planning board flexes muscles on ocean drive

Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew
The Miami Beach Planning Board this week made clear it is getting serious about cleaning up Ocean Drive. First it suspended the outdoor entertainment license of “bad operator” Il Giardino for 60 days then it asked to review the Conditional Use Permits for Ocean’s Ten and the Cardozo Hotel. Indicating it may want to go further in efforts to impact business operations on the street, the Board asked for a discussion item at its next meeting on ways to provide input to the City Manager regarding sidewalk café permits.
 
Of the 47 businesses on Ocean Drive, five have Conditional Use Permits (CUP) issued by the Planning Board, bringing them under the Board’s purview. The Board has decided to utilize its power over those businesses.
 
Planning Board member Jeff Feldman has spearheaded the more aggressive stance. Feldman was a member of the Mayor’s Ocean Drive Task Force whose final report was the basis for Commissioner Ricky Arriola’s 10 Point Plan for Ocean Drive passed by the Commission last year.
 
Armed with a list of violations against Il Giardino (1236 Ocean Drive), Feldman asked for a review of the restaurant at last month’s Planning Board meeting and then requested a hearing to modify or revoke the CUP for outdoor entertainment this month.
 
Il Giardino attorney, Amanda Quirke, told the Board there has been “not a single violation at the restaurant since July 14” when the Planning Board expressed concerns. “We want for the Board to understand that the ownership and management at this restaurant are taking the matter very seriously,” she said. “They understand the Planning Board’s concern with the number of violations that had occurred recently and have been hyper vigilant in ensuring compliance, both with the modified Conditional Use Permit and City Code.”
 
She listed the actions the restaurant had taken in response to previous violations including having employees review the CUP and 10 Point Plan to understand the requirements and requiring attendance at a City hospitality training course in July. She also indicated disciplinary action had been taken against employees who were hawking (a means to pull customers into a restaurant) and that two employees were fired for that behavior.
 
Regarding the previous violations, she told the Board that one was still on appeal but that others had been resolved and fines paid. Planning Board Chair Brian Elias clarified, “You lost the appeal and paid the fine so the special master found you guilty of whatever you were cited for?” Quirke replied, “Yes.”
 
Hernan Cardeno, Director of Code Compliance, indicated since July there have been several calls about issues at the restaurant including trash, the crowd blocking the sidewalk, and a customer feeling “defrauded” but he said behavior has to be witnessed by a Code Compliance officer for a citation to be written. “The reality on Ocean Drive is they’re playing a cat and mouse game,” he said, indicating violations are often quickly corrected when a venue sees a compliance officer coming.
 
Feldman said, “This is not just about code violations and calls for service. This is about the newest most recent Conditional Use Permit issued on Ocean Drive … This was an applicant that gave us their word that they would respect all of the [conditions], whether laws or not, and they would be the best neighbor we’ve ever seen. This is more about behavior and this is more about setting the tone for the future of this street. Not just for this particular applicant…”
 
In moving to revoke the CUP for outdoor entertainment, Feldman described the restaurant’s objectionable behavior. “They’ve been hawking uncontrollably, so much so that I personally witnessed two guys walking across the street on Ocean Drive to get people from the East side sidewalk into their restaurant. They have terrible reviews on Yelp …” reading three which described egregious pricing and questionable promotion (buy one drink, get one free when the only drinks in that category were $80-90 in price each and a $225 paella dish, pricing not clear to the customer).
 
“This is the way they operate their restaurant. These people are not good operators. They are not good neighbors and they are not entitled in my opinion to have one of our most cherished permits,” Feldman said. “This is not a model for Miami Beach. This is not a model for Ocean Drive. This is a model of how not to be.”
 
Elias contemplated revocation versus a modification to suspend the license, which covers outdoor entertainment only. “The problems they have been exhibiting, that’s problematic is not rectified by taking away their entertainment. Now I’m not saying they shouldn’t be punished and that’s a way of punishing them … But if we rescinded their CUP they wouldn’t have entertainment but they could still be hawking … they could do whatever they’ve been doing that’s been the genesis of their issues … If we rescind we lose jurisdiction … If we rescind then the only mechanism to punish or enforce them is Code [compliance].”
 
The first suggestion was for a suspension of 30 days to which Feldman objected. “Thirty days not is enough. This is a behavioral issue. I hate to make it sound so juvenile but this is what it is. It’s the culture of how this is being operated.”
 
Indicating he intended to go further, Feldman continued, “It’s a culture that – by the way, they’re not alone. They’re not the only one. And there are are more that are going to be standing here. My issue is we’ve got to figure out a way to fix Ocean Drive on a lot of levels. But in terms of the operators where we have limited control, I think the message needs to be clear. I think the message needs to be firm. I think the message needs to be you start to clean up your act or ...”
 
Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis told the Board they could place additional conditions on Il Giardino to maintain their entertainment provision.
 
Feldman commented, “It’s a benefit to have a Conditional Use Permit. It’s not something that 100% of every applicant gets. A lot of people can’t get them for various reasons. These guys have one. Quite frankly, they don’t deserve one.”
 
