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Written by Charlotte Libov on August 3, 2006
By Charlotte Libov
Miami Beach is the latest South Florida battleground for a planned "neighborhood home-improvement retailer" opponents believe is a thinly veiled attempt to put a Home Depot in their Biscayne Bay-area neighborhood.
Neighborhood opposition to a proposed 78,294-square-foot project at West Avenue and 18th Street has been mounting for months. It culminated in a packed planning board hearing July 25 at which the panel decided to delay consideration of the application for a conditional-use permit from Goldwater Realty for 90 days.
The delay would allow time for an expanded traffic study, said Jorge Gomez, director of the city’s planning department. The next public hearing would be Oct. 24, he said.
Lawyer Alexander Angueira, representing Goldwater principals Soloman and Zalman Fellig, who own the property zoned light industrial, said Tuesday that he is uncertain his clients will do a study. He said it would cost $200,000 with no guarantee of approval.
He did not rule out going to court instead. "I think all options are on the table. All options are going to be explored," said Mr. Angueira of law firm Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson.
City Commissioner Saul Gross said he was unconcerned about the prospect of a lawsuit. "I think instead of going to court, they should better spend their money on a project that will be more compatible with the neighborhood," he said.
Commissioner Luis R. Garcia said he is worried about a potential legal fight. "I’m afraid that one way or the other, the city will end up in a lawsuit and the city might not win."
Mr. Goldwater submitted a proposal earlier this year to create two projects, dubbed West Side I and West Side II, on a 245,000-square-foot parcel that would also include a Whole Foods Market along with some smaller retailers.
The Whole Foods Market proposal has been put on the back burner due to some difficulties with the city, Mr. Angueira said.
After the application was submitted, the Miami Beach City Commission passed an ordinance requiring that projects larger than 50,000 square feet in areas zoned light industrial receive the planning board’s conditional-use approval.
Mr. Angueira refused to say whether the "single-use neighborhood home-improvement retailer" specified in application documents is a Home Depot.
Demitra Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta company, said she could neither confirm nor deny it because she normally isn’t told about stores in early planning stages.
Frank Kruszewski, who represents the Sunset Harbour Neighborhood Association, which includes about 450 condominium owners living in three towers overlooking the bay, said he and other property owners have no doubt that it is Home Depot seeking the spot.
Mr. Kruszewski said a Home Depot representative attended the July public hearing.
Mr. Angueira declined to confirm that a company representative was at the meeting.
A rendering of a Home Depot store was included in the file for the conditional-use permit.
Mr. Kruszewski said that because the parcel is zoned for light industrial use, "it is a conforming use – there’s no two ways about it.
"We just believe that this specific use is inappropriate. We’ve spoken to the property owners and tried to say, ‘If you were putting in almost any other kind of commercial retail development like a Bed Bath and Beyond or a Houston’s Restaurant or something not that traffic-intense, most of the opposition would melt away.’ But they have it in their heads that this is what they want to build," he said.
Miami Beach has no Home Depot or Lowe’s stores.
Home Depot is the focus of opposition in Coconut Grove, where residents have been fighting a planned 150,000-square-foot store there for more than a year.