Tag Archives: City of Miami

An Email to the City of Miami & An Open Letter to Miami Taxpayers — The David Winker Affair; Part Three

The begining of The Deep Dive

Wake up, Miami taxpayers. You’re being played for suckers…again. And, by the same gang of [alleged] crooks that fleeced you once before.

Everything old is new again.

I’m currently reading America’s Casablanca: A “True Novel” about Miami’s Emergence from Bankruptcy and Corruption by Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, (published in 2019). Someone I highly respect touted this book when I was recently ranting about unfettered Miami Corruption.  This book is look at Miami politics from the inside.

Quick bio: Garcia-Pedrosa is a Cuban-American, moving to Miami as a child, where he finished high school, doing well enough to get a scholarship to Harvard (according to the blurb on the back of the book). After collecting a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law, he returned to Miami, where he championed the causes of Cuban exiles. Over the years he worked on many cases, including pro bono on behalf of Elián González, the child who became an international Tug of War between Cuba and ‘Merka that roiled Miami’s large — and politically powerful — Cuban community.

Where Garcia-Pedrosa fits into the Miami Corruption Tapestry: He later went on to become City Manager of Miami Beach. Not long after that, he joined the Big Leagues. He was hired as City Manager for the City of Miami when Magic City was going through a whole lot of misery, for a number of reasons. His service to the city lasted only 5 months. A very rocky 5 months. During the last 2 weeks of his short tenure, he was fired 3 separate times. As the Sun Sentinel tells us, the third time was the charm:

He asked the City Commission, which supports him, to let stand his final dismissal by Mayor Joe Carollo.

But Garcia-Pedrosa got in a parting shot against Carollo, saying the mayor used “seven or eight different and false excuses” to fire him.

“The residents of Miami do not deserve such dishonorable conduct by Mr. Carollo,” he wrote in a statement.

Bottom line: Miami has been dealing with batshit Crazy Joe Carollo — one way or another — for some 3 decades. Xavier Suarez has been kicking around just as long (although voters just put him out to pasture again; he recently lost an election to become Miami-Dade County Mayor). These politicians don’t go away when they are term-limited. They just recycle themselves, up, down, or sideways.

Back to our narrative, which is already in progress: The Miami mayor who hired Garcia-Pedrosa as City Manager in 1997 was kicked out of office for voter fraud soon afterwards. That’s the aforementioned Xavier Suarez. Suarez was the first Cuban-born mayor of the City of Miami way back in 1985.

Crazy Joe Carollo pops up in Part One and Part Two
of The David Winker Affair. This is Part Three.

From here on in, I am renaming this series
The Miami Corruption Tapestry.”

Suarez eventually retired from politics to spend more time with his family. Maybe 4 years was all his family could stand because in 1997 he ran for Mayor again and was reelected again.

The ’97 mayoral campaign was an ugly one, but Suarez eventually defeated <checks notes> Crazy Joe Carollo. Then Crazy Joe challenged some absentee ballots as fraudulent and won. [Maybe this is where Mad King Trump gets it from.] Suarez was never officially accused, but the rumours flew. Nevertheless his election was overturned and the office was given to <checks notes> Crazy Joe Carollo, who keeps turning up in every corner of my Miami Corruption Tapestry. Carollo did not win reelection in 2001.

Suarez went on to become Miami-Dade County Commissioner for District 7 and, eventually, Carollo went on to become a City of Miami Commissioner, which is when he first appeared on my radar. One takeaway from the Carollo years I’ve personally witnessed — and everything I have read — is that he’s still crazy after all these years. 


And, Crazy Joe is still costing the city untold dollars in legal fees. Tangent over.

Here’s my basic point, even tho’ I took so long to make it: The same people have been picking the pockets of Miami taxpayers for decades — going back before the madness of 1997. Then Miami voters forgot all about the madness of ’97 and kept electing these same rapscallions, as if none of it ever happened. And, as if it didn’t cost the City of Miami both money and reputation while it was happening.

There will be more on Garcia-Pedrosa’s book in later chapters of The Miami Corruption Tapestry, but The David Winker Affair is just a continuation of decades of corruption.

When The David Winker Affair broke, I sent an email to the entire hierarchy of the City of Miami government seeking to get to the bottom of this travesty. I am still waiting for a reply.

Here it is:

Date: August 22, 2020
From: Headly Westerfield

CC List: Adele Valencia, avalencia@miamigov.com , Mayor Francis Suarez, fsuarez@miamigov.com, City Manager Arthur Noriega, anoriega@miamigov.com, City Clerk Todd B. Hannon,  clerks@miamigov.com, City Attorney Victoria Méndez, VMendez@miamigov.com, Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, District 1,  adiazdelaportilla@miamigov.com, Commissioner Ken Russell, District 2, krussell@miamigov.com, Commissioner Joe Carollo, District 3,  jcarollo@miamigov.com, Commissioner Manolo Reyes, District 4, mreyes@miamigov.com, Commissioner Keon Hardemon, District 5,  KHardemon@miamigov.com, dwinker@dwrlc.com

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television. I am a semi-retired, freelance investigative journalist who has been writing about Miami issues, on and off, for about a decade.

Most recently I was made aware of the David Winker story, which intrigued me as a classic case of corruption: The city coming down hard on a man who has launched several lawsuits against the city and won most of them. What intrigued me most was that a 65+ page dossier was produced, and the document was used to start Code Compliance inspections.

It took me a while to obtain this file. To her credit, Department Head Adele Valencia only passed along the specific property complaints (not the entire dossier) to her Compliance officers. Violations were noted and posted. It is my understanding that these violations are being disputed, as is the right of every Miami homeowner or business cited.

However, after a far more careful reading of this dossier, I have come to several conclusions:

1). This is the type of document usually prepared by a private investigator as oppo research against a candidate;
2). At one point it appears as if David Winker was under personal surveillance at a location away from his home, i.e. stalking;
3). And, most importantly, these documents were obtained through fraud, which may have contravened federal laws.

I draw your attention to Page 1 of Exhibit B in the dossier. About 2/3rds of the way down the page it says, “Your Social Security Number has been verified. Thank you.”

This means that someone fraudulently used Mr. Winker’s Social Security Number on 7/27/2020 at 10:02:44 PM [according to the upper right-hand corner of the next page] to obtain this exhibit. Exhibit C, and maybe a few others, appear to have been obtained through the same illegal means. Other exhibits are publicly available docs that anyone can access.

I request answers to the following questions:

1). Have you ever reported an address to Code Compliance for inspection? If yes: Was it an address within your District?

2). Do the records of Code Compliance Violations come across your desk as a regular occurrence, or do you need to request them to stay up-to-date? [Ms. Valencia is exempt from this question, unless she’d like to volunteer some information I may be unaware of.]

3). Do you support the use of city resources to whack opponents over political disagreements? If no, what do you intend to do about it?

4). What is the current status of the Violations posted at Mr. Winker’s door, case number CE2020014267?

5). Is the accessory use permit fee just a tax grab, especially in the era of The COVID?

David Winker is not the first victim of Code Compliance being used as a cudgel. There are media reports going back several years that Code Compliance was used against the enemies of Commissioner Carollo. Those people subsequently used Code Compliance against the Commissioner 9 months later.

However, Mr. Winker’s case is the most egregious because of the way the information was obtained and how the city allowed this colonoscopy, based on a dirty dossier [I can’t believe I just typed that], to initiate a simple Code Compliance Complaint.

