December 24, 2014
Longtime antagonists of the Miami Worldcenter project escalated their fight against the sprawling mixed-use development by filing a lawsuit challenging as unlawful a package of entitlements authorized by the City Commission.
The owners of Grand Central Lounge, a tenant on the Worldcenter site that’s involved in multiple legal battles with the venture’s developer, asked Miami-Dade Circuit Court to toss out the development agreement between the city and Worldcenter.
In a 26-page filing Monday, attorney Paul Savage wrote the agreement should be voided because it violates several state laws. Adopted during a City Commission meeting Sept. 29, the agreement granted the Worldcenter development land use rights and exemptions from zoning regulations in exchange for a promise to hire local workers.
Miami Worldcenter plans to bring a 765,000-square-foot shopping center and residential and hotel towers to a blighted 27-acre site spanning 10 blocks north of downtown Miami. An expo center and hotel also are planned by another developer on the site of the demolished Miami Arena.
Savage’s complaint claims the agreement unlawfully gives the developer zoning variances, which the attorney argues cannot be simply approved by the City Commission and must go through a much more involved process that includes public notice and feedback. It also states provisions in the deal that exempt the developer from future bureaucratic maneuvering usually required to obtain liquor licenses or build over public thoroughfares violate state law. A final point argues the development agreement was not made available to the public or mailed to affected parties as required by law.
The development agreement approved by the city has never been made public. A city clerk told the Daily Business Review that the document is still being revised by the city attorney and, even though it was approved by the commission, remains in draft form. The lawsuit said the draft agreement went through extensive modifications just before the Sept. 29 meeting after the DBR noted city officials had not calculated the extent of the benefits being granted to the developer.
In a statement, Grand Central principal Brad Knoefler said the lawsuit is a way to make sure the Worldcenter developers do not get special exemptions from fees and rules that would apply to others.
“All applicable fees and taxes should be paid and used as they are intended: to mitigate the impact of these mega-projects on the surrounding community and improve the quality of life of downtown residents,” he said.
For the first time, Knoefler is citing solidarity with two activist groups: Miami Neighborhood United and the Urban Environment League. The groups are closely linked to Miami paralegal Grace Solares, who is running to represent the City Commission district that includes the Worldcenter project. Teresa Sarnoff, wife of current Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, is considered a favorite to win that seat in 2015.
Savage is representing the Worldcenter opposition in another pending lawsuit, which seeks to reverse a City Commission decision to close three streets to benefit the project.
Worldcenter previously sought to evict Grand Central. Principals linked to both entities had also tangled in court following the closure of Grand Central Park, a temporary park shut down last year on the site of the Miami Arena.