South Beach short-term rental developer sues ‘Save SoFi’ campaign founder

MIAMI BEACH, Florida. — Amid a months-long battle between Miami Beach residents and city officials over a proposed short-term rental hotel properties continues.

In recent weeks, neighbors have lobbied for various city councils to reconsider the plans. City officials argued that the projects had been properly approved and should be allowed to proceed.

Becky Houchen-Bemis, a psychologist who lives in the city’s South of Fifth neighborhood, said one of the construction projects was a few feet from her bedroom window.

“They’re right there; it’s where the workers come in and out… I can almost reach out and touch them, I feel like it,” Houchen-Bemis said, adding that her condo on Meridian Avenue is where she planned to spend her retirement after working nearly five decades for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. This changed when construction started without notice.

The neighboring property, at 310 Meridian Ave., and another at Third Street and Jefferson Avenu are two apartment hotel projects, led by different developers. Residents have also complained. Some said they didn’t want “Airbnb” style hotels on their street.

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“I’ve been here for about eight months, and I’m literally trying to keep our neighborhood from collapsing…because if these projects are allowed to continue, it’s going to be devastating,” said David Suarez, a resident of the region. .

Neighbors said it wasn’t just about the litter and crime the projects could bring. It’s also about how the city went about approving projects. It was a process that locals said left them completely in the dark.

The city’s planning department has administratively approved the plans for both properties. It’s part of a streamlined review process for which certain types of projects are eligible under the code, but residents argued the scope of both projects should have been reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Board. This would have triggered a public notice.

“They said they streamlined it. What they did, they got rid of my due process,” Houchen-Bemis said, “As a resident I have due process, I have a right to know what they are doing just at next to me.

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A September letter to the commission from the city manager outlined the process stating that the review of building applications is a regulatory function and that the building manager and planning director act as “semi-autonomous” staff. “.

A report released earlier this month by the city’s inspector general’s office found the planning department violated city code by not requiring a specific request from the owner of Meridian Avenue. and in the absence of written notice once a project had been approved. Then last week, the Historic Preservation Board agreed to largely put the Jefferson Avenue project on hold until further review in March.

“There was no notice given that there is going to be a hotel in the middle of our neighborhood,” Suarez said.

Suarez launched the ‘Save SoFi’ campaign with a website outlining residents’ concerns about the projects, including noise, lack of parking and less security. The developer of the Jefferson Avenue project is Louis Puig, a nightlife entrepreneur who owned Club Space.

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The controversy got personal. A former lawmaker has confirmed that Puig sent a message in late December falsely alleging that Suarez had an arrest record.

“I will have to sue him for defamation and make his life public via a personal media campaign,” Puig wrote. “If we can’t find common ground, he could end up losing custody of his child if it gets really ugly. I really don’t want that to happen. Maybe you can help prevent this pointless battle.

Suarez said he perceived the message as a threat to him and his son. Last week, Puig filed a lawsuit against Suarez for defamation.

Puig declined to participate in an interview with Local 10, but replied via text message: “We have planning permission and follow all building and zoning codes. We are trying to turn an old, derelict and dilapidated building into a beautiful short and long term rental property. Mr. David Suarez is using his South Fifth neighbors to intimidate the city and its employees and he has chosen to defame me to prove his point. I am a businessman, and my family and I have had ties with this community since 1968, when we fled Cuba to escape oppression. We didn’t take bullying then, and we won’t take it now.

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Suarez said it wasn’t personal; it’s about protecting the quality of life of the neighbours.

“It impacts the community…we should have had the right to object to that, and we were denied that,” Suarez said.

The City Board was to review the Office of Inspector General’s report on how these projects were approved. Officials said there would be no similar developments in the neighborhood in the future. Last year, the city banned apartment hotels in most of the southern Fifth Ward after hearing residents’ concerns.

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