None of this is because David Winker is “scum”, a word I recently saw used against him on Twitter. This was done to punch back at an activist lawyer who has been holding the City of Miami accountable. Possibly, and more importantly, it’s also a shot across the bow of anyone who might want to fight city hall, as Commissioner Russell once did.

6). Don’t you feel just a teensy-weensy bit dirty being used this way?

7). Has the City of Miami begun an investigation into how these documents were fraudulently obtained? Who illegally obtained them? Who illegally distributed them to Miami City Hall? [There may be different answers to each of those questions.] If not, why not? If not, it would appear as if the city is a willing co-conspirator to a form of identity theft, a federal crime.

8). Are you aware that just a little bit of the information contained within this file could lead to Identity Theft (which appears to have already happened to have obtained Exhibit B)?

9). Does the city know how many people have received this dossier, with all its private and personal data? I ask because I have a copy and I never should have seen it.

I am on deadline and would appreciate as fast a turnaround as you can. If I publish before you reply, and your reply changes anything within my article, I will update my story.

You can also phone me at ███-███-████, but I prefer stuff to be on the record. Email is always best.


As I say, I am still waiting on an answer from someone — anyone — in the city. Are there any questions I forgot to ask?

Stay tuned for Part Four of The David Winker Affair, aka The Miami Corruption Tapestry.

We’re Getting the Band Back Together ► Unpacking The Writer

11/25/15: When Ken Russell arrives to take the oath of office, his spot is already reserved.

Hello again, Not Now Silly fans. Did you miss me? I missed you.

When we last spoke with any regularity, I was in the process of mothballing the Not Now Silly Newsroom. For those who missed it. I put this blog on hiatus after I signed a non-disclosure agreement with Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell.

[Yes, that’s right. I have something in common with Stormy Daniels.]

I had approached him, pitching the idea of a book. I believe Russell’s story is one of those quintessential ‘Merkin stories: Young family man wakes up to city-made environmental disaster right outside his front door, fights inadequate backroom city hall remediation, effects adequate clean-up, gets bitten by the civic improvement bug, runs for public office a year later, and is elected to replace the [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner with whom he battled. Of course I would have fleshed it out a little, starting with his father’s patent for mass producing the famous Russell Yo-Yo, which has been licensed by everybody from Sprite to Daft Punk.

After kicking around several ideas we both had — and various formats we could shoe-horn them into — Russell agreed to collaborate with me on a book. That’s when we signed the non-disclosure agreement that said I couldn’t reveal anything I learned from Russell until an eventual book came out. He couldn’t reveal anything I told him either, but what could I tell him?

Something that began to drive me nuts: This was the first time in all my years as an investigative journalist when I had some great, inside information, but couldn’t report on it due to the NDA. Russell called it the price of access. I called it an itch I couldn’t scratch.

After we agreed to this book project, Russell announced he was running for Florida Congressional District 27. Suddenly the stakes for the eventual book became a whole lot higher. I was gratified he trusted me enough to write his official biography, but knew the project had just become a whole lot more daunting and important.

Since then I’ve done hours and hours of interviews with Russell [every Sunday at 1PM for months], embedded with him on various civic duties, and talked to many people about him. As my research continued, the contours of the book began to take shape. However, I still had a long way to go; and the time in which to do it. The primary wouldn’t be until the summer and, if Russell won that, the general election in November. That would be the obvious place(s) to end any such a book, even though it wasn’t what I envisioned when I originally had this idea.

A rare quiet moment at the 2nd Annual Hash Bash Cup

While returning from a recent Road Trip [to Ann Arbor to cover the 2nd Annual Hash Bash Cup, which will eventually be part of a much larger article here], I decided to detour slightly to Covington, KY. Covington is just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, but — more importantly — Covington is where Ken Russell’s father, Luther Jackson “Jack” Russell grew up in the ’20s and ’30s, almost a century ago. I wanted to see if I could find the Five & Dime in which Russell’s father demonstrated Yo-Yos as a teen for cigarette money.

Because I wasn’t sure I’d have time for this side trip, I didn’t tell Russell until it was confirmed in the itinerary. Here’s our text exchange:

ME: Hey there! Remember me? [Every one of my texts to him start the same way.] I have the opportunity to go Covington Kentucky tomorrow. It will add about a half a day to my trip. So, what’s new with you?
KR: I just quit the congressional run. I’m sticking around. Sorry I couldn’t tell you earlier, but I just decided yesterday.

IRONY ALERT: I didn’t know Russell had just announced he was withdrawing from the race when I asked, “So, what’s new with you?”

IRONY ALERT #2: I sent my text to him earlier that morning. By the time Russell responded I was in Elyria, Ohio, explaining to painter David Pavlak about the book I was writing about a politician. Pavlak saw the book project fall apart in real time as I was telling him how excited I was to be writing the book.

So . . . all that to explain why I’m kick-starting the Not Now Silly Newsroom. I wouldn’t be surprised if the engine runs a little rough for the next little while. It’s probably going to need points and plugs, and other enginey things that I can only imagine (because I’m not mechanical and rusty on metaphor).

I have a few ideas for some investigative stories, some of which have been percolating for a long time. I will also be relaunching UpLyfting Thoughts as UberLyfting Thoughts, adding new Throwback Thursdays and Saturday Morning Cartoons to the mix, and dropping new posts under the various other rubrics here.

Stay tuned, folks, and welcome back.

See Something; Say Something In West Grove

Since my last visit the house has
been cited for a by law infraction.

When I attended the meeting at Plymouth Congregational Church for South Grove residents to complain that developers have been allowed to get away with lot splitting and building Big White Boxes in their exclusive neighbourhood, there was one repeated piece of advice from the Miami officials to the homeowners:

If you see something?
Say something! 
As I wrote in Coconut Grove in Black and White:

Meanwhile, South Grove residents were told on Wednesday night if they
see anything hinky happening in their neighbourhood — from illegal
tree-cutting to demolitions without a permit — to call By-Law
Enforcement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they respond a lot
quicker than they have to this disaster on Charles Avenue in West Grove.

That disaster on Charles Avenue was finally cleaned up. However, it took over 6 weeks to get a gigantic pile of demolished house removed.

Maybe “See something; Say something” is advise that only applies to the residents of South Grove. Because last week, in Unpacking Coconut Grove & The Writer, I introduced you to 3678 William Avenue, a house on the next block over from Charles. Very little has changed since I visited.

This won’t deter any kids, the homeless, or crackheads.

As I was taking pictures last week I listened to someone on their cell phone reporting the address to City of Miami officials. It had already been reported to the NET office previously, according to my source.

The only thing that’s changed since last week is that Miami inspectors cited the house for a By Law infraction. Additionally, a lock has been placed on the front gate, presumably by the owner because that’s not the kind of thing the city does. However, that fence is 3 feet tall, tops. Any child older than 2 can easily climb over it, which is what the reports are meant to prevent.

Unlocked houses are attractive to kids. When I was taking my pictures last week there were a couple of kids playing in the street right outside the house. I know if I lived in the neighbourhood I’d have been all over this place as a kid.

The house remains unlocked and open to anyone who wants to get inside.

It really does no good to just slap a By Law infraction notice on the house and a bicycle lock on a gate that anyone can climb over. This house needs to be sealed. Children can get seriously hurt in it. There are signs that people have been sleeping in it and it is a potential safe haven for crackheads.

