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
Murphy thought that if he could prove to city administrators that the strip of bayside land was private not public, that it was owned in common by the property owners on the street, he could keep Onyx 2's developers from using it to add height to their building. "I thought, öMaybe we could at least shave a little bit off the top of that monster,'" he says. "Onyx didn't have the land it needed for a monster building, so they took our park." Murphy began calling and writing everyone he could think of in the city's bureaucracy in an effort to get a ruling: Who did this property belong to? October 18, ten days before the commission hearing, he received a letter from the city's director of public works stating unequivocally that the parcel was not the city's, that it was privately held by the property owners on NE 28th Street east of Biscayne Boulevard.
Andrew Dickman, an attorney representing Betty Auerbach, who owns the property directly to the north of Onyx 2 on NE 29th Street, found an ally in Murphy. Initially Auerbach didn't imagine she'd need an attorney; she was happy to hear that something was about to replace the decrepit structure that had blighted the back of her 1913 Mediterranean-style home. But she was horrified to learn that, once Onyx 2 was built, the view from her backyard would be obliterated by a solid-concrete wall some 75 feet wide and an astounding 530 feet tall.
So Auerbach hired attorney Dickman, who teamed with Murphy, and together they combed through the Byzantine paper trail left by a project the size of Onyx 2. They found a few more fragments to bolster their case: The Design Review Committee, one of the boards that reviewed the project, had recommended that Bermello and Miculitzki's development company, BAP/GGM, should build a smaller tower or build two smaller towers facing each other across NE 28th Street in order to create, in the words of the committee, "a more appropriate-scaled project." They were also hopeful about the issue of traffic; after all, common sense would dictate that introducing an estimated 150 vehicles onto a 30-foot-wide street without a signal at its intersection with Biscayne would make for an unbearable morning rush hour. Or as Murphy puts it: "Those cars are going to be backed up into the bay every day. There are already too many cars on this street. I have to leave my garbage cans out in front of my driveway every night so nobody parks there and blocks me in."
Murphy and Dickman, however, would be frustrated by the city's traffic-analysis method. Although Miami requires developers to pay for traffic-impact studies, those studies don't bother with small streets like NE 28th; they look at only major roads and intersections with traffic lights. So the potential for gridlock on 28th was never even considered, a serious oversight, according to Michael Cannon. "No matter how much they ignore it, the traffic issue will be huge in the future," says Cannon, a respected real-estate analyst and vice president of Integra Realty Resources. "The infrastructure in that neighborhood just can't accommodate all the development.... To redevelop the whole area properly is going to take fifteen years. They're trying to do it in 30 seconds."
Bermello and Miculitzki were also prepared going into the October 28 commission meeting. Bermello even deigned to appear personally. The dapper developer (who favors slicked-back hair and three-piece suits) is the reigning Architect of the Year (as awarded by the Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects) and former chairman of the powerful Latin Builders Association. He sits at the helm of two rapidly growing companies -- BAP Development and the successful Miami architectural firm Bermello Ajamil & Partners -- and is responsible for many notable Miami-area development projects, including Brickell on the River, Fortune House, the Four Seasons, and the controversial Brickell View, twin 39-story towers that surround and overwhelm 88-year-old Southside Elementary School. Last year Inc. 500 magazine ranked Bermello Ajamil among the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S.
The 55-year-old magnate's résumé also includes a couple of black marks. Bermello's partner Luis Ajamil was implicated in a scandal at the Port of Miami in the Nineties, when he produced wildly optimistic seaport business projections that proved consistently wrong and helped lead to serious financial problems and the eventual ouster of port director and Ajamil crony Carmen Lunetta. In 1996 Bermello Ajamil also designed two cruise-ship terminals that were built before the proper permits had been obtained, just two years after authorities discovered that a Bermello Ajamil-designed Miami Beach office building was also built without proper permits. (As the projects' architects, Bermello Ajamil bore some responsibility for the lack of permits.) And in 2003 Bermello, attorney Peter Yanowitch, and racing celebrity Emerson Fittipaldi sold their interest in the Grand Prix of the Americas' Miami event after claiming it was a huge success. A year later the company that took over discovered it was far from successful, then folded, leaving a two-million-dollar debt with the city and other public agencies. (Bermello, perhaps irked over stories critical of his audacious attempts to sell Miami on grand-prix racing, refused to speak with New Times about Onyx 2.)