Developer Brandon Lurie chastises elected officials for stunting area growth

Brandon Lurie points out the downtown streets in a state of disrepair

After graduating from the University of Florida with an Economics degree, Brandon Lurie settled into a job in South Miami, fell in love with the area, and decided to build his business here. Today Lurie and partner Richard Mattaway of the Richard-Brandon Company are award winning developers with an impressive dossier of successful projects from Pinecrest to Melbourne. Lurie recently sat down with South Miami News to share his decades of experience as a businessman, local resident, and direct contributor to the development of downtown.

BL: I grew up in an area of Dade County that did not have much community unlike what they call the hometown district here or Miracle Mile in Coral Gables or Lincoln Road on Miami Beach which were developed before highways and the need to drive cars everywhere. South Miami is more of the old town where you live near where you shop and you know all of the shop owners and so forth. I immediately noticed it was much different here than where I grew up and eventually moved here. I said I am going to focus on my neighborhood so I joined forces with my partner Rick Mattaway and we formed the Richard-Brandon Company in 1995. We built Parkside Village next to Dante Fascell Park, the first mid-rise in Pinecrest; Reserve of Pinecrest, Plaza 57 downtown where Town Kitchen & Bar resides and the townhouses of Pine Manor in High Pines. We also own land across from Larkin Hospital where we are approved for an 83,000 square foot office building.

Changes in commission leadership from the mid 90’s to today

BL: Over the past several years a few local residents started to become very active in government and would come to commission meetings and make a ruckus. Eventually a few of them got on the commission and certain boards and since the start of this trend most would conclude that South Miami government has gotten worse and worse. There is a lot of turnover (at city hall), very low morale with staff, and an anti-development mentality. This is not just coming from somebody who is a developer saying I want something done for me. I already have my approvals but I’ll tell you where it makes it difficult. People do not want to invest in the city and people are shying away from opening businesses in the city. What happens is you have a few commissioners or a staff member or two that think their opinion of what is right for the city is the majority or worse yet, they just don’t care what’s right for the city. In the opinion of most people that are doing business in the city, the merchants, property owners, and even residents, what they are doing is hurting the city.

So why are these people getting into the commission? If you took a poll I think you would find that a very small percentage of the population agree with them (mayor and commissioners) and would like to live on a farm in the middle of a major city for the rest of their life but the vast majority would say how did this happen that these people got elected. It’s because people are busy at work and with their families doing their thing and if it does not immediately affect them they don’t show up. It is the same few homeowners that show up to every (city commission) meeting and make a noise and against the sole property owner who is looking to do something positive with their property for the community. It’s a shame but I think if the typical homeowner saw the real picture of what was going on at City Hall again the vast majority would vote for different representation but they just don’t show up.

The commission needs to take an attitude of what is in the best interest of our city. At some point you have to have smart growth and you have to allow the city to grow. We are now at the worst we have ever been with the most vacancies we have ever had.

This is the most dynamic location in all of Dade County. But you look around and Pinecrest is moving and grooving, Coral Gables is building like crazy and in the last ten years as far as I know there have been maybe a few buildings built in South Miami. Did you know if you build in downtown you get higher tax revenues? You go through these other cities and they have beautiful parks, beautifully maintained retail areas, and they keep adding parks and trees and lights and signs and police, all kinds of services because they have the money to do it. The money comes from the commercial district which also lowers the tax rates on residents.

Knee jerk micromanagement from the dais

BL: Instead of focusing on how to be positive and help the community (the mayor and commissioners) are micromanaging every issue that takes place in South Miami instead of just following the rule, codes and laws like every other municipality and lets them run their course through staff. They should be just showing up and make those decisions that are in the best interest of the city and not what is in the best interest of what ones ultimate agenda or personal preference is and this is simply not happening.

Across the street from city hall a developer, who has the right to build a multi-story residential project, went in to the city for approval of an affordable elderly housing project. The commission basically said no, not in my backyard, we don’t want affordable elderly housing across the street from city hall on Sunset Drive. So without talking to the developer and determining what this really meant, they said “let’s come up with a moratorium on residential projects over 3 units” to stop the one project. So the knee jerk reaction (to avoid a lawsuit) is let’s put a moratorium property in the city. That means anybody with a vacant lot cannot do residential over 3 units per project.

In today’s economy, the only developments that are taking place are residential and users oriented projects (like a Publix or a CVS) Because you can get financing for these types of projects and other than that very little is getting built. So here you have all of these people that have been carrying their property and paying taxes on their property for years and the city says “well sorry guys if you’re talking to anybody in residential we’re going to make you carry your property because the moratorium eliminate the one avenue you have to do anything in the near future. The moratorium also depreciates the property values because of the supply demand theory. They are hurting property owners, hurting building development and they are taking property rights away from the developer (in this case).

What kind of message does that send to future developers in South Miami? In addition to that they are doing whatever they can to downzone and make it a less desirable place to develop. If you want to see samples of this you can look up any amended, proposed or added ordinance in the city over the past 2 years or just look at any commission agenda during this period of time. If you really want to see them in action, if you dare, watch one of the commission meetings on tape. The big question is – if this kind of government is not in the best interest of the residential tax paying homeowner, not in the best interest of merchants, and not in the best interest of property owners. Who is it in the best interest of?

Somi Ugly Tour
Walking around downtown, Lurie talks and points out the dilapidated downside

BL: We are at a new restaurant here that just opened up and this window (right next to the outside seating table chair) looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in months. So if you are a shopper walking down the street do you want to sit here?

Starbucks is another prime example. They are in the heart of the city and they have outside light fixtures that are bent and broken, the walls are covered in dirt and filth. The landscaped bushes are drying up and dying and invasive plants are cropping up. Plastic cups, cigarette butts, aluminum cans cover the base of most of the plants throughout the downtown. Some of these bushes are too wide on a very narrow sidewalk. If you removed them you could actually have room to walk through here and it would be one less place for garbage to accumulate. The palm trees–this used to be a double palm here– are dying because they are not being fertilized. I took photos of all of this stuff and gave copies to the last two mayors and commissioners and to date nothing has been done.

Looking ahead for positive changes

BL: I don’t hold any grudges and I don’t care what peoples past agendas are or were. I just want to see things get better for everybody in the city and for the commission to do what is best for the city. I am hopeful and I get hopeful every year but it just seems to be getting worse. One of the things we have done is reform the property owner’s association, South Miami Hometown Inc. We now have over 40 commercial property owners and we are having meetings, getting organized and are going to become very active because the owners are fed up with the direction of the commission. Enough is enough, we are hiring attorneys and we are not going to sit around anymore and allow this to continue.

The Red Sunset Merchants Association is another organization that is getting more active and more active politically. We are looking at a taxing district for downtown possibility to raise money for maintenance work, improvements and marketing of the downtown. We have a political committee and we are also fed up and are talking to attorneys and you are going to see a much stronger presence from this association.

What I would love to see is the commissioners wake up on their own. It is common sense. If you sit down and have a discussion about why the commissioners are here: is it to cater to a few or to make South Miami a better place to live for the majority? Are they here to micromanage every single department and make everybody’s life difficult or are they here to let their staff do their jobs and give everybody a warm, fuzzy feeling with a smile on their face? Aren’t they here to make it easier for everybody as long as the every bodies follow the set rules that have been governing the city for the past eighty plus years?

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