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DERM Responds to Miami Beach Negligence

DERM Responds to Miami Beach Negligence

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Developers and Building Official must obey environmental law set forth in U.S. vs. Miami Dade County Consent Decree or else suffer the consequences.
Developers and Building Official must obey environmental law set forth in U.S. vs. Miami Dade County Consent Decree or else suffer the consequences.

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Published by: David Arthur Walters on Apr 17, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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Work in progress at Kaskades March 21, 2014, after DERM permit was denied February 3
Galbutians and Building Official must obey environmental law or else
17 April 2014 By David Arthur Walters MIAMI MIRROR The Miami-Dade Regulatory and Economic Resources Department Environmental Resources Management (DERM) has responded to my concerns that the City of Miami Beach issued a phase permit for construction to proceed at the
“Gales Suites at
nnex to the Gale Regent Hotel without first obtaining an environmental protection permit
or “DERM permit”
required by a county consent decree with the United States, and that had construction proceeded without the prerequisite permit and with the knowledge hence condonation of City Manager Jimmy Morales and Building Department Director Mariano Fernandez. Gail Suites at Kaskades stands on the southwest corner of James Avenue and 3
 Street. The old apartment building standing there is being renovated by hoteliers Keith Menin and Jared Galbut, backed up by Russell Galbut. As my investigation progressed, I suspected that the Galbutian interests were being favored by the city manager and building official. Although city officials are inclined to insist that there is no such thing as selective enforcement in Miami Beach, long experience informs us that selective enforcement is the one thing that we can be certain of. During the course of my investigation, I enlisted the expert assistance of David Weston, whose post graduate studies were in environmental engineering. Over the last two years, I have found his statements about the enforcement of construction regulations or the lack thereof to be far more reliable than any provided by City of Miami Beach officials. I have faulted him only for his dogged confidence in their ability to radically reform the City of Miami Beach Building Department, which he characterized as a racketeering organization after reading the last wave of arrest affidavits and indictments.
“Phased permitting” was introduced to Miami Beach on 31 July 2013 by Jimmy Morales and
Mariano Fernandez. Their version of phased permitting is somewhat novel, something Miami Beach has not needed before despite big building projects.
So I dubbed it “fazed” permitting.
 To begin with, the projects thus far do not have phases; each seems to have a single phase, from ground to roof. For example, a single phase permit was unlawfully approved for the Kaskades against a master permit application with a misleading description. The project entails a partial demolition and a complete change of use, including not only the renovation and restoration of the existing two-story building, but also an additional floor is to be constructed. Phased permits simply allow builders to proceed without approval of a complete plan, without being subjected to the possibility of substantial penalties, such as double permit fees or tearing down the construction, if they are caught and are not cooperative or liked well enough to get a
waiver. The city confesses its incompetence or inefficiency by permitting “early starts,”
abnegates its regulatory responsibility and augments corruption by mandating private inspections, requiring applicants to hold it harmless for deleterious consequences of its official negligence. I obtained a list of 23 so-called phased permit records as of February 2014, which the city had some difficulty compiling because they were apparently not flagged for easy database searches.
I sent them along to DERM, and my spreadsheet was returned showing that 18 projects were DERM approved; there was no DERM record for 3 of them; 1 was under review; and 1 was disapproved, that being the Kaskades, where full-blown construction was in progress.
A renegade contractor once told me, in regards to unpermitted work, that “Everybody does it, everybody knows it, and nobody cares.” In this case, the Galbuts were not “everybody.”
 Still I recalled that Galbut had gotten rid of a huge double permit penalty at the Mondrian Hotel conversion, arguing that inspectors were on site, knew of the construction all along hence had constructively permitted it. The Miami Dade County Board of Rules agreed with a margin of 1 vote. A complaint was filed with the Miami Dade County Ethics Commission, asserting that Galbut had contributed over $10,000 to the mayoral campaign of one of the board members who voted in his favor twice. Of course the Ethics Commission saw no quid quo pro in that, and summarily dismissed the complaint. It is with that in mind that I asked DERM whether or not proceeding with construction without a DERM permit is inconsequential. Luis Espinoza, its communications program manager responded:
“The mission of the Miami
-Dade County Division of Environmental Resources Management is to protect water quality, drinking water supply, air quality and natural resources that are vital to the health and well-being of all Miami-Dade County residents and visitors. To accomplish this mission DERM implements monitoring, education, restoration, regulatory, and land management programs. Some of these programs include a permitting and/or plan review process that helps us ensure that new construction, developments, building renovations, etc are done acco
rding to the county’s environmental code, Chapter 24. As an environmental
agency, we take our mission very seriously; therefore, it is of the highest important that DERM approval is obtained prior to initiating a construction, development, renovation, etc.
 Espinoza further informed me that DERM had issued a Notice of Violation and Orders for Corrective Action on 10 April for failure to obtain the necessary environmental approvals prior to commencing the project. The notice required submission of specific information and
documents in response to DERM’s plan disapproval
 dated 3 February, stated that approval must be obtained within twenty days, and that failure to comply could result in the issuance of an order to cease and desist with construction the activities.
“Additionally, enforcement correspondence has been sent to the City of Miami Beach Building
Department advising of the requirement for DERM approvals prior to issuance of building permits, including phase permits, as required pursuant to Chapter 24 of the Miami-Dade County Code and in accordance with the federal Consent Decree.

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