By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
At 60th Street on Miami Beach, Collins Avenue divides in a Y-shaped intersection, into two northbound lanes and two southbound lanes. The triangular sliver of land in the crotch of that Y, and the empty parcels to the north of it, have been the crux of an ongoing battle between the City of Miami Beach and a private developer. That developer, Royal World Metropolitan, Inc., first filed an application to build a condominium tower called the Mirabella on the land in 1995. The site is still empty, and the fight this year moved to circuit court, where the developer alleges the city has tried to illegally restrict or eliminate its property rights.
Martin Shapiro's opposition to the Mirabella project is consistent with the anti-development stance he has assumed in the mid- and late Nineties, most notably through his lone "no" vote on the 1995 Portofino Agreement with Thomas Kramer. His battle against the Mirabella in particular has endeared him to many in the Middle and North Beach areas, especially those in the existing condos that adjoin the site. Many believe, quite reasonably, that a big condo in that location would worsen an already congested traffic situation -- and spoil a lot of nice views.
The president of the influential Council of Condominiums, Henry Kay (the veritable Generalissimo of the Condo Commandos), is convinced that Shapiro represents the interests of his troops in the 1999 election. "I can tell you without any hesitation that we are outraged, and have been for the past two years, with the response we got from Mayor Kasdin," Kay says. "He promised us the world [in his 1997 mayoral campaign], and he gave us a garbage can. Any condo owner voting for Kasdin is shooting himself in the foot."
As for Kasdin's opponent, Kay declares, "Martin Shapiro has been our standard bearer. He is our hero." He's also been the lawyer for the Maison Grande, the condo in which Kay lives, which stands directly across the street to the east of the Mirabella site.
In several instances Shapiro's legal work has brought him perilously close to conflicts of interest. He has served as the attorney of record for the Maison Grande Condominium Association in at least five cases, which are listed as mortgage foreclosures in the county records. Shapiro says they were more like collections than foreclosures. "Let's say a person was behind on their maintenance fees. The condo association would ask me to go to court to try to collect them," he explains.
The first such case lasted from December 1996 to January 1997. The next four came in 1998, the first running from May to June, the next three all beginning on the last day of July. The longest of these lasted until October 1998. According to the state's ethics laws, these stretches of time essentially were blackout periods, during which Shapiro should not have voted on any matter that could have had any conceivable benefit to his private client.
Shapiro does not often abstain from votes because of a possible conflict of interest, unlike his opponent, who also is an attorney with clients in the city he governs. In 1999 Shapiro has done so only twice, filing what the city calls a "Form 8B Memorandum of Voting Conflict" on two March 17 agenda items. Both pertained to a land-use change for the Ocean Parcel, a vacant plot of land in South Pointe. Kasdin, on the other hand, files such forms regularly. In 1997 his mayoral opponent, David Pearlson, made a campaign issue of the fact that, after he came on the commission in 1991, Kasdin begged off some 43 votes, mostly because he represented a client who would be affected by the vote. In the two years since his election as mayor, Kasdin has filed 22 conflict-of-interest forms.
Shapiro has not pulled out Form 8B over the Mirabella condominium development. Instead he has tried to turn the space into a public park. But during the nearly five years that Shapiro has fought the Mirabella as a commissioner, he has spent almost a year of that time doing legal work for the Maison Grande, a property whose value would surely sink if another large condo blocked its western views, and would surely rise if the city put a pretty little park on the Mirabella site. And Shapiro has not confined his crusade to city hall. In October 1997 Shapiro requested an emergency agenda item authorizing Congressman E. Clay Shaw (R-Fort Lauderdale) to seek federal and state funding to straighten Collins Avenue between 60th and 63rd streets, and "to initiate discussions with the Florida Department of Transportation [for] the possible acquisition of the Mirabella site and adjacent properties by such agencies."
In January 1998 the city approved its 1998 legislative agenda, which included an item about the Mirabella site. The agenda states that both the state and federal transportation agencies had declined to buy the land and straighten Collins, but that the issue was not yet dead. Shapiro's votes on the emergency item and the legislative agenda took place at a time when he was not actively representing the Maison Grande. He did, however, resume working for the Grande one month after the legislative session ended in 1998.