Miami Beach

Miami Beach asks if Mayor Philip Levine has voting conflict on Sunset Harbour project

In 2014: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine delivers the state of the city address at Miami Beach Convention Center.
In 2014: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine delivers the state of the city address at Miami Beach Convention Center. Miami Herald File

A developer seeking a height increase for a mixed-used building in Sunset Harbour needs approval from the Miami Beach City Commission before the project can move forward.

But some have ethics concerns whether Mayor Philip Levine — who owns the building right next to the proposed development — should vote on an item that could increase his own property’s value.

Earlier this week, Levine asked City Attorney Raul Aguila whether he should abstain from voting on the Sunset Harbor Residence project when it comes to the commission in March. Aguila told the mayor he saw no conflict, but asked for an outside opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The Sunset Harbor Residences project is planned for a swath of adjacent lots on the east side of Purdy Avenue, south of 18th Street. The developer, Deco Capital Group, LLC, wants the city to make an exception to existing height limits by raising the maximum from 50 feet to 90 feet for properties with at least 200 feet of frontage on Purdy.

The mixed-use development would have retail on the first floor, two floors of parking and 15 three-bedroom units above that. The proposal has ignited debate among residents in the area, with some neighbors in the adjacent Lofts at South Beach condominium opposing the project because it would block their views. Others, including members of the Sunset Harbour Homeowners Association, support the development.

City commissioners discussed the ethics question at Wednesday’s meeting after Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez wrote a memo with concerns that there was a loophole in the developer’s proposal that could allow Deco Capital to also buy Levine’s property next door.

“There’s absolutely no question that the mayor is going to benefit from a height increase in that neighborhood because property values will go up,” Rosen Gonzalez told the Miami Herald after the meeting.

Levine said he would wait for the ethics commission decision and act accordingly.

“Whatever they decide is exactly what I’m going to abide by,” Levine said.

On Monday, Aguila wrote to state ethics officials that he believes there’s no conflict because the property Levine owns only has 50 feet of frontage on Purdy.

“In light of the upcoming March 9, 2016 City Commission meeting, I respectfully seek your expedited opinion on the above issue of whether the Mayor is presented with a voting conflict of interest,” Aguila wrote.

On Wednesday, the state ethics commission confirmed it was drafting an opinion, and Aguila added that he’s also asking Miami-Dade’s ethics board for advice. The city attorney told commissioners he submitted Rosen Gonzalez’s memo to supplement his original letter.

At one point during Wednesday’s meeting, the conversation on the dais took a turn when Commissioner Michael Grieco implied Rosen Gonzalez herself might have a conflict in this vote.

Rosen Gonzalez later confirmed that she’s been on four dates with Kent Harrison Robbins, a Beach lobbyist who represents Beach Towing on nearby Bay Road in its opposition to the Deco Capital project.

The commissioner said she didn’t see a problem with dating a lobbyist, and that she felt she was being unfairly attacked because she’s “a single, independent woman.”

“I don’t stand to benefit from this in any way,” Rosen Gonzalez said. “They’re attacking me because I went out on a date. That makes no sense.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech