The day before a Miami Beach city board voted on whether to let one of the city's most historic churches sell its courtyard to a retail developer, New Times threw a wrench in the proceedings with a new allegation: The developer "donated" $500,000 to the church's leadership just before the congregation elected to support the deal.
That news wasn't enough to sway the city board, but now the Miami Design Preservation League has filed a new appeal to the plan citing the payment and the historic nature of the Lincoln Road structure.
The contentious plan centers on the courtyard outside the Miami Beach Community Church, which was founded by pioneering developer Carl Fisher and his wife, Jane, back in 1920. As Lincoln Road has transformed into a luxury shopping mecca, the small white church with a peaceful green courtyard has held its ground.
But the church's leader, Rev. H.E. Thompson, says the latest offer from a developer was too good to pass up for the congregation. The $100 million deal would sacrifice the historic courtyard but ensure the long-term survival of the church, Thompson says.
Behind the scenes, though, the developer -- TriStar Capital exec David Edelstein -- had already gifted half a million to the congregation just before members voted on the deal. Some churchgoers complained to New Times that it unfairly influenced the decision.
"Half a million dollars would color some votes, I would think," former board member Neal Deputy told New Times in August.
Despite those concerns, Miami Beach's Historic Preservation Board approved the church's plans on August 12.
But that decision is now on hold thanks to the new appeal from the Miami Design Preservation League, which will argue that the $500,000 payment violated city rules.
"The payment was not publicly disclosed to the historic preservation board even though a long-standing city ordinance requires that payment for an agreement to support a development project must be disclosed at the start of the public hearing on the application," the group says in a statement this morning.
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The church, though, claims the money was simply an early rent payment from a $3.5 million escrow account. Thompson says he's still confident the development will go forward.
"We see their appeal as a last ditch effort by a group that has been unsuccessful in arguing its case, is unhappy with the outcome, and would prefer to disrupt and delay the project than accept the HPB's decision," he tells the Miami Herald.