The “yes,” then “no,” then “yes,” votes at the recent city commission meeting regarding a contentious waiver of plat process resolution for seven total parcels at 6529 SW 56 St demonstrated at the very least an inconsistent understanding on the dais of the quasi-judicial hearing process.
“I am familiar with the process,” said Commissioner Walter Harris during a phone interview. Harris left attorney for Palm Corp Development, Melissa Tapanes Llahues, dumbfounded after flip-flopping his vote. The change came after a commission break when the issue was reheard for frontage changes.
Harris said he was uncomfortable with his original decision and embraced a “supernatural” opportunity to change it. “I didn’t realize if I went down the aisle and talked to people that it would be considered ex-parte.”
The seven lots, described by the five opposing residents (two spoke in favor) as too long and skinny to fit into the character of the neighborhood, are within the parameter requirements for a low density single family residential zoning district. City staff and the planning board approved the plat waiver prior to the commission hearing resolutions 17 and 18.
“This is not a zoning application,” said Tapanes Llahues in a subsequent interview with the South Miami News. Everything is in place for 12 lots and we are requesting seven; that’s what makes everything so bizarre.”
“This is a lack of respect for the rule of law and an abuse of positions of power. Commissioner Welsh is on the record for making flyers and distributing them to neighbors (in opposition of the imminent judicial hearing). Commissioner Harris changed his vote because one of his neighbors gave him a “dirty look.”
Even Mayor Philip Stoddard began the meeting on a missed note, instructing the audience to not repeat comments heard in prior meetings when all new testimony is required in a public quasi-judicial hearing after speakers are sworn in.
Stoddard chose not to comment for the story because: “the waiver of plat issue is still delicate and I can’t comment until it is resolved.”
Following the flip flop yes vote on 17 after the break, resolution 18 (for the remaining four parcels) was denied with Commissioner Harris, Commissioner Welsh, and Commissioner Newman voting against it. Mayor Stoddard and Commissioner Liebman voted in favor of approval for both resolutions.
Because every Miami-Dade county home goes through a platting or designated subdividing of land process, attorney Tapanes Llahues contended that it was a purely administrative function since the waiver fell in line with city code. She said private property rights require all petitioners to be treated equally and she foresees a lawsuit following the denial of resolution 18.
“This is arbitrary and capricious,” said Tapanes Llahues, “It is a violation of landowner’s claims and property rights have been denied. The negligence of this commission entitles us to damages. Your negligence will require your city residents to pay for your liability.”
Vice Mayor Josh Liebman and Commissioner Valerie Newman both chastised city attorney Thomas Pepe for not directing them on quasi-judicial hearing protocol.
“I blame the city attorney,” said Newman. “I have asked him to please give us more guidance,” said Liebman. “It isn’t so much that we are going to get sued again, it’s that we look so completely foolish… again.”
City Attorney Thomas Pepe said in an interview that “everybody knows you are not supposed to have ex-parte communication” in response to Newman and Liebman.
As far as the possible lawsuit for the denial of plat on the second resolution Pepe said, “It wasn’t appropriate for her (Tapanes Llahues) to be threatening anyone and that is why I cut it out at that point. The city has certain police powers to protect the welfare of the city. Based upon that, enacted on this particular ordinance, how can she say she was denied property rights if procedure of ordinance was followed?”
Tapanes Llahues is awaiting property owner Carlos Tosca’s decision on whether to file a lawsuit or go directly to the county in anticipation of a longer approval process.
According to city attorney Pepe there are currently ten open lawsuits against the city, including forfeitures.