According to the City of Miami property search website this house is owned by LEMANO INVESTMENTS LLC. , a company that owns 19 other properties in Miami, the only place that I’ve bothered to search. The registered agent’s name & address is: MOYAL ACCOUNTING SERVICES INC, 10796 PINES BLVD, SUITE 204, PEMBROKE PINES, FL 33026. The manager of that company is listed as HENRY, FREDERIC, 2550 SOUTH BAYSHORE DRIVE, COCONUT GROVE, FL 33133, a pretty ritzy address, if you ask me. I can’t imagine why they cannot afford to buy a few pieces of wood to seal this house. Maybe somebody from the city should give them a call and ask.

BTW: Along with the notice slapped on the house, the city sends a registered letter to the owner. However, it needs to be asked: How many previous citations have been slapped on this house since I first started taking pics of it 7 years ago?

If the owner won’t do the right thing, the City of Miami needs to show up with some plywood and seal the front and back doors and charge it back to the owner. From my understanding this house has been reported to the City of Miami enough times that the city might find itself legally liable if something terrible were to happen now.

I ended Coconut Grove in Black and White by drawing a stark camparison between West Grove and South Grove:

As South Grove meets with their elected representatives, West Grove is
as ignored as ever. As South Grove begins the task of forming a
Homeowners Association, West Grove is quietly gentrified without anyone
noticing. When will West Grove get the same kind of attention from the
City of Miami as South Grove? 

Would this disaster have gone this long in South Grove without the city taking action? Or is “See something; Say something” just an empty slogan — like FAIR & BALANCED — no matter what part of District 2 you live in?

Inquiring minds want — no, need — to know.

Trolleygate Sputters Back To Life

As the first journalist to write about Trolleygate, I couldn’t help but chortle over yesterday’s Miami Herald story about the white elephant also known as the Trolley Folly:

Why is this so funny? Let me count the ways:


2). The Miami Herald covering something in West Grove? It only seem to do that when there’s been a shooting.

The Herald seemed quite incurious about Trolleygate while it was happening. At the time everyone in West Grove knew how their [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff, had sold them down the river. [How apt: A slavery reference.] However, the Miami Herald never reported on that aspect of the story, which allowed Sarnoff to slip away again.

3). I couldn’t help but be struck by the total lack of specificity in the article. I spoke to Commissioner Ken Russel by phone last evening, after this article was printed. He tells me he was not only misquoted by David Smiley, but he left out an important part of what was said.

Commissioner Russell says he told Smiley that he wasn’t going to do anything without input from West Grove, since those were the folks adversely affected by this bone-headed decision in the first place. [My paraphrase.]

3). This is not much of a scoop on the Herald’s part. Just like Trolleygate, I was there first. On November 12th I posted a short interview conducted with Commissioner-elect Russell in which we had this exchange:

NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage.
I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot
of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what
should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s
been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be
converted into something that builds up the community.

A community center would certainly do that.

4). While I am total agreement with Commissioner Ken Russell that a community center would be a good use for this building, and that West Grove could certainly use one, I can’t help but think this is just throwing good money after bad.

I’ve never seen a full accounting of how much money Miami flushed down the drain defending the building of this diesel garage that would have only served Coal Gables, a totally different city next door. However, there were several lawsuits launched against Miami, Coral Gables, and Astor Trolley. In the end it was determined that Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Every penny Miami spent to defend the out of town developer, over the interests of the community and its own constituents, was money wasted.

And, now the city may spend almost $4 million to, basically, get everyone off the hook.

5). If it were in my power I’d rename this building Marc Sarnoff’s White Elephant. As I have written previously, Sarnoff worked tirelessly on behalf of the developer to get this project approved. He set one neighbourhood group against another. He offered one of those groups a kind of bribe to not fight the garage. At a public meeting I attended he threatened West Grove neighbours with withdrawing his support for building Gibson Plaza. He also suggested he didn’t have to back the infilling of new homes in the neighbourhood if they didn’t play along. It was Sarnoff’s performance at this community meeting that prompted me to write Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

However, Sarnoff was able to walk away without any of the blame — which the Miami Herald helped by not reporting on it — that should have been his due for having screwed his own constituents on behalf of an out of town developer.

6). This paragraph really jumped out at me:

[Developer Henry] Torres disputes that he or the city tried to ram the warehouse down the throats of unsuspecting West Grove residents, but he said he’s had previous discussions with Miami officials about selling the building to the city. There was talk at one point about a police substation, or a Bahamian consulate. Still, he said he hadn’t heard anything about Russell’s interest, or even received a call from the commissioner — which he found somewhat presumptuous.

This is simply not true. While Torres may not have PERSONALLY tried to ram the (((WAREHOUSE?))) down the throats of West Grove residents, he didn’t have to. Marc Sarnoff greased the wheels, slicked the tracks, and got this through “faster than a hot knife through butter,” as one of my sources put it at the time.

However, as I reported in BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces, one eagle-eyed city Planning & Zoning drone named Dakota Hendon realized that the Miami21 plan would not allow this use of a building on that street and sent an email to his boss:

have a bit of a problem. The Coral Gables Trolley Station that I met
with you and the applicant on a few weeks ago appears to not be an
allowable use as we had originally anticipated. See the definition of
Auto-related industrial below. I believe this is specifically an
industrial use. At this point, they have already submitted for the
Warrant and action needs to be taken to stop the application.
Additionally, IDR was adamantly against the project in the specific
location.  Please call me to discuss at your convenience. 

Industrial Establishment: A facility conducting activities associated
with the repair or maintenance of motor vehicles, trailers, and similar
large mechanical equipment; paint and body work; major overhaul of
engine or engine parts; vehicle impound or wrecking yard; outdoor
vehicle sales, storage or repair; and government vehicle maintenance
facilities. This includes auto related Uses not otherwise allowed within
the commercial auto related establishment category.

So, what did the city of Miami do? It got Henry Torres, or underlings that work for him, to withdraw the application and then resubmit the application. They were identical, except that the new one didn’t talk about vehicle maintenance and repair. The new application made it sound as if it was just going to be a passive (((WAREHOUSE?))) of diesel trolley buses (an oxymoron. Trolleys are electric.).

When I discovered this memo I tried to find Dakota Hendon to see how this building got approved when he said it was non-conforming. Surprise! He no longer worked for the City of Miami. I actually tracked him to his new job in New York and left several messages. I never got a reply.

However, I’m starting to think it’s important that his boss was Francisco Garcia, City of Miami Planning Director. 

7). I had never met Francisco Garcia before I wrote Coconut Grove in Black and White, just another look at the disparity between Black and White neighbourhoods in Miami. Not only hadn’t I met him, but I didn’t remember he was the recipient of Dakota Hendon’s email (see above). Even dumber on my part: I had forgotten I had actually written about him in that post and, furthermore, asked some pointed questions of him:

1). Why does the written record end with the email from Hendon;
2). Did he follow up Hendon;
3). Who approved this project;
4). What contact did he have with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff over this project;
5). What contact did he have with Astor Development. 

If I had remembered all that I might not have walked up to him in that meeting to whisper in his ear. I wanted to ask him why South Grove was getting all this attention when
West Grove has trouble getting house rubble removed in under 6 weeks. I
also wanted to ask him about the NCD-2 rules (West Grove), which are different from
the NCD-3 rules (South Grove). My source told me that Garcia could answer all my questions.

I waited until he was not answering questions or batting back insults from the South Grove residents and was standing quietly on the side of the room. I handed him my card and said, “Headly Westerfield. I don’t want to waste your time at this meeting, or the meeting’s time, but I’d like to interview you about the NCDs.”

