Spring 1997 – Residents Turn Out: Yet City Commissioners Vote Against BHA in Favor of Plastic Surgeon

Despite a strong showing at the Miami City Commission meeting by Brickell area residents against a special zoning exception for 1900 Brickell Avenue, Commissioners voted in favor of enabling a commercial enterprise to operate on residential Brickell Avenue. Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to allow the single family residence at 1900 Brickell Avenue to be converted into a medical office/clinic by a plastic surgeon. Only Mayor Joe Carollo, casting the final vote, sided with the residents.

Brickell Homeowners Association officers and residents representing nearly 5,000 homes and more than 10,000 adults attended Zoning Board, Planning Advisory Board and Commission meetings telling commissioners and staff they did not want this or any other medical practice here. Yet the individual doctor prevailed, securing a special exception to the residential zoning code so that he can open up shop in the midst of residential Brickell Avenue.

The Brickell Homeowners Association will appeal this decision in court.

The Battle to Preserve Residential Quality

This plastic surgeon’s business has broken through the residential zoning code that the BHA strives to protect for residential Brickell Avenue, from 15th to 25th Roads. The association views preserving residential zoning as an important factor in enabling the unique, high-rise community to retain some residential quality. With the busy financial and downtown district to the north and U.S. 1’s huge volume of traffic roaring through from the south everyday, it’s sometimes hard for those who don’t live on Brickell to remember that it is a neighborhood. But that is what its residents say it is, and what they want it to remain: a neighborhood.

Both the Brickell Homeowners Association and the Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association took unwavering stands against the proposed exception, which they view as benefiting one individual at the expense of an entire community.

Commissioner Willy Gort appeared before the BHA Board of Directors to explain why he voted as he did. The Miami City official said that although this special exception was granted, residents shouldn’t worry about further commercial encroachment. He said the special language written in the resolution and the restrictions placed in the resolution will protect BHA residents.

“We put in a lot of restrictions. . .he may not even open,” Gort said.

But the Commissioner also acknowledged that this exception, as well as resolutions for future similar exceptions, can be eased, released, rewritten and changed just as easily after a public meeting is held.

No Surgery in Surgeon’s Office

One restriction that has been promised by the plastic surgeon and his attorneys since this issue arose last September was that no overnight stays, and even no outpatient surgery, will take place at the office.

While some of the particulars were a little uncertain, Commissioner Gort was sure of this restriction, saying definitively, “He’s not allowed to do outpatient surgery there.”

It is apparent, however, that there is no agency or other body responsible for monitoring the activity within the medical offices and ensuring that the doctor complies with the limitations agreed upon. “How are we going to know what the doctor is doing in there?” BHA officials asked Commissioner Gort.

Watch That Delete Key

In a recent review of the City’s draft of the resolution outlining the exception and the restrictions, the BHA found that this critical concession, the language about no medical procedures, was left out! Gort said it was apparently omitted due to a “computer error” and will be put back in. When the resolution is finalized by the City, Brickell Homeowners will have 30 days to file its appeal.

What Exactly, Does It Take?

Signed petitions. Letters to officials. Information bulletins to residents. Posters. Concerned residents going down to City Hall to be heard. The will of two neighborhood associations. Some of the best legal representation in this specialized area available. Brickell Homeowners Association residents did all of this and yet were still unsuccessful in persuading Miami City officials to maintain their own zoning codes.

Among the issues and concerns the BHA has been involved with in its seven-year history, the association has had the least success with Miami City officials and zoning. Disappointed, ongoing discussion among BHA representatives is focused on trying to figure out what’s the missing ingredient.

Time to PAC It In?

Many BHA representatives have concluded that perhaps an added kind of force is needed: the power of a Political Action Committee, with the purpose of endorsing and rejecting candidates. A PAC can financially support a candidate. Endorsements are made public through the media.

The BHA Board voted in March to investigate forming a PAC and have been gathering information, advice and allies. Directors have consulted with representatives from the law firm Adorno and Zeder, active in this area, to determine how the PAC would be formed and who would be involved. Residents will be kept apprised of this search for a more effective tool in fighting City Hall.

From BHA News, Spring 1997, Vol. VII, No. 2