House Nightclub wins Miami zoning reprieve

Board overruled certificate of occupancy revocation, tied to proximity to a school

Jul.July 06, 2015 03:00 PM

House Nightclub, which has dealt with anonymous complaints, competitors, neighborhood opposition, a dispute with a landlord and a leaky roof, won a reprieve from the city of Miami last week that will allow it to remain in its current location.

Mark Lowe, majority owner of the nightclub, said he and his partners invested $4 million redeveloping an 11,000-square-foot warehouse they lease at 1915 Northwest Miami Court and transforming it into a popular multi-room nightclub. The club itself is located just a few blocks away from the Wynwood Arts District and within both the Omni Community Redevelopment district and the neighborhood of Overtown.

Yet it was a faulty survey and a nearby elementary school that nearly ended House.

On Jan. 30, the city of Miami informed Lowe’s company, Glass House Productions, that it was revoking House’s certificate of occupancy. The reason: the real estate House was located on was 874 feet away from Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School. Miami code requires liquor serving establishments to be at least 1,000 feet away from a school.

On July 1, that revocation was unanimously overruled by Miami’s Planning, Zoning, and Appeals Board. Board members sided with the arguments of Lowe and his attorney, Alan Krischer, that millions of dollars would have never been invested creating House if they had known it was illegal to operate a club there in the first place.

“We put our souls into that space,” Lowe, formerly of The Living Room Fort Lauderdale, told the board. “We lost everything for that space.”

House isn’t alone. There are various codes in the city of Miami regulating how far away various businesses should be from residential areas, schools, churches, and even each other. Since she started working at Miami two-and-a-half years ago, Zoning Administrator Irene Hegedus said she’s found “a number” of improper surveys that gave incorrect measurements for commercial operations ranging from bars to assisted living facilities.

As a result, the Planning and Zoning Department is now examining certificate of use permits for properties all over Miami. “We have started auditing our files,” Hegedus said. In the case of House, the city was notified by the Miami-Dade County Public School Board.

Krischer said Glass House Productions is considering a lawsuit against the unnamed surveying company that claimed the future home of House was 1,000 feet away from Phyllis Wheatley Elementary.

Still, Krischer stressed, the surveyor was very clear how he made his measurements in his plans, yet no one at the city challenged it — until now. Under the legal doctrine known as “equitable estoppel,” Krischer argued, the city can’t suddenly revoke permission to operate a business that it had already granted.

Krischer added that the club isn’t open during school hours and that an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence separated the closest part of the school (the basketball court) and House Nightclub.

Besides Krischer and Lowe, dozens of House employees and customers spoke in favor of the club, during the meeting.

On the other side, about a half-dozen Overtown residents insisted that the law be enforced and that House Nightclub be closed.

“None of these people live in Overtown,” Irby McKnight, chairman of the Overtown Community Oversight Board, said of House’s operators and customers. “…If they falsified information [about the land survey] why should we suffer because of that? … They came here last year. We came in 1896.”

Lowe said they started leasing the warehouse in 2011. The club itself opened in May 2014. Lowe told the board that residents 1.5 miles away complained that House was “dark, evil, sinful, immoral, and gay.” Lowe also pointed out that the Miami Entertainment District Association (MEDA) tried to shut his club down because House was outside of the 24-hour club district in Park West. MEDA’s actions coincided with anonymous complaints made against his club, according to articles from The Miami New Times.

Glass House Productions, meanwhile, is suing its own landlord, A.A. Holdings LLC, for more than $55,000 over a leaky roof. A.A. Holdings, in turn, is suing to Glass House Productions for $248,150 in back rent and the club’s eviction.

The dispute between tenant and landlord is still pending in the 11th Judicial Circuit. The Planning, Zoning and Appeals board, however, sided with Glass House Productions. “To a certain extent, they [House] relied on what the city permitted them to do,” board member Daniel Milian said,

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