As he gave me his card, I can distinctly remember Francisco Garcia’s exact response, word for word: “I’d be happy to talk to you.”

However, he lied.

He has not responded to my several phone calls, which started the following day. Nor has he replied to my 3 emails. I’ve started CCing Commissioner Russell’s office in my emails to Garcia’s office.

Something tells me he’s dodging me.

That’s why I’m in the middle of a MASSIVE Freedom of Information request to the City of Miami’s Planning & Zoning Office. I’ll get what I need.

8). This article is a piece of crap. If the Miami Herald cared about the community, it might have published some of the above. If I can prove all of this, why can’t the Miami Herald with its humongous resources? Instead the Herald played along by calling this a (((WAREHOUSE?))), as opposed to a polluting diesel maintenance facility, the thing it was designed to be. Once again the Herald is protecting powerful people responsible for wasting shit loads of taxpayers dollars.

Reading that article you’d think it was the poor developer who was the victim, as opposed to West Grove that has had to suffer from systemic racism since their Bahamian ancestors built Coconut Grove with their own hands. Henry Torres will make his money back (and then some, it seems).

Marc Sarnoff got away scott free.

Dakota Hendon seems to have landed on his feet.

And, Francisco Garcia continues to make decisions in favour of developers that adversely affect the current residents of the neighbourhoods.

I went to the craziest Planning & Zoning meeting the other night hoping to confront Francisco Garcia. Sadly he wasn’t there. It was an appeal of a development in South Grove. After all the yadda yadda yadda it was decided — get this — that the Planning & Zoning department would follow the Miami21 plan when approving permits and warrants. That’s almost a tacit admission that it hasn’t been up to now. [See above.]

Smiley ended his article with this and made it a Patented Miami Herald Feel Good Story™:

But that idea [of a community center] sounds good to [Clarice] Cooper. And to [Anthony] Alfieri, the UM professor, it also sounds right.

“Given the West Grove’s Jim Crow history of municipal segregation in housing, education, and even public water access, and the current exploitation and displacement of long time West Grove residents,” Alfieri said, “Commissioner Russell’s proposed community center at the site of the misbegotten trolley garage is an important public policy initiative both to remedy past wrongs and to preserve and strengthen the surviving West Grove community.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I also made a proposal for the Trolleygate building, which appears to have been rejected.

Interview With District 2’s Ken Russell

Ken Russell, potential Commissioner-elect for District 2
while the Veterans’ Day commemoration gathers to march

I originally met potential Commissioner-elect Ken Russell way back when — during Soilgate — when I called out of the blue to interview him.

We met at a local coffee shop just as it appeared his battle with [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was finished. It was an epic battle over the toxic soil in Merrie Christmas Park and, in the end, the residents got the kind of toxic soil remediation they felt their children deserved.

While it appeared as if Merrie Christmas Park would be re-mediated properly, I was surprised when he moved on to his next concern, which was all the other toxic parks in the city. Russell was genuinely concerned that those residents might not have enough clout, or enough money, to hire a lawyer like he and his neighbours had. That’s when I knew Ken was about far more than his own property values. He had a Social Justice bone.

He wasn’t doing it for effect. At the time Russell had no intention to run for office, but the fight over toxic soil made him feel that he could do better than the current Commissioner. And, the secrecy in
which [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff went behind the backs of the residents, breaking several laws about proper notification for a Brownfield Site — not to mention when he lied to this reporter that it had never been so designated — told Russell there must be a better way to conduct city business on behalf of constituents.

It’s a sign!!!
The Veterans’ Day Parade marched right past this.

When he later declared he was running for District 2 Commissioner, Russell made transparency one of the cornerstones of his platform.

In one of the craziest election finishes in Miami history, Ken is engaged in a runoff election with wife of term-limited Teresa Sarnoff. However, with Sarnoff withdrawing from the race, the city lawyer says the runoff will still be held, but that votes for Teresa Sarnoff won’t count. Yet, Democracy dictates that the votes count and Ken maintains that he’s still in it to win it. He wants a clear mandate, so he’s still campaigning for every vote on November 17th.

Russell agreed to a sit down interview and suggested we meet in West Grove after the Veterans’ Day commemoration. As I drove down I couldn’t help but wonder if he had chosen the perfect photo op for a politician, or whether it was simply to accommodate me. I requested an interview, but told him it had to be on Wednesday because that was the only day I had free. I left it up to him to choose the time.

That we met in Coconut Grove for this interview seems appropriate because that’s where he received his highest support, with a nearly 20% turnout. It’s also the area I’ve been researching extensively since 2006. Watching Russell work the crowd was nothing like watching a politician work a crowd. There were enough hugs, kisses, handshakes, and genuine warmth in both directions, that it was obvious that Russell is already well-liked by this part of his potential constituency.

Russell surprised me by sitting in the grass his suit for this interview.

NNS: You’re making up for a politician that was reviled in this district. How are you planning to overcome that?

KEN RUSSELL: It’s true that part of the reason I got involved was seeing how my Commissioner operated and seeing how I felt things could be done better. The day he’s out of office, the day I get into office, that’s the first step and it’s really not that hard. A new tone, a new communication, a new conversation with the neighbours.

I’m already being told, and I’m not even in there, that this already feels different than it has for the last 9 years. So, the first step is to be open and even that, at the very least, wasn’t done to my understanding. And, that comes easy for me.

NNS: Especially in this neighbourhood of West Grove, the people here kinda felt burned by promises made years ago that were never fulfilled. Yet, you were able to overcome that to get a 20% turnout at the polls that went overwhelmingly to you. How are you going to keep that bridge open to the community?

KR: The community’s going to keep that bridge open. At this point, I owe so much to this area that I don’t even have a choice of closing the door. It’s too important. It’s been vocalized and it’s been publicized well enough where my heart is, that I couldn’t turn back if I wanted to, and I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the West Grove and, despite advice I received early on, I could see that there was a community here with a lot to lose, that would turn up at the polls if they felt they had an advocate.

NNS: And, you’re going to be that advocate?

KR: Absolutely. I’ll be the best that I can.

NNS: One of the things I did during the elections is I did door knocks with you in various neighbourhoods. Where do you think your biggest support was coming from overall?

KR: I knocked [on] over 2,000 doors during the 10 month period, all the from the South Grove to the West Grove to Morningside. It was very difficult to knock doors in Brickell and downtown, but we found other ways to reach the community there. The largest support was from the Grove as a whole, all parts of the Grove together. There was nearly a two-to-one margin in my favor at almost every major precinct in the area.

NNS: Do you have any job you want to do on Day One?

KR: Day One is learning for me because I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially within process. I have the intention of what I’d like to accomplish and, as you can see here today, just the conversation, the conversation that we’re having even today with folks, is part of the first step; is part of that first step of giving them a trust [and] a feeling of comfort that their Commissioner is going to be open with them.

NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

KR: Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage. I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be converted into something that builds up the community.

With that Ken Russell was off to a meeting at Miami City Hall, where the learning curve for a new potential Commissioner-elect is steep.

For further reading please see: Soilgate, Trolleygate, [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, and the Anybody But Teresa facebookery, where so many of these issues intertwine.

Follow Up to ” Is Aries Development Coconut Grove’s Biggest Scofflaw?”

On Monday this reporter posted “Is Aries Development Coconut Grove’s Biggest Scofflaw?” 

However, before I even started writing that story I called the Coconut Grove NET office, right at the stroke of 9AM, to make a formal complaint.

