Norman Braman, Jorge Perez and homeowner groups sue to stop Edgewater jai alai facility
Lawsuit alleges city officials erroneously gave West Flagler Associates zoning approval for pari mutuel facility
Billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman and developer Jorge Perez have teamed up with two Miami homeowner groups to file a lawsuit aimed at short-circuiting a settlement agreement between the city of Miami and the owner of Magic City Casino.
It’s their latest effort to derail plans for a jai alai fronton on land in Miami’s Edgewater neighborhood owned by Russell Galbut’s Crescent Heights.
Through entities they control, Braman and Perez, along with the Brickell Homeowners Association and the Morningside Civic Association, sued the city of Miami and its city manager Art Noriega in Miami-Dade Circuit Court last month. The goal is to overturn a zoning administrator’s eight-year-old interpretation of city code that slot machines, parimutuels and other gambling uses are entertainment uses.
The lawsuit alleges the 2012 opinion by then-zoning administrator Barnaby Min was key to West Flagler Associates, Magic City Casino’s owner, obtaining subsequent state approval to open a jai alai facility and a card room at 3030 Biscayne Boulevard. Braman and Perez are staunch opponents of casino developments in the city.
The plaintiffs have also filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit West Flagler Associates has pending against the city, which led to the proposed settlement that was approved by the Miami City Commission on Feb. 13. Mayor Francis Suarez vetoed the commission’s decision, but City Attorney Victoria Mendez issued an opinion that the veto was invalid.
The “2012 letter [was] issued in secret and obtained without any notice or process,” Braman said in an April 2 statement. “If the city of Miami is going to allow gambling — and I’ve long said it should not — then notice must be given to Miami’s residents so that they can have a meaningful say and hold elected officials responsible.”
Eugene Stearns, the attorney for Braman and the other plaintiffs, said Min did not go through the appropriate process in issuing his 2012 opinion. “He determined that gambling can take place anywhere in Miami,” Stearns said. “It requires a development review process that didn’t occur here.”
Mendez would not comment on the specific allegations.“The City Commission’s decision will be defended in court,” she said via email.
Joseph DeMaria, the attorney for West Flagler Associates, said Braman, Perez and the associations are engaging in legal tactics that could end up costing Miami taxpayers $1 million in legal fees, while also losing the fight to stop the jai alai fronton.
If the settlement falls apart, West Flagler will win the federal case at trial, DeMaria said. “They are using West Flager as a bogeyman to make it a bigger issue than it really is,” he said. “We gave the city a great settlement.”
Under the agreement, West Flagler Associates has agreed it will not place slot machines at the jai alai fronton, and the company still has to come back for city commission approval to add the card room, DeMaria said. If West Flagler wins in court, the company will be able to add slot machines without city approval.
The casino operator has asserted that the 2012 letter gave West Flagler Associates vested rights that exempted it from a city zoning ordinance requiring more public hearings for the jai alai fronton.
According to Braman’s lawsuit, Min allegedly “concealed the 2012 gambling letter, disregarded the zoning code provisions that plainly require notice to other city officials, neighborhood associations, and the public, and thus denied Miami’s citizens any meaningful right to public comment or appeal.”