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Little Haiti Activist Sues to Stop Massive, Controversial Magic City Development

Miami officials seem hellbent on paving over one of the city's last vibrant immigrant communities. Activists in Little Haiti for years have been pushing back against plans to build the Magic City Innovation District — a 17-acre luxury living and shopping complex that is unlike anything else in the working-class neighborhood of Little Haiti.

But despite residents' consistent complaints about the project, the City of Miami Commission has pushed the project forward at a rapid clip. And now, with seemingly no other option on the table, one local activist and Little Haiti resident this past Friday sued the city in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Warren Perry, a Little Haiti resident affiliated with the Family Action Network Movement (FANM), claims that the city is illegally shutting locals out of the Magic City Innovation District debate and that the practice violates protections for residents in the city's "Miami 21" zoning code.

"The impact of undermining community participation in Special Area Plan applications is particularly pronounced, given that the sheer size of such projects has the potential to change neighborhoods in one fell swoop," the suit states. "It is precisely when so much is at stake that residents should be able to actively take part in the proceedings." (The Real Deal first reported about the suit yesterday.)

The city has not yet responded to the complaint in court. But, at least on paper, the petition represents the strongest legal challenge yet to the Magic City plan. FANM — a Haitian-American advocacy group formerly known as Fanm Ayisyen nan Miyami — has been the single loudest voice fighting gentrification in central Miami for years. FANM's leader, Marleine Bastien, is one of the best-known Haitian-American activists in America, and FANM members routinely show up at city commission meetings to ensure the Haitian community has a voice in local politics.

For years, activists have complained that the Magic City plan — a proposal from a group of ultrawealthy developers (including one who was indicted in the recent college-bribery scandal) — will essentially turn what's left of Little Haiti into another enclave for Miami's class of wealthy real-estate investors. The neighborhood is already undergoing rapid gentrification due to its proximity to Wynwood, the Design District, and Biscayne Bay and because it sits on what is technically some of the highest ground above sea level in Miami-Dade County. But the Magic City Innovation District, if built, would represent essentially instant gentrification: The team wants to create a 45,000-square-foot development with 25-story towers and a pop-up theme park designed by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte.

The proposal previously included provisions mandating that the developers build set amounts of affordable housing and hire specific numbers of locals to work on the property, but shortly before the project was approved, those provisions were bizarrely stripped out, and the developers instead agreed to simply donate a $31 million lump sum to an account run by Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon's office.

According to the suit, Perry, the plaintiff, lives on NE 62nd Street, directly across the street from the proposed Magic City site.

"Given the proximity of Mr. Perry's residence to the area, he stands to be deeply impacted by increased traffic, pollution, and noise from the project, particularly as construction continues over a projected development period of at least 15 years," the suit says.

In short, Perry says he was illegally denied the ability to be considered an "intervenor" in the project, which would have given him extra rights to speak out about the construction site mere feet from his home. Perry says he wanted to present extra reports, data, and criticism in front of city boards but was denied the ability to do so even though he lives within 500 feet of the proposed project area. In particular, Perry says he was stunned when the project's developers and Hardemon's office announced rash, last-minute changes to the affordable-housing aspects of the plan — but Perry himself wasn't allowed to comment on any of those changes.

"Applicant and the City negotiated until the eleventh hour on key aspects of the Development Agreement to be voted on that same night," the suit states. "[Perry], as well as other members of the public still in attendance, did not know the actual contents of the changed document before the vote took place. Had [Perry] been allowed intervenor status, he would have had the opportunity to review the documents in advance and make objections or put additional information into the record."

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