Miami Beach commission vows to fight Miami’s Watson Island plan

It was a scene of rare harmony at Miami Beach City Hall commission chambers last week — inspired by a sneaky move by city officials across the bay in Miami, acting in league with mega-developers Jorge Perez and Stephen Ross, that would put a long-stalled plan for a shopping and hotel complex on Watson Island on steroids, choking off access to the MacArthur Causeway and South Beach.

At least that’s how everyone in the room saw it, including every single Beach commissioner, Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, and representatives of 14 neighborhood and civic groups who have banded together to fight the project.

“We are having a sneak attack on Miami Beach,” veteran Beach activist Frank del Vecchio, speaking on behalf of the coalition, told commissioners. “We’re mad. We didn’t know about it. This is a real threat to everyone who uses our causeway…. Go fight it.”

And so they will. The commission unanimously authorized the city’s administrators and attorneys to explore political and legal avenues to ensure the deal is analyzed openly and thoroughly and minimizes harm to the resort city, including “filing a lawsuit if necessary to protect the city of Miami Beach,” in the words of resolution framer Michael Góngora.

With no advance notice, the Miami City Commission last month tentatively endorsed an expanded version of the 12-year-old blueprint for the already massive Island Gardens project that would more than double the amount of retail space, and add hotel rooms and a 100,000-square-foot conference center. Critics contend Miami officials, in particular Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, have sought to thwart public scrutiny.

“We have a bunch of saints up here compared to Miami,” Del Vecchio, who has often locked horns with city officials, told Beach commissioners to howls of laughter from dais and audience.