The following five candidates are running for the Group II Commission seat:
- Stephen Cohen
- Sabrina Cohen
- Laura Dominguez
- Isaiah Mosley (did not respond)
- Mitch Novak
Please see their responses to our questions below:
Our neighborhood has become the new “entertainment district” because alcohol can be served at some venues indoors until 5AM, outdoors on private property until 5AM, sidewalks until 2AM and live entertainment and rooftop bars are permitted. Yet there are robust limits for alcohol and entertainment in Sunset Harbor and South of Fifth neighborhoods. What commitment will you make to protect our neighborhood specifically on these quality of life issues?
Stephen: I am 100% for allowing residential neighborhoods to ROLLBACK hours for alcohol sales, West Avenue deserves the same rights as other residential neighborhoods. As a resident of West Ave for decades living in the Mirador, Bentley, Waverly, and Floridian, I know we deserve more attention from City Hall. I am not for rooftop bars in residential neighborhoods. We need to respect our neighbors.
Sabrina: The residents of Miami Beach have already voiced their opinion and made their position clear, therefore, I support balancing the needs of residents with businesses. I do want to work with our existing businesses to ensure this is implemented fairly and meets the expectations of our residents. Additionally, the city should be able to provide waivers for special events that benefit the community and this is something that I would look into. That would help balance the resident’s concerns while ensuring businesses have an equal opportunity to showcase their venue.
Laura: My commitment is to be a voice for the residents. To the extent legally possible, I would work with the Legal department and WAVNA to craft legislation to protect this area.
Mitch: I have repeatedly stated I am for a 2AM citywide rollback. I am against open-air entertainment. I have been urging city leaders for nearly a decade to address the open-air entertainment component of the MXE and they have refused to do so. Here’s the commitment I would make: I would bring forth legislation for a uniform 2AM cut-off for alcohol sales, indoor and outdoor. Entertainment needs to be contained inside and there should be no outdoor open-air entertainment establishments. I have spoken against CUPs repeatedly arguing against these intrusive impacts on neighboring residents.
Do you support an ordinance to limit alcohol service 2AM indoors and midnight outdoor from the east side on Alton Road to the Bay?
Stephen: Yes, we need to respect the rights of residents to have quiet and enjoyment. A residential neighborhood should be able to determine the hours for alcohol. We have an entertainment district for late night alcohol sales and entertainment.
Sabrina: Yes. The residents have expressed an interest in limiting alcohol service to reduce crime and blight.
Mitch: Absolutely. We must protect the thousands of residents that live in the West Avenue neighborhood.
Several venues in our neighborhood are “grandfathered-in” to 5AM indoors and 2AM on sidewalk. Would you support an ordinance to repeal the grandfathered venues?
Stephen: Yes, As stated above residential neighborhoods should have control of alcohol hours of operation.
Sabrina: Yes, as long as it is done fairly and all businesses and residents come to an agreement. Dialogue is important between both sides to ensure that there are no lawsuits that end up costing the city more down the road.
Laura: I would support an ordinance to do so if it was determined it was legal. I would not want the city to get into litigation over this matter if it wasn’t clear the city would win.
Mitch: Absolutely. Perhaps years ago, the hours for these venues made sense. But today, the grandfathered status allowing up to 5am is incompatible with the character of the neighborhood and disruptive to residents’ quality of life.
In recent years up-zoning has taken place on Alton Road: height increases, F.A.R. Increases, vacating Alton Alley, and eliminating parking requirements. Our neighborhood fought against many of these zoning changes because the lack of benefit for the neighborhood. What is your philosophy on developers rights vs. publics rights?
Stephen: My campaign is about UNITY working with developers and preservationists to move the city forward while respecting our history. I would only be for more FAR, if it comes with public benefits that the community is for. An example would be changing transient use buildings, (short term rentals) to condos/apts to bring back the residential feel we deserve. Short term rentals do not belong on West Avenue.