I  spoke with a woman named Faye and made it very clear that I was not only calling to register a complaint, but I was also calling as a journalist. I gave her a rundown of the history of the Bicycle Shop being an unsecured construction site last year. I also told her that, although the gate was finally locked, no one ever responded to my phone calls; I left several messages pleading for a callback because the gate was still unlocked a week later. That’s why I made it clear to Faye that I would really like a response this year. I know she took down everything I told her because several times she asked me to slow down so she could catch up.

After hanging up I started writing “Is Aries Development Coconut Grove’s Biggest Scofflaw?” I was hoping to include a response from either the NET office or Code Compliance in my story. However, many hours later, after I had finished the post and still not heard back, I hit the PUBLISH button.

TO BE HONEST: I really had no expectation someone would phone me. I’m still waiting for that call like I’m still waiting for those phone calls from last year.

Later in the day one of my inside governmental sources suggested I email Eli Gutierrez, the City of Miami Code Compliance Director. I sent a Mr. Gutierrez an email with the link to my story and got an IMMEDIATE reply. More accurately, I got a CC:, as Gutierrez emailed one of his code compliance underlings:

Please an [sic] officer to this site first thing in the morning. Let us
know inspection results. Make this a priority. Include the Building
department if you need to.

Damn! I should have gone straight to Gutierrez last year. However, if I recall correctly, his was one of the phone numbers at which I left messages.

No matter, because by Tuesday afternoon the site had been inspected and cited for 3 deficiencies, including my original complaint of an unsecured work site. The other 2 fall into the vacant, abandoned, and blighted rubrics. The pictures that accompany this post were taken by the City of Miami Code Compliance and were sent to me as a result of the inspection.

According to Gutierrez the owner was cited for these infractions and fined $1,000. There is a 10-day window in which the owner, Aries Development [which owns the company that owns the Bicycle Shop], can file an appeal. However, they still need to fix the deficiencies ASAP. The only deficiency that the owner has a chance of correcting within that 10-day window is locking the gate.

However, remember the Aftermath of the Great Miami Tree Massacre? In short: The same developer, as the controller of a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House, was cited for cutting down 4 old trees on that property, contrary to Miami By-Laws. Before any trees can be cut in this city, a landscaping plan must be submitted to the city and a permit obtained before any chopping. The owners were fined $4,000, or $1,000 per tree.

IRONY ALERT: The owner of record was not the party that cut down the trees. Aries Development, which has a 50-year lease on the Stirrup House, were the real culprits.

And here’s where it gets really sticky: A landscaping plan was filed after the fact and approved. Consequently all the fines were expunged. It’s as if the deveoper did nothing wrong whatsoever.

This developer just does what it wants and always seems to escape any real consequences. As the recently retired Miami muckraker Al Crespo might say, “It’s Miami, bitches.”

When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face

Just like on Batman, the lair of the criminals is crooked.

Mea culpa. I should have written this up in December, when it happened, but that would make me merely another reporter to whom [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff lied. That’s hardly news, but better late than never. 

A bit of background. On December 9th I attended the Douglas Park Soilgate Dog and Pony Show. This was merely the latest, fancy, multimedia production, mounted at taxpayers expense by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff in another frantic effort to mollify constituents after they realize they’ve been hoodwinked, as opposed to the elected representative being upfront with his constituents in the first place.

Read about a previous Sarnoff Dog and Pony Show:
The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show

I didn’t write about Douglas Park Soilgate Dog and Pony Show because: 1). It was a total yawnfest, even though at the end of the meeting [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff lied to my face; 2). I really had nothing new to say on the topic after I shot my wad posting Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again in November. That post documented the Sarnoff Skulduggery™ that slicked through Brownfield designations against 6 Miami parks, and 6 adjacent neighbourhoods, before anyone could notice. To quote myself:

[Michelle] Niemeyer is the lawyer who has been advising and working with the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park. She’s managed to help them understand and negotiate the extremely complicated thicket of Miami, Miami-Date, Florida and U.S. environmental laws that go into effect once a neighbourhood has been designated a Brownfield site.

According to Niemeyer, the entire process for designating the 6 neighbourhoods around the toxic parks Brownfield sites was flawed from the get-go. The Brownfield designation was slapped on these neighbourhoods without the proper notification, no matter how many publications in which the city claims it was published. There are supposed to be public meetings before any decisions made and none were held.

During the Douglas Park Soilgate Dog and Pony Show Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo refered to this flawed process in an oblique way and I wanted to get [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff on the record. That’s why right at the end of the Douglas Park Soilgate Dog and Pony Show, I raised my hand to ask a question. Unfortunately, because I had already written about the Sarnoff Skulduggery™, he was prepared for my question. I had barely begun before he cut me off to tell me there had never been a Brownfield designation.

“Does that answer your question?” he challenged.

“No, not really.” And, so I started to ask the question again in a slightly different manner. Once again he cut me off to say there had never been a Brownfield designation.

As I started to ask the question a third time, [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff cut me off again to say the same damned thing. That’s when I gave up. The meeting was breaking up, it was getting loud in the room, and no one really cared about the answer but me. And, even I didn’t care that much because the record shows he is duplicitous liar every time he opens his mouth. However, at least I had him on the record that there was no Brownfield designation, just another lie to a reporter and his own constituents.

[Maybe I didn’t write about the meeting because I’m embarrassed that I allowed [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff to bully me off my question. I kicked myself over and over on the drive home. However, as I have clearly demonstrated, he’s not inclined to answer any questions from me anyway.]

I was reminded of all of this Tuesday when I got an email from Ken Russell announcing Merrie Christmas Park is almost ready to reopen. To remind you, Russell led the neighbour revolt that got the toxic soil removed from Merrie Christmas Park. He’s also recently teased that he’s considering challenging Teresa [is it too early to call her corrupt?] Sarnoff, wife of [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, in the Miami District 2 race, already crowded with 6 people vying to topple the Sarnoff Dynasty.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This reporter runs a kidding-on-the-square Facebook page called ABT – Anybody But Teresa. Come join the fun.

Russell managed to get the park cleaned up to the neighbours’ satisfaction despite the best efforts of [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff to present them with a fait accompli, a bizarre take-it-or-leave-it deal that would have had the neighbours chipping in for the cost of removing the toxic soil.

Yes, you read that right. For some reason [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff thought the residents should pay to remove the toxic soil the city dumped in their local park. As it turned out an anonymous donor coughed up the dough for the toxic soil
remediation and the work went ahead. That’s just another [possibly
illegal] deal [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff
cooked up behind closed doors. So far he has refused to name the
anonymous donor, which pisses all over the Florida Sunshine Law. But, I digress.

In his email Russell reminds his neighbours: 

Brownfield Designation:
Several months ago, the Commissioners quietly voted to declare this and 5 other parks as Brownfield Sites so that they could get money from the State and [be] release[d] from liability after the cleanup.  Through research, we learned that proper notification wasn’t given to residents and that this particular use of the Brownfield [law] wasn’t appropriate.  So the State is not recognizing the City’s ordinance.  However, for us, it’s important that the City officially reverse their decision to declare our neighborhood parks as Brownfields so that there would be no future confusion or stigma.  I received a call from Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo confirming that at the next Commission meeting (not this week), that the Commissioners would bring it back up for a vote to reverser [sic] their earlier vote.

