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Counters Matarese: "When you live on the water and complain about boats, it's like living in the Rocky Mountains and complaining about snow."
Frida Slapak, who lives directly across the street from the site, pleaded with members of the county's Developmental Impact Committee, which oversees some issues of Biscayne Bay shoreline development. "Our property values are going to go down," Slapak predicts. "Why do they have to build it there? Because they don't want this on their island, which would decrease the values of their properties."
Mayor Paul Novack of Surfside says he's angry because the whole project was planned behind the backs of Surfside's residents. He claims the village did not notify Surfside officials of meetings at which construction was discussed, although Surfside requested such notification.
Because the island's roads are private and can't be traversed without permission, it was impossible for Surfside officials to reach the old village hall to see for themselves when such meetings were scheduled, Novack says. This, he argues, violates the spirit (and maybe the letter) of state Sunshine laws guaranteeing open government. "The fact that you are at another income level does not put you in a different category of law," he declares. "This is supposed to be an open-public operation. It's run more like a private club than a municipal government."
That was the initial issue that angered Surfside manager Rodriguez after he took office in February 1997. "First my predecessor and then I wrote to them asking that they let us look at the plans," he recounts, "but we got no answer." Rodriguez, who is 47 years old, says he finally stalked into the village municipal trailer and demanded a copy of the plans. Matarese complied, but claims the plans were always on display in the trailer and accessible to Surfside leaders. "What they wanted was to participate in the design process," says the 49-year-old Matarese, "and the village council didn't think that was appropriate."
Once it did obtain the plans, Surfside didn't like what it saw. "I'm a former planner for the City of Miami," Rodriguez says, "and it makes no sense to put your city hall and police station on the outskirts of your municipality. No sense at all."
Surfside also disliked other details of the project, so the city decided to do battle. Rodriguez says the town contacted eight architectural firms to represent it in its struggle with the village, all of whom turned them down when they found out who they were up against. The opposition wasn't just wealthy residents of the village, but Dade mega-developer Armando Codina, whom they hired as a consultant; and the powerhouse law firm of Greenberg Traurig. Senior partner Robert Traurig himself showed up for the Developmental Impact Committee meeting at county hall in late March. "If you have the money, that's the way you do business in this county," grumbles Rodriguez. "You bring in the heavy guns."
Negotiations got rocky quickly. Rodriguez claims Matarese tossed the first stone by accusing Surfside of trying to extort $35,000 from the village in order to relocate an easement. Rodriguez says the amount would have paid for work legitimately tied to the project. "From that point on," Rodriguez fumes, "I considered him a liar, and I have no respect for him. I understand he's caused these kinds of bad feelings before in other positions he's held." So Surfside began to play hardball. When the village asked permission to connect the new city hall to an existing Surfside sewer line, for example, Surfside refused, forcing the village to build septic tanks on the property.
Matarese asserts that the Surfside complaints are just political posturing meant to appeal to voters: "It's easy to beat up on successful people." Ultimately, though, Surfside can't win the lawsuit and city officials know it, Matarese says. "They want to drag this out as much as they can and make it cost us as much as possible. But in the end, we're going to build. Not building it is just not a possibility.