Beach Access Closed, for a Price

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It’s a posh address for the uber-wealthy, home of the Rodeo Drive of Miami and wintering spot for the likes of Viagra pitchman Bob Dole. Bal Harbour is also an unlikely home to a feud over public beach access, pitting surfer-types against mega-developers and bureaucrats.

The Florida Department of Transportation began leasing a parking lot to the village in 1970 for $1 a year, under the condition that it be used for public access to nearby beaches. Fast forward to 2004: WCI Communities starts work nearby on a huge luxury hotel / condo (which made news last year when three laborers were buried alive in concrete).

Construction workers need somewhere to park. The village gave WCI and its contractors exclusive use of portions of the FDOT lot in exchange for monthly payments, which now total about $300,000, according to public documents. This past summer, the village sub-leased the entire lot to WCI, and the developer soon closed off the walkway from the lot to the beach, citing public safety.

“It’s pretty heinous,” said T.J. Marshall, head of the local chapter of Surfrider, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group founded by surfers.

A public records request by Surfrider recently revealed that the FDOT sent a letter to the village this past November 20, notifying it that the agency was going to terminate its lease with Bal Harbour for being “in violation of law regarding public purpose use of right of way.” Also revealed in newly found FDOT documents: a reference to a meeting one week later between FDOT officials and Bal Harbour’s village manager, Alfred Treppeda. Super-lobbyist Ron Book helped arrange the meeting on behalf of Bal Harbour.

While Treppeda acknowledged the village has yet to renegotiate a lease with DOT, he pointed out that 21 spots at the lot had been set aside for public use and a temporary beach access point had been opened a short walk away.

“That’s an old story,” Treppeda said. --Rob Jordan

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