North Miami’s City Council voted Tuesday night to remove contaminated fill material from the Biscayne Landing property and to begin negotiating a sale of part of the land.
After city leaders ordered developer Oleta Partners to remove the fill at a November council meeting, the two parties agreed to negotiate a formal agreement. The agreement would require Oleta to provide a plan for removing about 194,000 cubic yards of contaminated crushed rock, and city staff will negotiate the sale of about 50 acres of the property to Oleta Partners.
The city owns the former landfill site beside Biscayne Bay and wants to sell it to the developer to build condos and a tourist destination. But the city wants the developer to clean up the site before starting construction.
Oleta will pay for the costs of appraising the value of the land and bring the finalized agreement, with the county Division of Environmental Resource Management’s approval on the soil plan, back for the council’s final approval.
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“We believe this is a significant step forward and reflects the renewed spirit of cooperation between us and the City Council and our shared goal of continued progress for the city of North Miami,” said Josh Oberhausen, a spokesman for Oleta, in a statement.
The council previously voted against a proposed $1 million settlement with Oleta and a plan to remove the fill, which was shown to have levels of aluminum that were higher than county environmental standards. The project has been stalled for years due to debates over the plans for developing the 190-acre property.
Residents expressed some concern over the plan, and thought the cleaning of the fill and negotiating the sale of the 50 acres should have been separate resolutions. Councilman Scott Galvin said that because of the city’s upcoming summer recess, they couldn’t afford to delay the process.
“It’s critical that we move this project forward,” Galvin said. “We don’t meet again until the beginning of September at this stage.”
Dozens of residents also spoke out at the meeting in support of Sans Souci Tennis Center director and tennis instructor Ross Dubins. Dubins in his two roles served as a city employee and also was contracted as a “tennis pro” who has taught classes for decades. Former City Manager Stephen Johnson sent a letter to the county Commission on Ethics and Public Trust asking about the contract.
The commission replied April 18, with a letter addressed to the current manager, Aleem Ghany, which ruled that the arrangement could be a conflict of interest moving forward.
“His private enterprise running his pro shop at the same time as his city employment, and providing private tennis lessons at the same city facilities he manages and schedules would constitute conflicting employment,” the letter said.
After that ruling, the city apparently terminated his contract, then put out a bid for a replacement, which caused the uproar among residents and Dubins’ students at the center.
The council eventually voted to remove the bid for a new tennis instructor and agreed to work out a legal arrangement to keep Dubins at the center. Former Mayor Frank Wolland, who is giving legal advice to Dubins, said he was glad that so many residents came and spoke in support of Dubins.
“I’m grateful to the community for coming out to support Ross Dubins,” Wolland said after the meeting. “The city’s lucky to have him.”
Also on Tuesday, the council voted to explore a more extensive plan for their forensic audit after receiving cost estimates from three firms that ranged from $90,000 to $120,000.
Councilwoman Carol Keys asked Ghany to look for a forensic audit plan that looks at the past 10 years of four departments (finance, building and zoning, purchasing, and public works) and an operational audit through a state agency.