How can a city reverse a vote that [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff tried to tell me to my face had never been made? Because, you see, it’s not just a game of semantics. This affects people’s lives and property values, something that [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff doesn’t seem to understand as he moves all these chess pieces on a board, playing both sides without any oversight.

At the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park Facebook Page Russell elaborated on this Sarnoff lie:

If anyone tells you that the City never designated the 6 parks as Brownfields, ask them about this attached signed approved memo from the City Manager’s office. I have been promised by Alice Bravo (City Deputy Manager) that Sarnoff has promised to un-do the designation through a vote at a Commission meeting later this month.(even though the State never recognized the designation, it’s important that the City withdraw their intention to designate).

If you go to the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park Facebook Page. you will see that Ken Russell has helpfully posted the minutes of the July 24, 2014, Miami City Commission meeting. Because of Sarnoff’s failure to adequately notify the residents around 6 parks and to provide public forums prior to any city vote on Brownfield designations, the motion passed will not be recognized by the State of Florida and now has to be undone. 

This District 2 race is shaping up to be a lot of fun for the Not Now Silly Newsroom.

It’s All Nothing But Words ► Unpacking the Writer

Hello again, dear readers. For newbies: Unpacking the Writer is the monthly series in which I expose some of the wrinkles of being a Writer for Hire.

I’m excited about a new (potential) series I started just this week. I almost called it “Pastoral Letters,” but opted to slot it under the ongoing rubric Unpacking My Detroit instead. Finding An Old Friend is an innocuous title for what could turn out to be an important exchange of ideas, especially for me as I grapple with my place in this world in my 6th decade. If it continues it could be far more revelatory than these monthly Unpacking the Writer episodes. While writing Finding An Old Friend I was conscious that in my head, where I do most of my living, the concept felt like Tuesdays With Morrie, the memoir by another Detroit writer, Mitch Alborn. However, the biggest difference is that Kenny and I are contemporaries. Other differences may reveal themselves.

I was also conscious of how we, as a society, have lost the art of letter writing. I’m no different or, maybe, I’m the worst. I’m terrible at answering letters and email. When I’m not writing the last thing I want to do is write, yannow, so I don’t. Taking coals to Newcastle. Busman’s holiday. Preaching to the choir, Kenny? Whatever you want to call it, it’s a bad habit I’ve developed in my life that has allowed old friends to slip out of the berth of my life.

I’ve already heard back from Pastor Kenny. He sent a one-liner to say that he will be more forthcoming with a reply suitable for publication. He did say my email made his day so I can’t wait to read his reply. And, while he included his phone number and asked me to call, I think I’ll wait for his response, so as not to taint his reply.

If you’re reading this, Kenny, I’m waiting.

It’s been a month of near-frantic writing as the Not Now Silly Newsroom makes its deadlines. Most of those deadlines are self-imposed and loosey-goosey. They can always be pushed off if needs be.

But not all deadlines are so fluid. Just before our last exciting episode Head Writer Headly Westerfield arranged a new leisure time activity for the Not Now Silly Newsroom. It has a hard deadline that can’t be pushed no matter how much of the staff has called in sick. Every week for the last 7, he’s had the entire news team pumping out a new edition of Friday Fox Follies for PoliticusUSA. They are meant to be funny and informative. Your mileage may vary.

The Friday Fox Follies are not the first articles by Westerfield published there. Detroit is the New Conservative Wet Dream and Why Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law Has Got To Go are more than a year old, but as true today as they were when written.

But, it’s not just been Friday Fox Follies keeping the Not Now Silly Newsroom busy.

As long time readers of Not Now Silly will attest, I have been trying to Save The E.W.F. Stirrup House from Demolition by Neglect ever since the first time I laid eyes upon it. After I learned the amazing history of the man who built the house, saving it became an obsession. It should be something other than a Bed and Breakfast for tourists to Coconut Grove. The legacy of E.W.F. Stirrup is too deep and rich for his house to become a commercial enterprise enriching a rapacious developer. It’s the oldest house on Charles Avenue, the oldest street in Miami, and the 2nd oldest house in Miami.

November 17, 2014 – What Demolition by Neglect looks like up close

I’ve been at this for several years without making any discernible progress. Worse yet, there’s been no discernible progress on the house in the entire time I’ve been documenting how it is has been undergoing Demolition by Neglect for nearly a decade at the hands of a rapacious developer. However, between times of research and activity, I get dejected. My campaign to Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House is limited only by my inability to to make my campaign go viral.

Recently, I was energized all over again when I learned there were FINALLY plans on file of the E.W.F. Stirrup House at the City of Miami’s Historical Preservation Office. It took a FOI request to get access at the file. Imagine my disappointment to discover these plans are totally inadequate for historical preservation.

However, having been energized, I wrote a number of posts this month about Coconut Grove, the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Infamous Rapacious Developers:

I have a brand new one coming under the “Bad Neighbour” banner, but this time it’s an entirely different neighbour. It may take another week, or so, to put that one together.

Earlier this week I showed up at the stroke of 8AM and spent
several hours on the public City of Miami computer system researching
several of the Coconut Grove threads I’ve been pulling at for the last
few years to see what can be pulled out of the official records.

Oddly enough, there is only one computer in the entire city
that a member of the public can use to research all the files,
documents, and PDFs collected by the City Clerk. It’s in the City
Clerk’s office, which seems like a very public place to do my very private research. How long before I bump into [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff while using the washroom?

Now that I have been able to read and absorb what I
collected on my 1st visit, my appetite has only been whetted for more. I
think the answers I seek are in that infernal machine somewhere. All I need to
do is stumble upon the right search terms.

Meanwhile, tonight I will be on Miami After Dark, AM880, talking about the E.W.F. Stirrup House and historic preservation. When the podcast is posted, I’ll share it with you all.

At one point I was thinking of this as the new logo. This animation
is merely a proof of concept. Had I not decided against it, I would
have also animated my face in the screen. Maybe I still should.

The other thing that’s still taking place behind the scenes is building the NEW, IMPROVED Not Now Silly Newsroom. With fingers crossed it will launch soon. My web designer in Northern Ireland and I have scheduled a weekly Skype meeting as the pace picks up. I’ve seen the templates and mock-ups. This week I locked in the menus and ordered up a few changes. Meanwhile, my graphic designer is working on a new logo. She’s responsible for the logo at the top of the page, based on an archival picture I found of a Depression Era camp.

This time I’m giving her far more leeway. All I’ve told her is that I prefer a serif font with NOT NOW SILLY on 1 line and NEWSROOM on the next, with both lines taking up an equal width. I have also said it should have gravitas, because this is a fucking newsroom, dammit!!! In order to pretend to be more serious I may also retire the 2 slogans “Home of the Steam Powered Word-0-Matic” and “Your Rest Stop on the Information Highway.” 

However, on second thought, I’m really thinking of keeping the second one.

That’s it. That’s all. See you next month with another exciting episode of Unpacking the Writer, brought to you by The Steam-Powered Word-0-Matic, the only machine of its kind on the innertubes.

The Steam-Powered Word-0-Matic is a labour intensive device, which takes 2 people to operate, but it’s worth it for my readers!!!

Another Charles Avenue Bad Neighbour Update

The empty residential lots are immediately
behind the Charles Avenue Historic Marker.

One of the things the folks who live along Charles Avenue were promised was the valet parking at The Monstrosity would not increase traffic on Charles, designated a Historic Roadway.

Another thing the residents along Charles Avenue were promised is that the two empty lots on the north side of Charles Avenue, across from the E.W.F. Stirrup House (and also controlled by Aries Development) would not be used for parking.

