Lifestyles of the Rich and Negligent
The Delano's Beach Village is fabulous. The cluster of structures -- the yellow-and-white wood-slat lighthouse, the shade and massage tents, the cabanas -- offer spa services, food, and towels to a hyperhip clientele. This extension of the hotel's magic to the water's edge has garnered universal acclaim from national and local press. New York City-based haute hotelier Ian Schrager has brought his velvet rope to the beach and just about everybody loves it.
So what if both the City of Miami Beach and the State of Florida say it's illegal. Details, details. Come on, it's fabulous.
The Delano and its hired guns maintain that illegal is too strong a word. The way they read the Miami Beach rules, it's perfectly fine. The real problem is the city's lack of a beach master plan, they stress. Such a document would outline prohibited activity on the beach.
On January 6 the Beach commission took up the issue. During a 90-minute discussion, the majority of the commissioners seemed to buy the Delano's lawyers' arguments. The commission passed, by a 5-2 vote, a resolution giving kudos to Beach Village's aesthetics, its legality notwithstanding. For now the village will continue to stand -- without a permit.
Its presence strongly suggests that most city commissioners think there's one set of rules for convicted felon and all-around swell guy Ian Schrager and another for everybody else. That's because Schrager and village designer Philippe Starck are fabulous, in case you haven't heard.
Since November the hotel at 1685 Collins Ave. has twice tried to get city permission for the village. Both times the city rejected the application. Hotel owners need either a city concession agreement or a special-event permit before putting up any kind of structure on Miami Beach.
Janet Gavarrete, the assistant city manager handling the Delano affair, admits the lack of a beach master plan is a thorny issue. But that is only indirectly related to the Beach Village controversy, she asserts. The Delano application, she says, simply didn't pass muster. "The rules and regulations don't spell out the exact size of structures, but if you look at what we have been authorizing, aesthetics aside, we have not been allowing concessions with this kind of intensive use," Gavarrete explains.
Having already scheduled major press events to tout Beach Village without securing permission to erect it, the Delano submitted an application for special-event permits on November 10. The proposed dates: November 15-20, November 25-29, and November 30-December 6. The city agreed.
But when the last permit expired, the Delano did not dismantle the village. Santiago Echemendia, a partner with the powerhouse law firm of Tew, Cardenas, which represents the hotel, says the problem is a simple "miscommunication." He says inn managers didn't think they needed to break down the village at the end of the event.
Well, they did, say Beach building inspectors. On December 17 the city slapped the Delano with a notice of violation for a non-permitted temporary structure. Hotel representatives continued to talk with the city, and eventually submitted another application for a more permanent concession, which was almost exactly the same as the one the city had rejected. The city rebuffed this effort as well.
By this time the state had become involved. In a December 14 letter to Gavarrete, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) engineer Barry Manson-Hing declared the village "unacceptable," his chief reasons being:
*The relevant Florida statute "does not allow any structure seaward of the erosion-control line except an erosion-protection structure"
*The village would "represent a 'take' of a nesting marine turtle habitat"
*"Beach users will be deprived of unhindered access along, and traditional uses of, the beach"
*The possible impact on the beach/dune system "cannot justify the issuance of a permit"
He also noted that he has referred the matter to DEP's general counsel for a legal opinion.
The hotel is also in trouble with Tallahassee over another beach-related boo-boo. The Delano received a permit from DEP on November 20 to tear up the dune and construct a wooden walkway to the Beach Village. The hotel replanted the erosion-controlling sea oats that were uprooted when the dune was leveled. Workers also added some Washington palm trees, plants that are not on the state's short list of salt-resistant, erosion-controlling foliage allowed in such dunes. DEP gave the Delano a warning notice about the trees December 22.
Palm trees aside, Delano lobbyist Michael Milberg sees the controversy as an example of bureaucratic small-mindedness. Gavarrete and her cohorts are "not understanding [of] how a project like this can take the Beach to the next level up," he contends.
At the January 6 meeting most commissioners seemed to agree with Milberg. Commissioner Simón Cruz questioned why the administration was giving such a wonderful hotel a hard time. "I wish this hadn't gotten to be so confrontational," he lamented. "We're cannibalizing our own, and that's not healthy."
"I find it ironic and strange that [the administration] has drawn the Maginot Line here," Mayor Neisen Kasdin said, pointing out that many other concessionaires have racked up violations in recent months, yet continue to operate.
Kasdin then displayed a copy of an article about Beach Village in the December 10 issue of the New York Times. "It would have cost us at least $200,000 to get this kind of [positive] publicity," he noted.
Commissioner David Dermer, though, quoted liberally from Manson-Hing's December 14 letter, and wondered aloud if the commission even had jurisdiction. "I think we're in dangerous waters here," he cautioned.
Commissioner Nancy Liebman was particularly vituperative in needling City Manager Sergio Rodriguez for picking on the Delano when so many shoddy concessions exist on the beach. She also quoted from Manson-Hing's December 14 letter, noting that the state engineer wrote: "... the city should not take final action on the proposed Delano project until the beach master plan is completed and accepted."
Liebman interprets that sentence to mean the village should continue to operate until the rules are clarified. When told of this opinion, Manson-Hing set the record straight. "That letter is based on the premise that all the structures had already been removed from the beach," he states unequivocally. In other words the status quo he envisions is an empty swath of sand.
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