Miami plans to fight court over river zoning
By Risa Polansky
Miami city attorneys are working to overturn a recent Third District Court of Appeals decision that they say threatens a government's right to make changes to its comprehensive land-use plan. And other local municipalities may join the charge.
The court recently reversed a change to Miami's comprehensive plan allowing a rezoning for a large-scale multifamily development on the Miami River that was to replace a boatyard.
The city's stake is not in the river, said Maria Chiaro, the city attorney's land-use division chief, but in upholding a government body's right to change its comprehensive plan. She said the decision has "grave consequences" for local governments.
"This decision effectively takes comp plan determinations out of the hands of the governmental body and puts it in the courts," she said. "We're asking for further proceedings because it's not so much the particular issue of this case, but that the appellate court substituted its own ideas about land use for the decision makers, the city commissioners, who heard all the facts and applied all the evidence."
The city last week requested a rehearing by the full panel of appeals court judges, Ms. Chiaro said, as only three of 11 weighed in on the reversal.
If the rehearing is not granted, she said, the city has asked for a Florida Supreme Court hearing.
Pursuing the case further does not require commission approval, Ms. Chiaro said, as the original authorization of the case gave attorneys the authority to continue it.
In addition, "We are discussing with other municipalities and with the county to join us in our appeal," she said.
Rolando Galdos, deputy city attorney for North Miami, said the case "could have longstanding implications for municipalities."
Because he has yet to read the ruling, he said, he could not comment as to whether North Miami is to get involved but confirmed an interest in the cause.
Eve Boutsis, village attorney for Palmetto Bay, said the same.
But, said Andrew Dickman, the attorney for the Miami River Marine Group and other appellants, a city's comprehensive plan has the "significance" of law and in this instance the city ignored its plan.
"The court has every authority to interpret the law and say whether the city followed the law or diverted from it," he said. "In this case, they say the city diverted from the law. It doesn't mean they're creating a new comp plan for the city."
Attention on the case has largely focused on river development alone, with marine industry proponents pushing for a working river as developers continue to propose riverside residential projects.
City commissioners in 2004 approved a land use designation and zoning change to the site of a self-help boatyard on Northwest 18th Avenue and North River Drive known as Hurricane Cove so developer Balbino Investments could build a 1,073-unit complex.
The three-judge panel cited the city's failure "to consider the Port of Miami River subelement and critical areas of the Coastal Management and Future Land Use sections of the Comprehensive Plan [and] failed to consider critical sections of the River Master Plan; and made findings that were unsupported by the evidence."