repairs.

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