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The issue was again elevated to a matter of public debate when Nancy Liebman complained at a March commission meeting that the city wasn't doing enough to stop repeat code violators. Liebman was particularly incensed about Crescent Heights's behavior during the Ocean Pavilion's grand opening; the commissioner says she was deluged with phone calls from residents along Collins Avenue who complained about the commotion and the parking problems. In addition, she says, two banners were strung between the building and a public utility pole without city approval. Liebman notified Assistant City Manager Eddie Cox and Gioia, who investigated and cited the Ocean Pavilion for the illegal banners. The fine totaled $250.
Technically the violation at the Ocean Pavilion did not constitute a repeat offense, even though Crescent Heights has been cited for sign violations at several of its buildings. Because each property operates under a different corporate name, violations at one building only affect that building, and penalties are negligible compared to the economic gains that result from infractions such as improper signage. Liebman argued that the city should toughen its codes.
Russell Galbut says he suspects Liebman is bitter that he supported her opponent in last November's commission race. "She wasted $1000 of city time and money calling up every inspector and bringing them in," he sputters, his cheery demeanor giving way to a glare. "Her vindictiveness and attempted acts of intimidation and extortion and all these other things are such ugly tactics. Someone like this doesn't last very long.
"Again, I don't want to be negative," Galbut continues, attempting to nudge the conversation's tack back to "the positive," as he puts it. "But all this is just total nonsense. Everything was so beautiful and so positive. One of the reasons Miami Beach is successful today and really turned the corner is the tax base increased almost $700 million in the last six to seven years. Everybody may have paid a little piece of that $700 million, but well over $250 million came about from one developer, and one developer only, okay? That was Crescent Heights.
"We want to leave a mark on this community and do something we're proud of," Galbut concludes.
No one would argue that Crescent Heights hasn't accomplished the first objective, at least.