Resident sues to stop Magic City Innovation District project

Lawsuit alleges the city didn’t follow the law when it approved the Little Haiti mega project

Rendering of Magic City Innovation District
Rendering of Magic City Innovation District

UPDATED, July 31, 1:40 p.m.: A resident of the city of Miami filed an appeal against the city tied to the approval of the Magic City Innovation District project in Little Haiti.

William Perry, a renter affiliated with the Family Action Network Movement (FANM), is suing the city, alleging that the Miami City Commission denied his client intervenor status “based upon his status as a renter in contravention of both the spirit and the letter of well-settled law.” Attorney Meena Jagannath of the nonprofit Community Justice Project and sole-practitioner David Winker filed the lawsuit in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on Friday.

Perry is demanding that the commission’s approval of the Magic City Innovation District on June 27 should be quashed and remanded for rehearing.

“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,” Winker stated in his complaint.

Winker argued that having intervenor status would have allowed Perry and his legal counsel to present “additional evidence and expert testimony” into the record demonstrating that approving the Magic City special area plan would have been detrimental to the surrounding Little Haiti area.

City Attorney Victoria Méndez said the city is “disappointed that there has been a legal challenge to this project that will benefit the City. We will defend the City’s interest and look forward to a swift resolution.”

In a written statement, Neil Farman, a founding partner of Plaza Equity Partners, said the lawsuit is “without legal merit” and that the suit Community Justice Project helped file will hurt the community “they profess to help by choosing to delay the community benefits package of up to $40 million, including the first $6 million payment that would have been paid in the near term.”

Fairman also said that he’s “confident that the Court will agree that this appeal has no merit and we are moving forward as planned.”

Plaza Equity Partners, a development firm with a portfolio that includes building Marina Palms Yacht Club & Residences in North Miami Beach, teamed up with Cirque du Soleil co-founder Guy Laliberte, Metro1 Properties CEO Tony Cho, and Dragon Global co-founder Bob Zangrillo to redevelop nearly 18 acres of land in Little Haiti, including the former Magic City Trailer Park at 6001 Northeast Second Avenue, the historic DuPuis Building, and a couple dozen warehouses. Zangrillo reportedly stepped away as a managing partner after being charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal involving his daughter.

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The June 27 approval enables the phased construction of 2,630 residential units, 432 hotel rooms, 2 million square feet of office space, and 350,000 square feet of retail.

As part of a last-minute deal, the developers pledged to give $31 million to the Little Haiti Community Revitalization Trust with $6 million being given within six months of the city’s approval if there are no lawsuits. Also, the $9 million in permitting and impact fees the developer must pay to the city are to be reinvested into the city’s official Little Haiti district.

But Perry’s lawsuit alleges that the $31 million offer is contingent on the Magic City developers not having to provide 14 percent of its units as workforce housing and 7 percent of its units as affordable as the partnership previously promised as a “community benefit.”

Planning and Zoning Director Francisco Garcia even told the commission that under the amended deal “there was no longer a verifiable assurance that the ‘potential 600 units’ of affordable or workforce housing would be provided,” according to the suit.

MCID’s attorney, Neisen Kasdin, told the Biscayne Times in April that mixing market-rate apartments with smaller, subsidized units is impractical.

Perry and FANM attempted to file for intervenor status a week before the June 27 vote, following similar attempts by FANM. Both requests were not accepted by the commission. Rafael Suarez-Rivas, senior assistant city attorney, opined that someone must show they suffered a special injury in order to be granted intervenor status.

It was a stance that commissioner Keon Hardemon repeated during the June 27 hearing, when he declared that Perry’s interest in the project was “aligned like other members of the community.”

Perry’s lawsuit argues that the city’s opinion misstated legal precedent, and that Perry had met the city’s criteria for standing because he lives within 500 feet of the project.

Critics of the project fear that Magic City will increase the pace of the ongoing gentrification of Little Haiti and encourage landowners to demolish more apartment buildings, thereby displacing low-income individuals and families, and squeeze out additional Haitian-American owned businesses.

But supporters say the project will attract tech companies that will employ local residents as well as educational institutions that will provide training for high-paying jobs.

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