Last month, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine asked the state ethics board for guidance on a slippery question: Could he vote on a megacondo project on Purdy Avenue even though he owns property next door? Although critics said the mayor's own investments might get a significant boost from the deal, the state eventually gave Levine the go-ahead.
But now the mayor has surprisingly recused himself from the vote. His decision comes on the eve of the city commission's vote later today on whether to allow billionaire developer Marc Rowan to build a luxury condo and retail building in Sunset Harbour.
Levine's abrupt recusal also came just before the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust could rule on whether he'd be violating county rules by backing the deal.
So why did Levine back down from voting on the plan? He says the project became too politically toxic.
"While the state ethics commission clearly ruled that there is absolutely no conflict... I know there is a small group of detractors whose sole purpose is to create a crisis," Levine says in a statement. "Therefore, I will be abstaining from [the] zoning vote affecting a very limited area."
The recusal marks an unexpected end to Levine's public involvement in a deal that critics said hit too close to his own business interests.
The project at the heart of the debate is Sunset Harbour Residences. Rowan's investment group bought eight properties along Purdy Avenue and wants to construct 15 luxury condos atop a retail space. They need city permission, though, because the project would tower to 90 feet, well over the Beach's 50-foot height limit.
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Levine, meanwhile, owns millions of dollars' worth of property in Sunset Harbour, just north of Rowan's plan. Although the height change wouldn't directly affect the mayor's buildings, Levine's opponents on the commission said Rowan's huge project could boost property values on the whole block.
"It's just a matter of time before he benefits from this deal," Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez told New Times last month.
But both city attorneys and the Florida Commission on Ethics wrote opinions clearing Levine of any conflicts. All that was missing was Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics Executive Director Joe Centorino's stamp of approval on county rules.
Now that's a moot point; without a request from Levine, Centorino says he won't issue any opinions about the mayor's role in the deal.