Sabrina: As I have stated during my campaign, I believe in taking on irresponsible development that destroys the uniqueness and character of Miami Beach. We need to evaluate each project and determine if there’s a benefit to the city, which may include the following: bring higher-paying jobs, add green spaces and assess the overall design of the project. There may be examples of projects that redevelop an area to ensure a better quality of life for residents and provide public benefits to the city and taxpayers. My philosophy is simple: I will listen to residents’ concerns before making decisions.
Laura: I always believe there should be a clear public benefit in any project asking for a variance. Zoning laws are in place to protect the neighborhoods.
Mitch: Residential rights take precedence over developer special interests. Generally, I’m against height and FAR increases unless there is substantial public benefit. As commissioner, I would bring forth legislation to require voter approval for height increases. As it is today, the commission can add height at its own discretion. For example, on Washington Avenue an increase of 25 feet — from 50 to 75 – to the other extreme, in your neighborhood, from 60 feet to 548 feet! All without any voter input. This will be one of my first initiatives as commissioner.
Hotels, Suite-hotels and bed & breakfast are prohibited in our neighborhood, however over 20 suite-hotels are “grandfathered-in”. If elected would you sponsor legislation to mitigate the negative effects of existing hotel type establishments in our residential neighborhood including: Limit maximum occupancy 2 adults per unit? Require onsite staff?
Stephen: Yes, I would agree with these restrictions and take it much further, I have a plan to add a separate Short Term rental enforcement department, direct phone # to code, and proactive removal of illegal listings.
Sabrina: I fully support mitigating negative effects of these suite-hotels by limiting occupancy and requiring a property manager or someone who can be held accountable on-site to deal with any issues. Our police force should also be more present in these areas to ensure everyone’s safety.
Mitch: Yes. Absolutely, on-site staff for any transient use. As a hotelier for 30 years, I understand the importance of being there at three in the morning. For example, it could be a guest locked, a fire-alarm going off, a water leak, it could be anything.
The commission passed a law to increase height for a 548ft tower at 5th & West Avenue. Can you think of any instance where you would advocate to increase height in the West Ave neighborhood?
Stephen: I do not foresee giving this height increase in our neighborhood, since it came with a large public park. The public park has been an amazing asset for our street and a place to bring the community together.
Sabrina: Height restrictions in Miami Beach are in place based on expert advice as it relates to hurricanes and other safety concerns based on our proximity to the beach. I will advocate for height restrictions and I will listen to residents to ensure their voices are heard.
Mitch: Absolutely not. It should be decided by voters not by the Mayor and Commission.
Our neighborhood is anxiously awaiting for a continuous public Bay Walk from 5th Street to Lincoln Rd. There currently are only small segments open. What obstacles do you feel are keeping it from fully opening and how would you address it?
Stephen: Unfortunately, the city is very slow on getting projects done. I would focus on speeding up these projects and better communication to residents. We need to fix our permit process and focus on finishing projects on time.
Sabrina: Residents want to see this project come to fruition because it will beautify the area and ease pedestrian use. As someone who believes we need to ease the access points between our City, I am fully in favor of this coming to life. If funding remains a barrier to get this projection done, I will work with the Administration and my colleagues to explore funding commitments in our budget to get it done. I am looking forward to seeing the Bay Walk completely finished and I will work with residents to ensure all concerns are addressed.
Laura: I would help lead the charge to complete this project. My late partner, Commissioner Mark Samuelian, was passionate about the Bay Walk and would walk on the open segments almost daily (I would sometimes join him.) I will work hard to ensure this project gets completed. I believe the biggest obstacle may be existing buildings not being completely on board, and I would advocate and any government incentives allowed to any of those buildings.
Mitch: Associations and private developers have made past promises that must be kept. We should have a continuous uninterrupted baywalk and we have been expecting it for nearly 20 years.
