By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
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How much has Peebles given Kasdin this year? "Not one dime," Peebles says emphatically.
Peebles says his dissatisfaction with Kasdin has grown since the 1997 election, and crystallized when the developer approached the mayor to secure his support for Peebles's next project in Miami Beach, the Bath Club. This beachfront low-rise private club at 5937 Collins Ave. stands in the middle of mid- and high-rise condominiums, and fell on hard times in the Eighties and Nineties. Peebles bought the property in June 1998 and wants to bump the zoning density up a notch so he can both preserve the existing structure and build a condo and thirteen-story resort-hotel tower on the same site.
But when he began making the rounds of the commissioners about his prospects for a zoning increase at the September 29 commission meeting, Kasdin told him he wouldn't support the proposal until Peebles went to the surrounding community for their input on the project.
"I was very disappointed that Kasdin has not stepped up to the plate on this issue," Peebles says. His assessment is that Kasdin simply wanted to defer voting on something as potentially unpopular as an increase in zoning so close to an election. "I think he made a terrible mistake, and that just amplified the perception that you can't get a straight decision out of him," Peebles says. "The Bath Club vote should have been a no-brainer."
When the Bath Club issue came to the commission for its first reading, the public hearing was delayed from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. on that Wednesday night. (The meeting had begun at 9:00 a.m.) Commissioner Susan Gottlieb left the meeting and requested the Bath Club issue be deferred; it wasn't. When it finally came to a vote, the tally was 5-1 in favor of the increase in zoning, with Kasdin being the lone dissenter. (Zoning changes require five votes for passage). After the meeting Kasdin denied his opposition had anything to do with a lack of political will on his part. "We had letters from two neighborhood groups in the area asking us to oppose the project, because they wanted to meet with [Peebles] and learn more about it," he explains. "I just didn't think it should be rushed through."
Kasdin points out the irony of David Dermer and Martin Shapiro, the two commissioners most closely associated with the Save Miami Beach movement, not only voting for an increase in zoning on waterfront property, but voting to take that vote at 11:00 p.m. "[Down zoning] is something that Shapiro has professed to be a champion of," Kasdin says.
Although Peebles says he had mostly made up his mind before that vote, he now is sure who he will back for mayor. "Marty clearly is the better candidate for the city," Peebles asserts. "He and I differ philosophically on approaches to growth, but what you get with him is a sense of fair play."
What Shapiro gets is cash. Peebles and companies associated with him have already given at least a couple of thousand dollars. He says he will be campaigning for Shapiro and contributing more to his effort. "And I will encourage other people to do so."
The issue flaired again at a commission meeting on October 20, when Peebles accused Kasdin of voting against his Bath Club proposal because he had given money to Shapiro. Dermer even suggested that if Kasdin had withheld support for that reason it would be extortion. Kasdin says if anything is improper about the Bath Club deal, it's "a developer giving at least $6000" to a candidate when he has a project before the commission.
At least one Beach political insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says Peebles had made up his mind to back Shapiro before the Bath Club vote. In a conversation two weeks before that vote, the source says Peebles admitted to him he was "disappointed" with Kasdin, especially because of his lukewarm response to the Bath Club, and he was going to support Shapiro. The source says Peebles asserted he could raise $75,000 for Shapiro's campaign.
That conversation and others Peebles has had with potential contributors in Miami Beach, combined with a vote for a zoning increase by Shapiro, has led to grumblings that Peebles bought the vote of Mr. Not for Sale. "I'm in shock that his vote can be bought that clearly," says one Kasdin backer, who asked to remain anonymous. "This is like the worst thing that could happen to our city."
At the intimation that Peebles's deep pockets influenced his vote, Shapiro bristles. "I absolutely had no idea that he was going to support me [before the Bath Club] vote," he says. "I've never asked Mr. Peebles for assistance. He called me the week after the Bath Club vote and expressed his support for me." He also points out that the second reading of the zoning change, at which the final vote will be made, has been scheduled for after the election.
The project itself, Shapiro says, doesn't seem to be the kind of thing even a rabid anti-development guy like himself should necessarily oppose. "The proposed [square footage] is vastly lower than anything in the area," Shapiro notes. "I think it's a fairly moderate project."