Boutsis then advised Yelp reviews cannot be counted as evidence as "they can be manipulated" but she told the Board, “You do have evidence before you which could lead to revocation which are the violations.”
 
Board member Daniel Veitia said, “So many [bad Yelp reviews] in such a short period of time does tell me something.”
 
“There’s no question,” Elias responded. “I don’t think anybody up here disagrees they have not been good neighbors and I hate to hear these reviews. Even if they may be manipulated you get a sense they’re not treating people the way they should … It’s clear, to me anyway, that they’re playing fast and loose with the customers because if a customer sees on a menu $80 for a drink, they’re not going to patronize that place. That’s my opinion and so if they’re complaining on Yelp, that’s because they ordered the drinks and then they got the bill. And that’s really no way to do your business … This is horrible for the street.”
 
After Il Giardino’s attorney agreed to a provision to provide menus with pricing upfront, Feldman retorted, “Whatever. They don’t want to lose their Conditional Use Permit. They don’t deserve to have one” and he renewed his motion to revoke the permit.
 
Elias responded, “No one is disagreeing with you. What I’m trying to figure out is the best way to implement our ability to keep control over their conduct.” By modifying the permit to suspend the entertainment license, Elias said, “That way we continue to have jurisdiction ... I would rather modify it so we can add conditions than revoke it where we can’t do anything else.”
 
Ultimately, the Board voted to modify the CUP to suspend Il Giardino’s entertainment license for 60 days, prohibit hawking, and require the restaurant to provide menus with pricing to all customers before they place their orders as conditions to maintaining the outdoor entertainment license for future entertainment. The restaurant will be required to provide a status report at the next two Board meetings.
 
Feldman said, “I think 60 days is getting off way, way, way too light.”
 
Elias said, “It’s only for us to reconsider in 60 days ... that gives us discretion. We can either prolong it or terminate it [at that time].” To Quirke, he said, “We want you to be good neighbors, bottom line. This action had to be taken because there needs to be something done to encourage you to treat the customers properly and be good neighbors.”
 
Feldman then held up a spreadsheet with a long list of complaints for Ocean’s Ten and the Cardozo, both under the Board’s jurisdiction due to Conditional Use Permits. “I’d like to bring them both in for the same exact hearing. I think we need to exercise our authority over permit holders and I think we need to have the same discussion with both of those.”
 
Planning Director Tom Mooney said Staff would send a “cure letter” seeking a progress report before the Board.
 
Attorney Alex Tachmes happened to be in the room for another matter but jumped up to the podium as the legal representative for Ocean’s Ten. “What is the basis for bringing them back to the Board, do they have any violations?”
 
Boutsis responded the Board is “entitled to a progress report based on citations.”
 
When Tachmes indicated he wanted to prepare his client properly, Veitia said, “I think the message you can send is we’re taking our jurisdiction over CUPs on Ocean Drive more seriously. We’re going to be proactive about bringing CUP holders in front. We don’t want to accuse them. Much like [Il Giardino] had the opportunity today but I think it’s trying to make sure they understand we’re taking our jurisdiction over the CUPs very seriously and proactively requesting progress reports on the status of their business.”
 
Tachmes responded, “The great majority of the time this Board has not called parties for progress reports unless there’s a problem.”
 
Code Compliance Director Cardeno reviewed Feldman’s spreadsheet of 50 complaints since July 2016 and said, “Looks like 30 of them are noise complaints, a couple of sanitation violations.”
 
Feldman then said, “So we have substantive evidence to have them stand before us.”
 
“Just keep in mind,” Tachmes challenged, “if you’re going to try to take action to modify or revoke ... I’m definitely going to want some violations that are valid.”
 
Boutsis and the Board indicated the process calls for a status report first with a separate notice for modification or revocation if the Board believes there’s cause for doing so.
 
In addition to Il Giardino, Ocean’s Ten, and the Cardozo, the Board has purview over Conditional Use Permits for Mango’s and the Clevelander.
 
At the end of the meeting, Feldman raised the issue of the Board going further, seeking input on sidewalk café permits, a financially lucrative permit for the businesses. “That is something I would love to have authority over,” Feldman said. “We would have so much control over all these bad actors because right now we rely on Code Compliance and we rely on good behavior.”
 
“There are 47 venues on Ocean Drive,” he said. “We have control over five.”
 
Veitia responded, “That’s an administrative function of the city.” To which Feldman replied, “Well it’s not working.”
 
Boutsis said the City Commission gave the City Manager increased power this summer “because his hands were very much tied in revoking sidewalk café permits.” She said the Commission gave him more discretion over revocation of permits beyond just for life safety. “That may make a difference going forward,” she said. “I can’t give him a Yelp review, but I can give him objective standards."
 
Elias asked Boutsis if the Board could have oversight including recommendations for revocation “or more instruction to the City because they may not have capability of oversight because of staffing.”
 
Boutsis said she would give it more thought and put the item on the agenda for a discussion in October.
 
 
 

il giardino called out for bad behavior

Ocean Drive


Susan Askew
Susan Askew
planning board will consider sanctions in september