City of Miami hiring lawyer to fight for Overtown land given by county
By Risa Polansky and Lou Ortiz
Miami plans to fight Miami-Dade County commissioners' recent moves to take back land given to the city, voting last week to spend $20,000 to hire an attorney.
Losing the property would mean losing two projects planned for Overtown: Crosswinds' Sawyer's Walk, a mixed-income housing development commissioners recently approved after years of planning and debate; and Lyric Place, a mixed-use project commissioners last month agreed to pursue partly because of the possibility of a full-scale grocery store.
The Crosswinds project has been ruffling feathers for years, drawing criticism from some who believe it should include more affordable housing — including county Commissioner Audrey Edmonson.
Before approving last month a massive pact between the city, county and the city's community redevelopment agencies that lays out funding plans for pet projects such as the Port of Miami Tunnel, Museum Park and a Marlins stadium, she implored fellow commissioners to vote this month to enact a longstanding Dec. 31 reversion clause to get the land back into county hands. County Mayor Carlos Alvarez backed her with a promise to veto a vote to reconvey the land to the city.
Addressing the reverter was an existing clause in the overall projects pact, though city commissioners say they were under the impression it was a vote to extend the date, not enforce it.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, an attorney, said the city would be "crazy not to employ a lawsuit."
Several project proponents pleaded for the commission to take action to keep hold of the land, including Matthew Schwartz, Crosswinds' director of urban development.
"Crosswinds does in no way want to derail the global agreement," he said, but does want to build its project, five years in the works.
One suit was killed in appellate court last week, Mr. Schwartz said, bringing the project even closer to fruition.
Miami commissioners after several deferrals decided this month to approve the development, which would offer 160 housing units at 80%-140% of the local area median income, give 50 units to the agency to be sold also as low-income housing, and allow the city and county to each buy 62 units to sell as they please.
Mr. Schwartz reminded commissioners the federal government told the county in 1978 to "stop concentrating low-income housing in Overtown."
Crosswinds has invested already $3 million in the mixed-income project, he said, and had agreed also to assume a $6.5 million lawsuit between the city and prior would-be developers of the property. Should the city lose the land, it "still retains the liability" in the suit, he said.
Agency Executive Director Jim Villacorta confirmed the city and agency already have spent $12 million on Sawyer's Walk.
Commissioner Joe Sanchez didn't question the need to work to keep the land — "this is $12 million already invested and six more, possibly," he said — but cautioned against attacking the county and jeopardizing the global agreement.
"I would rather kill a bear with honey than have to shoot him," he said.
Despite their reservations about the reversion clause, they voted 3-1 as the redevelopment agency board to approve the project agreement package, with Tomás Regalado dissenting and Angel Gonzalez absent.