The bullying of a small town

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Residents of the small municipality of Bal Harbour in Miami-Dade County discovered last week that the owners of the Village’s largest shopping center, the Bal Harbour Shops, had sued both the Village, and its Vice-Mayor.

Why? Simply because they would not bend to their will.

Filed in Miami-Dade County court against Vice-Mayor Patricia Cohen and the Village of Bal Harbour, the lawsuit is ostensibly about public records.

Residents feel the suit is more about intimidation and bullying than anything else.

For more than three years now, the Shops have been pushing a plan for a $400 million expansion of its mall space, nearly doubling the size of the current square footage and adding close to one thousand new parking spaces. However, after holding several community meetings where they failed to address the increase in traffic that this expansion would create in Bal Harbour, support from Village residents and elected officials remains lukewarm at best.

The Shops have not wasted any time in their efforts to impose their will on the Village. The plans made public by the Shops for their expansion require the acquisition of two properties located on the southwest corner of the mall: one of the properties is the 1940s Church by the Sea while the other one is the Village’s administration building and city hall.

Last Fall, and without warming, the Shops purchased the Church and had it demolished, thwarting efforts to declare it historic. After destroying the Church by the Sea, the Shops turned their attention to the Village Hall.

Unlike the sale of the Church, any sale of city property in Bal Harbour requires voter approval in a referendum.

With three countywide elections scheduled to take place in 2016, including a high turnout general election in November, the Shops demanded instead that the city approves referendum language in a hastily scheduled special meeting of the Village Council March 17, to meet the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections’ deadline to schedule a special election in May.

Things didn’t go well for the Shops almost immediately after they tried to fast track their referendum. In a special meeting of the Bal Harbour Village Council March 4, council members expressed their concerns about the suddenness of this request for a referendum and felt that it did not make sense to discuss the possible sale of village property without their attorney at the meeting. After listening to dozens of residents, three out of four council members decided it was in the best interest of the village and its residents to move the date of the special meeting to April 13, thus derailing any chance of holding a May referendum.

Refusing to accept the Village’s decision, the Whitman family — multimillionaire owners of the Bal Harbour Shops — sent out two emails berating the council members for their actions while also taking a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook and suing the Village and its Vice-Mayor.

Although the lawsuit claims that Cohen violated Florida public records law for allegedly refusing to provide official communications dealing with the Shops expansion and the land deal for the village property, many residents feel this is a blatant attempt by the developers to bully Cohen and the inhabitants of the town.

According to Juan-Carlos “J.C.” Planas, an attorney representing some of the neighbors affected by the Bal Harbour Shops’ expansion, this move “can only be characterized as harassment.

The Whitmans have sued the Village to intimidate the community and prevent them from contacting their elected officials.”

Neighbors remain adamant that the expansion will have an adverse impact on the small Village’s quality of life, especially when it comes to the projected increase in the numbers of cars traveling to and from the mall, as well as the additional traffic that will be generated along Collins Avenue/A1A during and after construction.

By adding more than a thousand new parking spaces, residents fear that thousands of new vehicles will take over the Village’s roads and make what is an already congested commute in and out of Bal Harbour a true nightmare.

In this battle of David versus Goliath, the residents of Bal Harbour and of neighboring municipalities, are seeing firsthand the type of pressure that developers, backed by their millions, can place on small, local governments.

Fortunately, neighbors are organizing and showing support for their elected officials.

In a regular council meeting March 22, the Village Council, backed up by almost a hundred residents, adopted a resolution to cover the costs of the legal fees incurred by the Vice-Mayor in her defense against the Whitmans’ lawsuit.

It seems that in Bal Harbour, David is getting his sling ready.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


16 comments

  • William Lustgarten

    March 24, 2016 at 9:44 am

    I am a resident of Bay Harbor the neighboring community. I agree 100% this Development must not be allowed to proceed. The impact on the traffic flow going in and out of Bay Harbor will be devastating. NO TO THE PROJECT, NO TO THE WHITMAN FAMILY

  • tana bigio

    March 24, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Do not destroy Village of Bal Harbour pls, it would be a dissaster. Mr Whitman is too ambitious and not a love
    r

    do not destroy the building of Village of Bal Harbour. Mr Whitman has closed his eyes for preservation..Let hmbe realistic as to the oetitions od
    f

    PLs dont destroy Village of Bal Harbour building. Mr Whitman leave a legacy of Preservation. Pls take into account the traffic situation already difficult in that area of Collins Ave. Pls experience it yourself any afternoon!

