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On the same day Litterman made her presentation, commissioners deliberated for six hours regarding the Boardwalk Bar, a gay nightclub owned by businessman Victor Zepka. This past February 24, officials had shut it down along with two other bars owned by Zepka. “[The Boardwalk hearing] was like a Perry Masonepisode,” recalls Wiggins. “Ridiculous!” Among a variety of violations, officials charged the club with operating for sixteen years without the required licenses. Code enforcers also pointed to a rash of arrests at the nightclub. In one incident a man entered the bar with a paint gun, shouted anti-gay obscenities, and doused the bartender. Samson blamed bar patrons for having provoked the attack, Litterman says. After a closed session, commissioners declared the club would be allowed to reopen, but if there were any more incidents necessitating police enforcement, it would be shut down without opportunity for appeal.
“The Boardwalk hearing was when I realized there was something very wrong here,” Litterman says. “This was an example of selective enforcement. The city wasn't using its code enforcement to curb overdevelopment from outsiders. It was using it to hurt the small businesses which had been here all along.” Indeed several condo projects, including the Ocean Grande, Ocean Two, and the Aqualina, have been awarded multiple variances since incorporation.
The anti-Samson group also cites a mid-May code-compliance sweep of Stewart's Golden Shores neighborhood as an example of bad enforcement. Warning letters from the city's zoning and code-enforcement department were sent to 24 residents of the area, indicating a variety of violations. “It's like they're trying to get [Golden Shores residents] out, while Samson's cozy with the developers,” Wiggins comments.
Commissioner Danny Iglesias disagrees. “I understand where they're coming from, but you have to compare apples with apples,” he says. “The variances we allow go by what property we are talking about. What may be good at a certain location might not be good for another. You take Oceania, 27 variances, but you can't say that's an ugly building. You have to look at the overall picture.”
Vera points out the group's anger is misdirected. Samson had little to do with the zoning code. Furthermore officials are presently in the process of fine-tuning it. “This is not a developer's free-for-all,” Iglesias says.
In the battle for Sunny Isles Beach's identity, there is perhaps no greater symbol of Samson's dominance than the proposed new city hall. Bigger, it would seem, is better for the future of this tiny new city and the planned eight-story, $22.5-million-dollar structure is no exception. To be built on 163rd Street just west of Collins Avenue, the 85,000-square-foot government center will have a 250-car garage, a 48,000-square-foot administration tower, a 12,000-square-foot library, a 6000-square-foot council chamber, a 16,000-square-foot police department, and 3000 square feet for a post office and public-works department.
“It's a testament to Samson's ego,” says Stewart. “We don't need something that big.”
Iglesias disagrees. “Too big? In respect to what? Five? Ten? Fifteen years? Sunny Isles Beach is growing, property values are up, and that city hall is going to be in the revitalization corridor, the gateway to the city, reflects the future,” he says.
City hall construction was scheduled to begin last week. Regardless of the stringency of the local zoning code, two huge vacant lots south of Oceania Towers will beckon developers.
As for the recall campaign? David Leahy, Miami-Dade County supervisor of elections, says most recall efforts fail. “Collecting signatures is not easy; people normally begin the process because they are angry, but the lengthy process generally does them in,” he explains.