West Avenue Neighborhood is undergoing a Phase II street raising project from 8th Street to 17th Street. While residents are in favor of this project, we have concerns on achieving a street scape with outstanding landscaping and shade trees. What commitment will you make to our residents to ensure the end result of this project by the city & contractor addresses our concerns and exceeds expectations?
Stephen: My commitment is better communication to residents, fix the flawed permit process, and stick to timelines. I would also like to see the City help condominiums with expenses due to the road raising, our residents have had enough special assessments.
Sabrina: I will work with our city engineers and contractors to ensure the street scape provides ample shade and proper landscaping. Again, I will work with residents to hear their suggestions. This is our community and we should all have an opportunity to provide our vision for a better Miami Beach.
Laura: I commit to reviewing the plan and ensuring the resident concerns on streetscape are addressed to include the landscaping and shade trees. Mark supported WAVNA and helped make the project better overall.
Mitch: I agree that the project should have outstanding landscaping and shade trees. The West Avenue neighborhood is extremely walkable neighborhood where many residents walk to the store, the beach, and other places. Landscaping and shade are an important amenity for a pedestrian environment. I would strongly advocate for the project to be constructed to meet or exceed expectations.
The number of anchored vessel in the bay have increased substantially over the last few years. The vessels damage our seabed and sea grasses by anchoring indiscriminately and often don not comply with pump-out regulations for their waste which results in raw sewage being discharge directly into our waters. How do you plan to better enforce laws prohibiting boaters from degrading the waters in our bay? Do you support the currently proposed mooring field off West Avenue?
Stephen: Yes, I am for the mooring field. I would also like to see a dedicated enforcement on the water for our neighborhood, We need to be proactive enforcing illegal wave runners and boat rentals, that have proliferated in the last few years.
Sabrina: A mooring field would allow more state enforcement and that would limit the derelict vessels and other problems associated with them, which include the raw sewage being dumped into our Bay. I definitely support any proposal that would increase law enforcement to prevent these vessels from acting on an “anything goes” attitude that create problems and reduce our quality of life.
Laura: I believe the mooring field is a good option to help regulate the boats, and it is necessary to save our bay.
Mitch: Absolutely. I support the proposed mooring field which would help control the chaos on the waters and bring a more orderly situation to Biscayne Bay adjacent to the West Ave neighborhood. In the meantime, current environmental laws regarding waste discharge must be diligently enforced by the applicable authorities, including city personnel.
We know one factor that makes any City great is its history. Unfortunately, a lot of our history is being lost with the demolition of the Deauville. Furthermore, without last minute intervention, the iconic mural of the Wells Fargo building would have been lost to history also. What is your vision for Miami Beach and how would you propose implementing it?
Stephen: I fought for the preservation of the Murals at City Hall many years ago and spoke to have them saved. We need to make sure developers follow thru on their agreements. The Deauville should have been saved many years ago, as the city allowed the building fall into disrepair. We need to make sure developers follow the laws and maintain their buildings. We can not allow demolition by neglect to happen again and preserve our history. I am happy the new developer (if passed) has agreed to give millions to affordable housing and hope they work with the preservation community.
Sabrina: I see Miami Beach as an iconic destination that provides inspiration to other cities who point to us as a model for smart development. I see Miami Beach as an example of a city that has embraced its Art Deco architectural features. This is what has put us on the map and by embracing our history we are setting ourselves apart and defining our values. I value our city and I am committed to ensuring our history always has a place in our city
Laura: I am a longstanding member of MDPL, and historic preservation is important to our city. I would sponsor legislation and also funding to preserve historic structures and artwork where warranted and also allow for sensible development where needed.
Mitch: I have been fighting demolition by neglect for decades. In addition, I’ve successfully fought to save the Apollo Mural which is currently being restored and slated to be installed onto the new Fire Station No 1 on 6th Street. Respect for and preservation of the past along with its sensible integration into the future is what makes a city great. Miami Beach, a city of just over a century old, must respect the little history it has. If you don’t believe, just take a look at some of the nearby cities that have not.
Thank you to our candidates for providing responses to our questions.