County tells Vizcaya agency to stay out of zoning dispute
By Wayne Tompkins
Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday voted to keep the county out of an acrimonious zoning dispute between Vizcaya and the City of Miami centering on a high-rise planned near the popular museum.
Commissioner Javier Souto was particularly incensed by what he saw as an attempt by the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust, a county agency, to drag the county into litigation he feared ultimately could be taxpayer-funded.
Mr. Souto's resolution, approved 9-2, directs the trust to rescind its own resolution encouraging the Vizcayans Inc. to sue Miami, which approved three high-rise towers on Mercy Hospital grounds that would be visible from Vizcaya.
The trust, created to provide more effective administration and fundraising for Vizcaya, had agreed to allow the private-sector Vizcayans to credit litigation expenses against money owed to the trust.
The Vizcayans is a 50-year-old organization charged with fundraising to maintain and restore the former estate of industrialist James Deering. It works closely with the public-sector trust to advance the museum's mission.
Mr. Souto said the trust acted without the necessary permission of county commissioners.
The commission instructed the trust not to encourage legal action by the Vizcayans to stop the Related Group and Jorge Perez from developing the towers.
While the $100 million Mercy will receive from the developer for the property will help launch much-needed renovation of the hospital's facilities, critics fear the high-rise condos could set a precedent that would change the face of Coconut Grove.
"The Vizcayans' efforts to protect Vizcaya from the permanent adverse effects of high-rise development are within its mission and part of a huge outcry to protect part of the Coconut Grove Neighborhood Conservation District," Max Blumberg, a member of the Vizcayans' board of directors, wrote Miami Today in a letter to the editor published last week.
Mr. Souto said the ordinance creating the trust gave it a high degree of independence, including the power to bring lawsuits, but said it is subject to the county's authority.
He cited county policy that "no county entity will lend the county's name or resources to fund lawsuits that challenge another city's zoning decisions unless the county commission has authorized a lawsuit."
Commissioner Natacha Seijas, echoing Mr. Souto's concerns, feared the trust could ask commissioners for additional funding that would, in effect, replace money credited to the Vizcayans for its litigation.
Mr. Souto said that on March 22, commissioners considered what impact the high-rises would have on Vizcaya but the county's input would be only for informational purposes and the county would abide by Miami's ultimate decision.
Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, who along with Katy Sorenson voted to oppose Mr. Souto's resolution, said he wanted the matter to go back to committee for further discussion and public input.