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Access Analysis and Free Money PDF Print E-mail
Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
February 2018

Did a developer just talk North Miami Beach into doing his work for him?

TNMB_1_1he lobbying team for the City of North Miami Beach is pursuing up to $5 million from the State of Florida for a traffic analysis that could eventually enable the development of high-rises at Intracoastal Mall.

The disclosure was made January 17 at 1:30 a.m., toward the end of a very long North Miami Beach City Commission meeting, although high-rises weren’t mentioned. Instead Mayor George Vallejo portrayed the move as an opportunity to obtain “free money” from the state so that it could study a road reconfiguration project that could improve safety and traffic flow at NE 35th Avenue and 163rd Street.

NE 35th Avenue is the only way in or out of Eastern Shores, an affluent neighborhood of single-family homes and low-rise apartments near the Intracoastal Waterway and facing Lake Maule. The six-lane street is also a means of ingress and egress for the Intracoastal Mall, a 26-acre retail complex that will be redeveloped into a 2000-unit residential community with retail and office space by Dezer Development at some point in the future.

The status of that request for $5 million in “free” money was unclear at deadline. Kelly Mallette, an associate of lobbyist Ron Book, did not return texts or phone calls for comment. City manager Ana Garcia declined to comment to the BT, but in an e-mail to an Eastern Shores activist, she indicated that the request is “in a preliminary state as the legislative session just started.”

Garcia’s January 19 e-mail to Chuck Asarnow, legislative liaison to the Eastern Shores Homeowners Association, said, “As I have stated time and time again, if the City of North Miami Beach is fortunate enough to receive funding to address the current challenges of 35th Avenue, we the city will lead the way in the study and the plan via public engagement [and] working with our professional city team and consultants that are subject matter experts.”

In an e-mail to the BT, Gil Dezer, president of Dezer Development, says he’s trying to create a road plan that would accommodate the needs of both his property and Eastern Shores. “If we don’t help there, we all get hurt,” Dezer states.

Dezer Intracoastal LLC, owned by Gil’s parents, bought the 234,000-square-foot Intracoastal Mall in December 2013 for $63.5 million. Back then the city’s zoning allowed 717 residential units in buildings less than 15 stories tall. But two years later, the city changed the zoning of the land, allowing 2000 residential units and 2.5 million square feet of nonresidential commercial space in buildings up to 495 feet tall, about 47 stories.

Last spring a publicist for Dezer Development indicated that it would break ground on this new development project by 2021. Fernando Pettineroli, a listing agent for Dezer Platinum Realty, even announced that Dezer would be creating a community catering to affluent young adults that would include virtual reality rooms, a giant “wine cave,” and a high-speed passenger ferry. (See “Welcome to Millennialville!” May 2017.)

Dezer now insists that he has no plans or timeframe “at this point” to start construction. “We are continually investing in the mall, replacing stores with new tenants as soon as the space comes available,” he states.

Before Dezer can build, NMB’s zoning code requires that roads be built to accommodate the extra traffic the new development would bring.

NMB_2_1Three years ago, Dezer Development and the city supported a so-called Texas U-turn design, created by CTS Engineering, that would loop beneath the bridge that connects Eastern Shores to Sunny Isles Beach. The new road would also cut through some of the mangroves standing in Oleta Park. That plan was ultimately rejected due to environmental concerns, Garcia told the city commission.

Although Book officially stopped acting as Dezer Intracoastal LLC’s lobbyist last year, on January 5 of this year, his associate Mallette presented Garcia with a funding request that Dezer Development LLC wanted to submit to the Florida legislature.

Under that plan, crafted by the engineering firm of Kimley-Horn and Associates, an eastbound left-turn lane, a southbound left-turn lane, and a merge lane (“to accommodate the additional southbound left-turn lane”) would be added within the intersection of NE 35th Avenue and 163rd Street. A northbound left-turn lane would be removed from that same intersection. The proposal also calls for a new traffic light that’s 500 feet east of the NE 35th Avenue/163rd Street intersection, where another unnamed access point for Intracoastal Mall now exists.

Kimley-Horn also envisions a realignment of NE 163rd Street itself. To accommodate this, the engineering firm suggests removing an exclusive westbound left-turn lane from the intersection of NE 34th Avenue and NE 163rd Street.

During the meeting, Commissioner Beth Spiegel slammed Kimley Horn’s proposal. The road configuration, Spiegel said, would make it harder for traffic to access the Eastern Shores Shopping Center, just west of NE 35th Avenue. The lane configurations also would do nothing to make it safer for people who drive, or walk, in and out of Eastern Shores, she declared.

“For three years I’ve been asking for a traffic study!” she fumed, later adding, “This proposal isn’t doing anything for the residents of Eastern Shores.”

Garcia insisted that Kimley-Horn’s proposal was merely a draft. Garcia also said she insisted that the city have control of the money, should it be awarded, and not Dezer Development LLC. “I don’t get why I have to be attacked like this,” an exasperated Garcia said.

Mayor Vallejo, though, endorsed the action, so long as the city wasn’t “married” to Kimley-Horn’s original traffic proposal. “If we can get free money, we can figure it out on the back side,” Vallejo said.

That sentiment was echoed by Commissioner Anthony DeFillipo. “I don’t see anything wrong with the city putting in an application to go after this money,” DeFillipo said, adding, “That’s five million extra dollars.”

David Templer, a former North Miami Beach councilman who lives in Eastern Shores, tells the BT that the future redevelopment of Intracoastal Mall is what’s driving the desire to alter traffic patterns on NE 35th Avenue and 163rd Street. And if that’s the case, it’s Dezer Development, and not the State of Florida, that should pay for any road project or study. After all, North Miami Beach taxpayers are state taxpayers, too. “It’s not free money,” Templer says.

As for the Eastern Shores Homeowners Association, its city liaison says the association is withholding judgment until a finalized traffic plan is in place.

“All we are concerned about is that whatever plan is proposed, it is to the benefit of the residents of Eastern Shores,” states Chuck Asarnow in an e-mail to the BT. “We feel it is the responsibility of our city management to ensure that the residents of Eastern Shores are happy with the traffic solution, and our city officials have committed to us that that is their goal.”

 

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