Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Developers

Yesterday, we talked about the police unions and the unhealthy relationship they have with the city. It's a problem and one that needs fixing. But you can't save your way out of poverty and a city also needs revenue to balance the budget. And that comes from two major sources - homeowners and businesses. We'll deal with businesses later. For right now, let's look at the development.

North Bay Village agreed to more high rise condominium construction than any other area of its size. The infrastructure - sewers, parking, parks, sidewalks - was not in place so a large campaign was held to float bonds to build the infrastructure out. And it passed as promises were made that the new tax revenue would pay them back. But it didn't. We know what happened and many of the new units sit vacant, not producing money for the developers or the city. We're stuck with the bill to pay for infrastructure that the market didn't want.

In hindsight, it's easy to see that this frenetic development should never have been allowed. It was out of scale to the city and most everyone knew that the market demand was not there. We're stuck now and owe a debt. Maybe the market will recover.

But the developers, and in particular one, Scott Greenwald, continue to hold an outsize influence on our city commission. We've already discussed how the move of city hall to the Lexi had only one real beneficiary - the company controlled by Scott Greenwald - and cost the city an additional $80,000 for less space while destroying the possibility of renting the retail space. There was a second beneficiary, the late George Kane who planned to collect a $25,000 commission on the move until the M-D Ethics put the kibosh on that.

Scott Greenwald wants to put a strip club at 1415 Kennedy Causeway, a property he owns and owes $917,826 in back taxes on. I was told by two board members of the Lexi that over 30 of the units there were finished without permits and without inspections and can see from public records that the Lexi Development Corporation owes at least $341,000 in property taxes on the unsold units in the building. There's more - $216,756 unpaid taxes for 7914, 7916, 7918 West Drive. The conservative total is $1,475, 582 in unpaid property taxes.

Yet he continues to have strong influence on our city government. Greenwald contributed the maximum amounts to Eddie Lim and Rey Trujillo, who both continue to champion his causes, was appointed to our budget commission by Eddie Lim, and Greenwald allows his address at 7918 West Drive to be claimed by an out of town pseudo-activist as a base to attack the commission.

Rey Trujillo even attempted to use eminent domain to give Greenwald a parcel for so called affordable housing on West Drive. It failed, embarrassingly, but with all the problems facing the city, why this one developer? It seems like a classic "follow the money" situation.

Now there are other developers. Al Coletta has been trying for years to get the city to rationalize the zoning at 7904 West Drive so that the building and his property is no longer split down the middle, but with no success. For this he has been vilified by the ruling troika. Well, for this and for not paying to play.

The new buildings on Harbor Island never did the landscaping that was promised and many of those building sit vacant as the developers hope for a return to the boom days. Parking on Harbor Island is a nightmare particularly since the association at 7904 sold their garage and believed the city would build them a new one with our tax money.

None of these developers live in the city or have long term stakes in our future. These are not rental apartments, nor are they business centers. The profits are short term and their view is short term. That is not to say that they should not be looking out for themselves, but the city and those of us who live here are more important and that's where the balance needs to be.

You and I are supporting private gain with our tax dollars, pure and simple. The properties were developed, owe money particularly on the debt service, and are not paying. Once again, a small contribution to the right campaigns has paid off in big bucks for developers at the cost of the North Bay Village residents.

Kevin Vericker
September 6, 2011

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