Both of these promises are being broken on a regular basis. Worse still: The residents on Charles Avenue tell this reporter that complaining to the City of Miami has been a waste of their time.

The valets (who — I wish to stress — are innocent freelancers caught in the middle) zip in and out Charles Avenue to get to the lot behind the Coconut Grove Playhouse. Making traffic matters worse, Miami Parking Authority painting an arrow on the ground, directing traffic to an exit on Charles Avenue.

Last night, as the photo on the right depicts, cars were being parked on the empty lot behind the Charles Avenue Historic Marker. This was overflow from the 45 spaces Aries already rents from the Miami Parking Authority behind the Coconut Grove Playhouse.

In addition, I watched a valet park a car in an empty space on the Regions Bank parking lot, where there were 9 other cars parked. It is unknown what arrangements Aries Development has made with Regions Bank, but after my recent dust up with Regions, I may just ask some pointed questions the next time I go in and ask for change for the parking meter.

That all these promises are being broken is important for reasons beyond the additional parking and the traffic problems. I have been assured that the zoning on the two vacant lots across the street from the E.W.F. Stirrup House, on which cars are now being parked, are zoned residential. I’ve been further told that this is the type of zoning that can never be changed. It will always be zoned “single family.”

However, 1). This same official (speaking off the record) who also told me there would never be parking on those residential lots and, if there was, the neighbours should complain [see above]; 2). That’s exactly what everybody said about the E.W.F. Stirrup House, before Aries managed to get the zoning flipped to commercial. Just another example of of how developers get whatever they want in Miami.

TO MAKE A SHORT STORY LONGER: Before Aries Development got its rapacious, grimy hands on these two lots there were cute, little shotgun houses on each. Aries knocked them down to use these lots as a marshaling yard to build The Monstrosity. Later it, apparently defaulted on a loan it had taken out using these lots as collateral. As a result they were sold at auction. However, in a supposedly arm’s-length sale, the property appears to be back under the control of Aries Development. How does that ever happen, except illegally?

Anywho . . . it’s just another example of Aries Development being The Worst Neighbour Ever!!!

Shocker!!! E.W.F. Stirrup House Plans Are Finally On File

CLICK TO ENLARGE: This is the overall plan for the
E.W.F. Stirrup
House and Property. Charles Avenue runs
along the top and
Main Highway is the angled street at the
right. The irregular shape on the bottom half is the Grove
Gardens Residence Condominiums, known in these pages
as The
Monstrosity. To the left of that are two other buildings
belonging to The Monstrosity. What the rest of this post will
concern itself with is the 100′ x 100′ square at the top of the
plan. Of note is how this plan shows a continuous flow from
The Monstrosity through the Stirrup Property to Charles Avenue.

While there has actually
been no approval given to create one
large property from Franklin through to Charles Avenue, the
developer has already removed the 8 foot wall that once separated
two properties. It was done without a demolition permit, as
Aries seems to do
everything: without the proper permits.

It took a FOI request, but Not Now Silly has FINALLY acquired the plans for what Aries Development (read: Gino Falsetto) intends for the E.W.F. Stirrup House — and it’s not good!

These plans are a disaster for those who care about historical preservation. These plans do nothing to maintain the quiet, residential ambiance of Charles Avenue.

A short history lesson: Charles Avenue, originally called Evangelist Street for its many churches, was the first street in Miami. It was laid out by E.W.F. Stirrup himself, slightly off true east/west because he had no surveying tools. Charles has been designated an Historic Roadway and Stirrup’s house has been made an historic site.

Like a bookend, at the far end of Charles Avenue, is the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, named after E.W.F.’s childhood sweetheart. It was once the only place in Miami where Black folk could be buried. To put it simply: The history of Charles Avenue is the beginning of Miami’s history, but it also tells a story unique to this country. Because of the almost single-handed efforts of Mr. Stirrup, Coconut Grove once had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in this country.

These architectural plans take a figurative bulldozer to that rich legacy.

Let me state upfront, in case I’ve not made it abundantly clear in previous posts, that I am totally opposed to turning the E.W.F. Stirrup House into a Bed and Breakfast. A Bed and Breakfast does nothing to honour the legacy of Mr. Stirrup. Furthermore, these plans do nothing to honour the legacy of a Black neighbourhood that’s been
struggling since the very beginning. However, these plans do everything for Aries Development and the continued gentrification of West Grove. To truly honour Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, his house needs to relate to its neighbours on the west, not those in the other directions.

Plans for the E.W.F. Stirrup House have been hard to come by.

The last time this reporter spoke to anyone about plans for the E.W.F. Stirrup Property was around the time of The Great Miami Tree Massacre. Talking to the City of Miami, I learned there were no plans whatsoever on file for the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Of greater concern was that there were no plans on file to cut down the trees on the property. Miami takes its canopy seriously; more seriously than it takes its historic buildings, ironically enough. It’s illegal to cut down trees without the proper permits, which are only issued after a landscaping site plan has been submitted and approved. Because no landscaping plans had been filed, and no permits issued, the city cited and
fined the property owner* $1,000.00 per tree, or $4,000.00 total, and ordered a remediation plan.

CLICK TO ENLARGE: The landscaping plan that was approved after
the fact. This square is all we are going to concern ourselves with.

NB: A landscaping plan was eventually submitted — after the fact — which was eventually approved — after the fact — and all the fines were eventually expunged — after the fact. After all, this IS Miami, where developers get whatever they ask for.

As a result of a Freedom Of Information request, I finally have schematics of what Aries Development intends to do with the E.W.F. Stirrup Property. Gino Falsetto has been saying for years that he intends it to be a Bed and Breakfast. However, “some people say” the original promise was to turn it into a neighbourhood museum. TO BE FAIR: Another neighbourhood faction remembers it always being proposed to be a B&B. Interestingly, neither promise can be found in the City of Miami records. [However, Not Now Silly has recently been given another source of Miami documents to search. There may be more on this aspect of the development coming soon.]

As a novice in studying architectural plans, I took these to an architect who also renovates properties under historic protection. While I thought I had pure gold, I was cautioned not to put too much credence in these plans:

The plans are conceptual at this point and not yet fully compliant with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation of Historic Properties. A process needs to be initiated to designate the property properly if that has not been done yet so that it will be eligible for Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. There is a note on the plans that the developer is seeking compliance with these Standards so that they can access federal historic tax credits and incentives as a part of the financing but there is no evidence that this process has been initiated. The process includes designation as a property individually listed on the National Register or a contributing building as part of a Historic District, then a 3-part application for the Historic Tax Credits through local, state and federal agencies.

This is the note referred to above. It’s the only thing on the entire plan that gives me any hope
that, after almost a decade of Demolition by Neglect, the developer MIGHT do the right thing.

What makes the E.W.F. Stirrup House significant? Read: Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!! Now Honour Your Past

The E.W.F. Stirrup Property plan

A detailed explanation of the E.W.F. Stirrup property plans:

The E.W.F. Stirrup House is the irregular grey structure at the upper left. Currently, it’s the only structure on the property. It’s been undergoing nearly a decade of
Demolition by Neglect. It has still yet to be sealed from the elements and is never secured. [More about that later.]

On the plan the Stirrup House retains its current footprint. However, there is nothing in these 14 pages of plans that speak to what is intended for the renovations that need to take place inside of the house to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast and bring it up to code, while retaining its historical significance. That will remain a mystery until Aries eventually files those plans. I won’t hold my breath.

