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Environmental Law Inconsequential in Miami Beach

Environmental Law Inconsequential in Miami Beach

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Published by davidwalters
Phased Permitting Series: Miami Beach City Manager and Building Official allow favored developer to proceed with construction without the necessary environmental permit,
Phased Permitting Series: Miami Beach City Manager and Building Official allow favored developer to proceed with construction without the necessary environmental permit,

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Published by: davidwalters on Apr 15, 2014
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05/27/2014

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MIAMI MIRROR
–    
 TRUE REFLECTIONS 
 
Page
1
 of
8
 
Kaskades buiding under renovation by Menin Hotels
PHASED PERMITTING SERIES
ENVIRONMENTAL LAW INCONSEQUENTIAL IN MIAMI BEACH
Miami Beach Officials Favor Developer Ignoring Environmental Concern
15 April 2014 By David Arthur Walters MIAMI MIRROR My
investigation of the “phased permitting”
1
 introduced on July 31, 2013, by Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales and his building official Mariano Fernandez
2
 revealed that major renovation of the Kaskades apartment building on the Southwest corner of James Avenue and 3
rd
 Street proceeded without the prerequisite environmental protection permit from Miami-Dade Regulatory and Economic Resources Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM).
“Gale Suites at Kaskades” is being renovated by Menin Hotel
s in conjunction with the completed renovation of the old Ritz Plaza Hotel, now occupied as the Gale Regent Hotel, standing on 3
rd
 Street between Collins and James Avenues. Menin Hotels is run by locally-bred hoteliers Keith Menin and Jared Galbut, familia
l protégé’s of cruise company director and
developer Russell Galbut, a father-figure whose Crescent Heights company served as the boot
camp for their conversion of old apartment buildings into boutique hotels. ‘Uncle’ Galbut’s
 
MIAMI MIRROR
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 TRUE REFLECTIONS 
 
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influence has helped them get financing, cut red tape, and get several projects done quickly around the city. Galbut interests own a vast amount of real estate in Miami Beach via a web of companies. Miami-Dade County entered into various consent agreements with the United States after being sued by the federal government for failing to protect the environment. DERM, responsible for seeing that the stipulations are followed, issues so-called DERM permits, without which building officials are not supposed to issue construction permits. Yet, without the necessary DERM permit,
the City of Miami Beach issued “phased” permit
B1401637 for the declared $10.7 million renovation on January 9, 2014, good for six months, until July 8, at which time it may be renewed. A phased permit fee of $1,500 was paid. The so-called phased permit was issued against master permit B1400581, applied for on October 31, 2013, upon which a partial fee of only $7,409 was paid against a total fee of $33,995, leaving a balance due of $26,586. Incidentally, total permit fees must be paid before the master permit is
issued, according to the city’s website, although that has not been the practice, according to
David Weston, a certified fire inspector who said he uncovered untold millions in unpaid permit fees, and was subsequently fired. Weston had complained about gross under-valuations of projects when permit fees were based largely on project valuations. Now they are assessed largely on square footage although a portion of the fee collected is supposed to be paid out to governmental entities based on project valuations. I asked the Building Department for a list of phased permits issued. There was some delay in compiling it, apparently due to a coding issue. I sent the list over to DERM, and asked if the phased proje
cts had been permitted by DERM. I pointed out that the city’s public releases on
the prerequisites of phased permitting did not include the DERM permit as a specifically required item. Luis Espinoza, Communications Program Manager for DERM, informed me on March 5 that 17 of the 23 items listed had DERM approvals. The spreadsheet indicated that a DERM permit was actually denied for the Kaskades project on February 3. The reasons for the denial were: a drainage well permit was pending, a clarification was needed for the proposed uses associated with eating establishments, a Miami-Dade County Water and Sewer Department (WASD) ordinance letter was pending, and a clarification of point of discharge of elevator sump pump was also needed.
The City of Miami Beach procedures should be revised to specify that DERM approval is required prior to the phase permit being issued. DERM will be contacting the City of Miami Beach to assure that the required DERM approval is listed as part of the Phased Permit process,
 
MIAMI MIRROR
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and that the DERM approval is consistently obtained prior to City approval of all Phased
Permits.”
 I passed along this advice from DERM to Jimmy Morales and Mariano Fernandez on March 10, with a note that he should review his checklist and make sure DERM permits are included along with another item I had called to his attention, an opinion of the state fire marshal that fire marshal must sign off of phased permits too.
Not sure why you are so
obsessed with phased permitting,” Morales responded.
 
It has worked well in Miami and it is beginning to work well here. The Building Official is aware of what DERM and Fire require
.”
 I was amused by his diagnosis that I was suffering from an obsession. City officials seem to practice psychiatry without a license when they do as the Soviets once did, diagnose anyone who does not believe their government is the best of all possible governments as somehow
insane, using such terms as “obsessed,” “moronic,” “deluded,” and “demented” –
 Soviet
psychiatrists coined the phrase “sluggish schizophrenia.”
 I noticed that construction continued apace on the Kaskades. I presumed that Morales had Fernandez issue a Stop Work Order, and that a DERM permit was quickly obtained. Au contraire: I checked with DERM only to discover no permit had been issued, wherefore I addressed Morales yet again, on April 8, with copies to Mayor Philip Levine, Commissioner Michael Grieco, who is the only commissioner who responds to my requests, Assistant Building Director Stephen Scott, and City Attorney Jose Smith
none of them responded:

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