Word is out that Sunny Isles Beach is a developers’ dreamland. But what about the hopes and dreams of long-time residents and small-business owners who simply wish to maintain their quality of life here? A life that drew them to this beautiful seaside town in the first place. A life that their elected officials promised to protect.
So it should come as no surprise that residents here are very concerned with overdevelopment — and that they want to nip it right in the bud while there’s still time.
The issue at hand is the proposed development of the west side of the Town Center District. Over the last several months, a growing number of residents (aka, voters and constituents) have clearly voiced that they want their city officials to put their wants and needs first – over those of big-time developers.
Recently, one member of the Sunny Isles Beach City Commission even suggested that the majority of the elected officials here are only focused on kicking this can down the road instead of complying with the law to protect the quality of life of residents from over-development. She openly shared her opinion during a discussion of a proposed meaningless moratorium on development projects in the Town Center District sponsored by Mayor Bud Scholl.
But how about this idea: instead of kicking trash around, let’s just get rid of it. Let’s clean up this town and the leaders who would see fit to allow such garbage to pile up along our streets – in the form of over-development along the west side of Collins Ave. Let’s keep our community clear of unsightly over-development in the Town Center District, fostered by a commission hell bent on pushing aside the concerns of residents and small business.
Let’s Follow State Law
So what’s the crux of the issue? Turns out, the density and intensity requirements in the Town Center Code exceed the density and intensity requirements in the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
In fact, at a public hearing on August 28, Mayor Bud and three members of the city commission gave notice to state officials that the City of Sunny Isles Beach is an “independent republic” – that it is not required to follow state law, which requires the city’s zoning codes to be consistent with its comprehensive plan, the blueprint for development of land in the city.
During the public hearing, Commissioner Dana Goldman, who is a practicing attorney, strongly urged her fellow colleagues on the commission – including Mayor Bud – that they have a fiduciary duty to follow the law and reject the deceiving plan to increase the density in the Town Center District in order to approve the Infinity development project.
Mayor Bud and his supporters on the dais rejected Goldman’s proposal for the city to follow the law despite potential legal problems that they may arise in the future for the city. With enthusiastic support from Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin, Mayor Bud, who has called himself Mr. Property Rights, has decided to take away lawful property rights by the approval of a moratorium by the City Commission for the sole purpose of finding a legal pathway to approve the massive Infinity project, which is deemed illegal under the current Comprehensive Plan. Commissioner Goldman was the only member of the City Commission who voted against the moratorium because she felt it was nothing but a ploy to upzone the Town Center District for the Infinity project.
“We have a fiduciary duty to comply with state law,” Commissioner Goldman said at the meeting. “We also have a moral duty to help residents quickly who are currently living in the two existing development projects that were built based on the incorrect Town Center zoning code.”
The majority of residents at the public hearing were strongly in support of Goldman’s proposal to end the mayor’s deceptive plan to upzone the Town Center District to make way for development of the Infinity project.
Disregarding resident concerns about the plan to upzone the Town Center District to permit more than 9,000 residential and hotel units, Mayor Bud and his supporters adopted a meaningless moratorium for the District for the sole purpose of giving city officials time to justify the upzoning for the Infinity project.
“In my 40 years of experience in planning and zoning matters, I have never seen a moratorium adopted for the reason stated by the city”, said Cecilia Ward, an expert planner hired by Raanan and Danny Katz to oppose any plan to upzone the Town Center District to approve the Infinity project.
Like Commissioner Goldman, Ms. Ward warned the city commission that the city is required to make its zoning code consistent with its Comprehensive Plan. Despite warnings from Ms. Ward, state officials in 2007, and its former City Attorney Hans Ottinot, Mayor Bud is “hell bent” in changing the law to approve the Infinity project.
In fact, Mayor Bud directed the city manager to hire an engineering consultant from Fort Myers to conduct a review of his upzoning plan, which is strongly opposed by most residents and Commissioner Goldman.
A review of the public records shows that the engineering consultant was primarily hired to provide justifications for the upzoning plan that residents strongly opposed at the public hearing held on July 18, 2019. Residents were not buying the misleading statements from Mayor Bud and his supporters on the City Commission especially when they know that the Mayor Bud has a penchant for spreading fake news on this matter.
Double Talk Bud
OK, we’re getting on the weeds a little here, but that’s what happens in a jungle… Fed up with the mayor’s double talk, one resident asked the mayor and his supporters on the city commission if they will keep their promises in the future that high rise development will not be permitted on the west of Collins Avenue, especially in the Town Center District. Mayor Bud and his supporters on the city commission did not answer the question.
While Mayor Bud refused to answer the question asked by the resident, Commissioner Goldman made it clear that her proposal would keep the promises made to the residents by ensuring no upzoning for the west side of Collins Avenue and prevents massive development projects that are not in compliance with the law.
During the hearing, Mayor Bud and Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin sought to stop Commissioner Goldman from explaining the benefits of her proposal. Their efforts failed because the residents screamed “let her talk, let her talk.”
“I urge the City Commission to follow the law and approve Commissioner Goldman’s Resolution because it will fix all the problems we are dealing with today”, said attorney Greg Coleman, who represents the Sands Pointe Condominium Association, which is led by President Maggie Gordo, a staunch opponent of any plans to approve the Infinity project or to upzone the Town Center District.
Surprised by strong opposition to his purported moratorium, Mayor Bud sought to claim that his goal was to help the residents of the existing buildings on Sunny Isles Boulevard even though the city hired an engineering consultant prior to the August 28 public hearing to review an upzoning plan for the entire Town Center District.
At one point during the public hearing, Mayor Bud was so flustered and upset by the rejection of his upzoning plan and moratorium by residents that he started to call Commissioner Goldman “Mayor Goldman” at least three times.
Maybe term-limited Mayor Bud is right about Commissioner Goldman. The residents of the city want a mayor and elected officials who will follow the law and protect their interest. Right now, Commissioner Goldman is the only one on the commission willing to fight over-development in the city and follow the law.