Miami Beach Ballot Question Regarding Qualifications for Board of Adjustment

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Ballot Question Regarding Qualifications for Board of Adjustment:

Three perspectives

Update August 29, 2018
Miami Beach voters approved a change in the composition of the Board of Adjustment by a vote of 6,731 to 3,679.

Ballot Question 1 “to change the composition of two of the seven members of the city's Board of Adjustment [the Zoning Board that hears appeals from rulings of the Planning Director and rules on variance requests that are not heard by the Design Review Board or the Historic Preservation Board.]”
In general, the issue involves a discrepancy between the City Charter and City Code. Current Code allows for two at-large members but the Charter does not. Under the Charter, the Board must be composed of one representative from each of seven specified professions: law, architecture, engineering, real estate development, accounting, financial consultant, and general business.
Sponsor Commissioner Michael Góngora gave us the background:  “At the beginning of the year we learned that the Board of Adjustment was not properly comprised in 2017. Specifically, two members Richard Baron and Heidi Tandy were serving in at-large positions,” an arrangement allowed under the City Code but which is in conflict with the City’s Charter. Although the Commission wanted to re-appoint Tandy, it could not. Tandy is an attorney as is Baron. That opened a vacancy that required filling with an engineer or architect.
“One seat sat open half the year until Barry Klein, an architect, expressed interest and I nominated him. Unfortunately, due to stringent ethics law in Miami Beach most architects and engineers do not want to serve since they are then precluded from appearing before the Commission or the land use boards," Góngora wrote in an email. Essentially, they would not be able to work in the City. A ballot question allowing architects and landscape architects to work on projects before City land use boards so long as their projects were not before the board they served on failed in 2016. 
“I sponsored this change which would legalize what the Commission had done in 2017 – namely fill 5 of the seats with the current list of professions and leave 2 open at-large seats. The reasoning is that we should not have seats open for more than 6 months with no applicants. This minor change would allow us to have a larger pool of qualified residents to serve and make sure that the board is filled and functioning at capacity.”
Commissioner John Alemán opposes the question. While it gives the Commission more flexibility in who it appoints, she told us, “It waters down the requirements. It’s saying you don’t need as much technical expertise to sit on this committee. I don’t agree with that when we’re talking about [zoning] variances. The matters that go before the Board, they’re very important to the applicant and also to any other stakeholders that considered themselves to be affected by the variance request, so you want the most prepared, experienced, and skilled people making that judgment call."
“I don’t believe we’ve had a problem staffing the Board because that would be the argument that might sway me, if we were having trouble filing those positions.” Alemán requested a three year review of the vacancies on the Board of Adjustment from the City Clerk’s office which she shared with RE:MiamiBeach. Since January 2016, the only vacancy on the Board was the five-month vacancy when Tandy could not be reappointed and the City needed to find an architect or engineer to serve in the position. “Looking at the Board’s three-year history, the five-month vacancy around Ms. Heidi Tandy’s open spot appears to be episodic and not a chronic challenge in filling the position,” she wrote in an email. She emphasized she did “not want the variance approval process to become a political one because the process is in place as an important threshold."
She said she agrees the Code and Charter should be consistent “but in a way that requires more professional expertise having to do with Board of Adjustment variance requests.” Her preference would be for the Commission to “modify the Code to match the more stringent requirements of the Charter and not vice versa.”  
For another take, community activist Frank Del Vecchio told us in an email, “I would have preferred, if this special provision were to be revised, to have a ballot question transferring jurisdiction over appeals of Planning Director rulings and decisions on certain variances over which the Design Review Board and the Historic Preservation Board do not have jurisdiction, to the Design Review Board and to the Historic Preservation Board... The Board of Adjustment would no longer exist."
He noted, “There are complications in drafting such an amendment, but I believe that would have been a preferable approach to simply relaxing the professional requirements for membership on the appointed Board of Adjustment and retaining it as one of the city's four quasi-judicial land use boards: Planning Board, Design Review Board, Historic Preservation Board, Board of Adjustment [Zoning] Board."

"The additional matters that would be shifted to the Design Review Board and the Historic Preservation Board should not be unduly burdensome.  Customarily, the Board of Adjustment has very few cases to decide at its monthly meetings."

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Susan Askew
Susan Askew
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