A Miami Beach board meeting became heated as a dispute between developer Vlad Doronin and his billionaire neighbor, Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera, was aired out in public.
Doronin, through his attorney, was opposing his Star Island neighbor’s plans for a roughly 28,000-square-foot waterfront mansion at the Miami Beach Board of Adjustments meeting on Friday morning.
Pera, founder of Ubiquiti Networks and chairman of the NBA team, was seeking a number of variances for the 1.9-acre property at 23 Star Island Drive that Pera purchased from Lennar Company founder Stuart Miller for $25 million in 2019.
Doronin, the developer behind Una Residences in Brickell and the Aman hotel and condo in Miami Beach owns the neighboring home of 26 Star Island, which he purchased from basketball player Shaquille O’Neal for $16 million in 2009.
Pera sought six variances for his future mansion designed by local architecture firm Choeff Levy Fischman, including a height variance for 31 feet where height is capped at 28 feet. That would have allowed Pera to construct a “professional grade indoor basketball court,” according to his attorney, Tracy Slavens.
“This is a hobby of the owner. He likes to play at all hours,” Slavens said.
Other asks from Pera included the right to build an elevator bulkhead exceeding 13 feet above the roofline where only 10 feet in height is allowed, a 10-foot-tall perimeter wall where seven feet is permitted, and a roof deck that is less than 10 feet away from an exterior wall.
Slavens argued that such variances are commonly sought by the builders of new homes on Star Island due to the unusual shape of the properties.
As for the elevator bulkhead, Slavens said it’s needed to power a lift strong enough to transport furniture and Pera’s father, who has “mobility issues.” Slaven added that the elevator bulkhead of a recently completed home at 22 Star Island is also 31 feet above the roof line.
But Doronin’s attorney, former Miami Beach mayor Neisen Kasdin, said the variances that Pera sought violated the privacy rights of his client. The elevator bulkhead and the rooftop deck is on the south side of Pera’s house, overlooking Doronin’s family residence, and the variances would not be needed if it wasn’t for the height change Pera desired for his indoor basketball court, Kasdin charged.
Kasdin further charged that Pera’s desired mansion wasn’t really a home at all – but a professional basketball complex within a residential neighborhood.
“This looks like, smells like, and quacks like a professional basketball facility,” Kasdin said, alleging that the design for Pera’s house includes 12 lockers and only three bedrooms. Kasdin claimed that Pera’s future home will be able to “hold an entire basketball team and its entourage” as well as rooftop parties.
“We have made multiple attempts through the owner’s attorney… to contact and reach the owner to discuss what he’s seeking [to build] and see if there’s a way to mitigate or modify it,” Kasdin said. But Pera has refused to meet with Doronin, Kasdin claimed.
Slavens, who insisted that Pera’s future home has seven bedrooms, said Doronin has threatened to sue Pera if he didn’t comply with the developers demands. “He [Doronin] has tried to redesign this home on his personal whims,” Slavens said, including how Pera should landscape his property, lay out his driveway, or locate his pool equipment.
At one point, when Pera’s team used a drone to survey his property, Doronin’s security personnel came out and “threatened us,” Slavens said.
“There came a point where we felt that any negotiation was not a negotiation at all, but was strong arming,” Slavens told the board. “This is a pattern of behavior. He [Doronin] wants what he wants and gets what he wants.”
Slavens also felt it was hypocritical to object to Pera’s variances, when Doronin received his own variances needed to construct the 221-foot-tall Arman-branded tower.
Kasdin objected to Slavens attacks, especially on Doronin’s project. “My client is creating one of the most beautiful and important projects in the city of Miami Beach,” Kasdin said. “He should be thanked.”
Slavens withdrew requests related to the 31-foot height variance, the rooftop deck, and the perimeter wall on behalf of her client.
“We are doing this to avoid a fight with the neighbor,” she said.
However, Slavens insisted that the 31-foot top elevator bulkhead was needed and promised it would be shielded by a “green wall.” Slavens also still asked for a variance that would allow for an FPL substation on the property and an 11-foot-long balcony. As a precondition to the variances, the city will require Pera to plant vegetation on the south of the property.
Ignoring Kasdin’s objections about the elevator, the board unanimously approved variances for the bulkhead elevator and FPL substation. The variance for the balcony, which overlooks Pera’s own property, was approved by a vote of 5 to 2.