    Comment

  • Dr Allan I Krieger

    March 24, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    This article is anti expansion from first sentence to last with inaccurate facts.
    Stop these lies and half truths and inform the public of the true facts and let us, residents of Bal Harbour vote in a referendum. We are the rightful voters and must decide on land swap by law not the council or the Shops.

  • lynne bloch-mullen

    March 25, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    10150 Collins av.
    Bal Harbour, 33154

    305-861-7700

  • lynne bloch-mullen

    March 25, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Please report this story in the Herald, where everyone will see it. Thanks

    • Dr Allan Krieger

      March 27, 2016 at 12:41 pm

      Really Lynn?
      You know you’re against the expansion as are all of the members of the Citizen Coalition of which you are a member. It would be nice if you first stated your affiliation and organization’s outright objection to the expansion.
      What do you have against a referendum? Let us decide not the council.
      Is that a bad thing?
      Ms Cohen and Marty Packer seem to feel that only the council can make our community decision. That’s not in our best interest. We all live in Bal Harbour, pay taxes, know the facts and can vote our minds. The council has been sitting on this project too long. Allow us to vote already and end this dilemma.The world is laughing at Bal Harbour for far too long. Why continue to demonstrate our ineptness and poor judgement.

      • lynne bloch-mullen

        March 28, 2016 at 10:23 am

        it’s interesting that you don’t care enough
        to sign your name.
        The Whitman’s have wined and dined most of the Condos on the east side of Collins and promised them
        “A Rose Garden”, if they support the expansion. Unfortunately there is no way we can get an honest vote.

        • Dr Allan I Krieger

          March 28, 2016 at 11:02 am

          Lynn, My name is on the posting FYI.
          Once again your chagrin with the shops is what is really unfair and biased.
          All I seek is OUR (Bal Harbour registered voters) opportunity to vote in a referendum to decide the future of our wonderful village.
          Dr Allan I Krieger

          • lynne bloch-mullen

            March 28, 2016 at 4:37 pm

            Allen, I would agree with you IF we could have an honest vote.However, with what the shops have promised the Condos, as I mentioned before, it would be virtually impossible to have a fair vote.

          • Dr Allan I Krieger

            March 28, 2016 at 9:46 pm

            Lynn, Share with us the individual promises that the condos on the beach side have received from the Shops.
            Thanks.
            Allan

          • lynne bloch-mullen

            March 29, 2016 at 7:25 am

            Allan, this subject was discussed at the last Council meeting. You can see and hear it all on your computer.
            Those of us that have copies of a letter of proof spoke up, as well as hotel managers and residents.
            I think you will find it informative.
            May I suggest you do your own home work.

  • Alan Bigio

    April 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    “Developers & Politicians over Residents Quality of Life” should be the name of the article. This issue is happening all over the country where the Quality of Life is being compromised by the wrong priorities. Miami used to be such a great place where people came to enjoy and relax, now you can’t relax while you drive because it has become so stressful that you avoid driving as much as possible. Being stuck in traffic while you run an errand that used to take 5 minutes now takes 20-30minutes is absurd. You can’t find the sun at the beach in the afternoon because of the over construction! This uncontrolled grow is not for progress, this growth is for greed!

  • Viviana Durand

    May 6, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    residents should avoid shopping there at all… power is on the customer. Use it!

  • Barry

    May 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    As soon as you chose to bash Trump into this story you lost my support, GO WHITMAN Family.

    • Barry

      May 7, 2016 at 5:56 pm

      P.S. Also the fact that the need for parking is due to the ICLEI Agenda21 policies of the Liberal Globalists who are creatingthe stack and pack skyscraper programs in order to place people in dense population areas. The object is to eliminate the use of old style of homes on property/land/yard. Look it up before you attack me.

Comments are closed.


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