Owners of new Miami Design District school hired mayor’s law firm to represent them in zoning appeal

Planning and zoning board approved the school operating in June

David and Leila Centner and the Centner Academy (Credit: Getty Images, Google Maps)
David and Leila Centner and the Centner Academy (Credit: Getty Images, Google Maps)

The owners of a new private school in the Miami Design District postponed the start of school because it does not have a temporary certificate of occupancy. Meanwhile, neighbors who are challenging the site’s recent zoning change are now alleging that the property owners’ law firm presents a conflict of interest for the city as they fight the appeal.

In June, real estate investors David and Leila Centner received approval to operate a preschool at the property, at 4136 North Miami Avenue, after they agreed to reduce their student body to 120 from nearly 200 students. The couple also promised to redesign an emergency staircase that currently leads directly into the path of the building’s underground garage.

Later in June, attorney David Winker filed an appeal regarding the Miami Planning Zoning & Appeals Board approval on behalf of his clients, a group of residents in nearby Buena Vista. Winker said the Miami City Commission is scheduled to tentatively hear the appeal on Sept. 12.

The Centners recently hosted a grand opening at the three-story, 20,000-square-foot commercial building. The preschool will teach languages like Mandarin, Spanish and English. The academy will charge students $24,000 a year, and will offer some scholarships.

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The couple hired Greenspoon Marder, the same firm in which Mayor Suarez is of counsel, to represent them in obtaining the zoning exception from the city of Miami, which Winker said could present a conflict of interest. If the commission were to overturn the planning and zoning board’s approval, the mayor could veto that overturn.

The Centners said in a statement that they don’t have a comment on any conflict of interest issues, and that they “look forward to opening our school very soon to impart happiness and emotional intelligence alongside academics to young children in our community.”

They said that the school will not open until it has a TCO.

Earlier in August, a company tied to the Centners bought a shuttered charter school site in Wynwood for $12.8 million.