Bisecting this plan from top to bottom is a paved driveway. I have been
told this won’t be used as a driveway. I don’t believe it for one second. It’s as wide as the
front gate on Charles Avenue, a gate large enough to allow container trucks through. I do not for one minute accept the proposition that cars won’t
be parked along this driveway in the fullness of time. However, if it
pleases you to call it a footpath, who am I to disabuse you of that
silly notion?

The plan indicates a desire to build four additional ‘structures’ on the property. Five, if you include the new fountain. Let’s take them one by one:

CLICK TO ENLARGE: This drawing shows
the New Guest Suites Pavilion as it relates
to the E.W.F. Stirrup House. TO BE FAIR:
At least they are making it look as much like
a Bahamian Conch Style House as possible.

1). Immediately behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House is a brand new proposed structure. On the plans it’s labeled the “New Guest Suites Pavilion.” I’m sure when the preliminary approval was given for a Bed & Breakfast no mention was made of a separate structure on the property to hold bedrooms.That being said, the New Guest Suites Pavilion is composed of, essentially, two 22′ 2″ x 11′ hotel rooms, side by side, under the same roof, with two storage areas along the west wall.

TO BE FAIR: The New Guest Suites Pavilion have been designed to imitate the Bahamian-style Conch house architecture of some other homes in Coconut Grove.

However, these questions needs to be asked: A). Why does Aries Development need two additional guest suites to add to its Bed & Breakfast? B). Isn’t there enough room in the 2-story, historically designated, E.W.F. Stirrup House that Aries already promised to restore?

2). To the east of that structure, past the new fountain, is a small 12′ x 12′ storage shed.

While everyone always needs more storage, isn’t there any place in the 5-storey Monstrosity for storage? Why does Aries need to dump a storage shed on the Stirrup Property?

TO BE [SARCASTIC AND] FAIR: At least they are tucking it out of the way, next to the air conditioners that cool the restaurants in The Monstrosity, which were dumped on the Stirrup Property years ago. In point of fact: The Stirrup Property has always been where Aries dumped whatever it didn’t want to spoil the perfect ambiance of The Monstrosity.

3). Just north of the storage shed is an area called “Terrace” on the plans. It appears to be a large tree surrounded by 4 tables for restaurant seating. No doubt this is related to:

4). The Grill. On the drawing it is called a Parillada [sic] Grill. Not only is it misspelled, but it’s a redundancy since “parrillada” translates to “grill.”

It’s this last feature I find the most offensive, but it’s the clue that everything about this plan has been designed to line the developer’s pockets. Nothing about this plan speaks to the rich history of the original Bahamian community. To my thinking, this plan screams Rich White Hipster, while it doesn’t even whisper Black Historic Preservation.

The Parrillada Grill, as it relates to the E.W.F. Stirrup House (far
left). The floor plan is counterclockwise to actual orientation.

The drawing shows an open-air structure with a roof. Inside there appears to be everything needed for an indoor/outdoor kitchen, including what appears to be BBQ cookers, stovetops, ovens, and fridges.

Surrounding three sides of the Parrillada Grill is a waist-high counter, over which food can be served, with bar stools surrounding it.

How does a Parrillada Grill fit into the overall Charles Avenue Historic Roadway? How does adding all of these amenities to the Stirrup Property benefit the neighbours to the west? It’s clear how it benefits the bad neighbour to the south.

Not Now Silly is filled with five years worth of stories about Aries Development and Gino Falsetto. Each one demonstrates how Aries has been a bad neighbour, failing to maintain the grass on the property and demolishing the interior of the E.W.F. Stirrup House without benefit of a historic preservation plan or demolition permit. Then there’s the removal of the wall and the clear-cutting of the old trees, both also done without permits. Not just a bad neighbour, but a scofflaw besides.

If I were making the decisions, and clearly I’m not, I would refuse to allow Aries Development to expand its little empire before Gino Falsetto has made good on his original promise to RESTORE the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

Lookie: Newly sodded!!! The E.W.F. Stirrup House still ignored.

Why should Gino Falsetto be rewarded with approval for these grandiose plans to turn the E.W.F. Stirrup Property into his own personal fiefdom when he has yet to do the barest minimum to preserve the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the 2nd oldest house in Miami?

However, when Aries needs to pretend there has been some progress, it does something superficial. A few years back, in anticipation of a Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee meeting, it removed all of the vines growing up the back of the house and across the roof. However, in the process it destroyed parts of the house. Now that people have started sniffing around about its plans for the property, Aries laid down sod. Once again, Aries will be able to point at something and say, “See? It’s getting better.”

But, “better” would also mean that Aries is PROTECTING the house. All available evidence points to the opposite. The house has been empty and undergoing Demolition by Neglect for the entire time Aries has held the lease. Aries has yet to even seal the Stirrup House from the elements, which are extremely hard on wooden structures. Water, mold and mildew are its worst enemies and it rains here almost daily.

Front gate left open at 7:15 AM

Furthermore, Aries Development does not even secure the house or the property. This past Saturday morning, at 7:15 AM, this reporter was able to walk right in the unsecured front gate of La Bottega, one of the restaurants on the ground floor of The Monstrosity.

However, even if that front gate were left locked, the fence behind it
is only waist-high and provides no deterrent to those with nefarious
intent. [Original renderings show the waist-high fence was to be as tall as the 6′ gate.]

As I walked through the gate, I stopped several times to take pictures. I did not hide or act furtive. Nor did I rush. No one stopped me. No one challenged me. In fact, I did not see another person the entire half hour I wandered around.

Access to La Bottega’s patio seating.
The E.W.F. Stirrup House is to the right.

Once this gate is navigated, one has free access to The Stirrup Property, through the patio seating at La Bottega. It’s not just early in the morning when no one’s around. It’s all day long. When Calamari, La Bottega and The Taurus are open for business, any of their patrons can access the Stirrup Property.

And, not just patrons. Absolutely anyone. Later in the day, at around noon, I strolled in and walked past the hostess saying, “I need to use the washroom.” But I didn’t. While still within her sight lines I walked past the washrooms, through to La Bottega’s outdoor patio, to the very back of the Stirrup House. There I met a guy who worked for the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums. We had a 15 minute conversation about the house and his boss, Gino Falsetto. I think I told him that his boss is the devil incarnate, but I may have just called him evil. At no time did he ever challenge me for being there and happily engaged in conversation until I excused myself.

7:15 AM: The back door is open. At noon it was open wider.

The back door of the E.W.F. Stirrup House is never locked!!! 

It’s almost as if Aries Development doesn’t REALLY care about the E.W.F. Stirrup House. For all it knows people have been sneaking inside to sleep or smoke crack.

A developer who cares about his investment will make sure it is kept safe. A developer who doesn’t care turns a blind eye to what’s going on, with the hopes that somehow the house, an impediment to his larger plans, might just disappear when no one is looking, either by Demolition by Neglect or fire. Aries Development seems to think that proposing a white picket fence at the front of the property will make people forget nearly a decade of Demolition by Neglect.

I’m here to see that doesn’t happen.

Join the Facebook group Save the
E.W.F. Stirrup House
. Let’s pressure the
city and developer to do the right thing.

[Pictured above are details of the architectural drawings. See the full documents below.]

* The property owner of record is not the rapacious developer who got his grubby mitts on a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, whenever the lessee is delinquent in its commitment to provide upkeep on the property, it’s the owner of record which is cited and fined.

Full architectural drawings: