Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Miami Gardens, county remain unsettled on stadium-area development

Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.

More than a year after initially clashing over building rights at Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens leaders and the Miami-Dade County Commission still have not settled their dispute over who will control zoning of the stadium and its surrounding properties.

Members of the County Commission and the Miami Gardens City Council met jointly Tuesday afternoon with the intention to discuss and potentially settle a lawsuit that the city filed in July 2014.

The occasionally contentious meeting ended with the county approving a resolution with the intention to continue negotiations between the parties toward a resolution that gives Miami Gardens some control over the area.

The resolution is ultimately similar to a resolution approved by county leaders in September 2014 to negotiate an interlocal agreement between the two sides.

County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who represents the district that includes Miami Gardens, has been part of negotiations with the Miami Dolphins and city representatives and said before Tuesday’s meeting that there appeared to be a solution.

“I was hoping I would not be put in the position where we’d be at this point,” Jordan said. “I don’t see this as rocket science, it’s really an issue of jurisdiction.”

She also supported a motion from the Miami Gardens council Tuesday urging the county to interpret a section of the city’s charter that would give the city the building and zoning permitting rights based on a section of the city’s charter.

Tuesday’s meeting also continued to show the differences in interpretation of the city’s charter, including legal counsel for the Miami Dolphins.

“Our client is a little surprised that we find ourselves here and the commissioner finds herself here when we worked very diligently to reach a settlement,” said attorney Al Dotson Jr. “We believe there are ways in which we can move forward.”

Section 9.6 of the Miami Gardens charter was the impetus for the lawsuit, and the city initially asked for that section of the charter to be removed because the county and Miami Gardens never reached an agreement on the specifics of section 9.6. City Attorney Sonja Dickens said that she drafted an interlocal agreement years ago but a compromise was never approved.

That section states that the stadium properties and the Dolphin Center Development of Regional Impact and all zoning and building approvals, street maintenance and other regulations would all fall under the county’s jurisdiction. Miami Gardens contends that the date in the charter of Dec. 31, 2012, was the deadline for the city to be granted development control.

Some members of the commission, in approving the resolution Tuesday, said that delaying the decision would help them better understand the details of the dispute.

“It’s not that I’m against or in favor in any way, but this is a big situation,” said Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.

Others said the city has waited long enough for clarification and for their right to the land to be granted.

“This is all about control and we know it; big daddy wants to control the little babies,” said Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.

But Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert and Richard Weiss, of the law firm Weiss Serota, speaking on behalf of Miami Gardens, said the delay and extended discussion would only further stifle the city’s efforts. In order to allow a charter referendum, the County Commission has to approve the decision with a two-thirds vote.

“This just takes a simple motion, a simple motion of the County Commission can free Miami Gardens to be a real city,” Weiss said. “There’s been a push to have this go to the County Commission because the two-thirds votes, I don’t think, are there.”

The County Commission will later consider an item after negotiations continue and, if that proves unsuccessful, Gilbert said the city will continue to pursue the lawsuit and advance to higher courts if necessary.

“If we’re going to have second-class rights and we’re going to be a second-class city, if that’s going to happen it’s going to be from a bench with a judge and not a dais with elected officials and most certainly not from a stadium,” Gilbert said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3