By ISHEKA N. HARRISON
On Wednesday, December 14, the Miami Gardens City Council unanimously voted no to granting Fallen Leaves Recovery a special exception to operate as a treatment facility in the city’s Planned Corridor Development District (PCD).
A standing room only crowd of residents and stakeholders filled the room voicing concern over several of the city’s agenda items, most notably including the Walden Place Development and Fallen Leaves Recovery. While the Walden Place Development issue was tabled until January 7 due to a technical issue brought up by the developer’s lawyer, Fallen Leaves’ attorney Albert Dotson Jr. of Bilzin Sumberg presented a case on behalf of his client challenging the city’s refusal to grant them a business license.
Located off the Palmetto expressway at 16805 NW 12 Avenue, replacing an old hotel, the facility boasts having a multi-cultural staff committed to the rehabilitation, restoration and recovery of people with substance and drug addictions on its website.
However, many residents are concerned the facility will have an adverse affect on their community including: an increase in crime, lack of safety and slowed economic development.
Nathan Fears, the owner of Fallen Leaves said his goal is not to hurt, but help the Miami Gardens community. He said his facility is offering over $500,000 in scholarships and meeting people at the point of their need.
“We came to Miami Gardens because we service people of color,” Fears told the council when he stood in defense of his facility.
Dotson challenged the city’s decision, saying his client did not stand in violation of the city’s code. “We believe that our use is permitted without a hearing, but the city took the position that we had to go through the special exception process,” Dotson told the South Florida Times. “What’s interesting is if we wanted to put a methadone clinic there we could do that without a hearing; if we wanted to put a hotel there, we could do that; and if we wanted to put a rehabilitation clinic there, we could do that.”
Dotson said since his client’s facility is a combination of all three uses, they didn’t think a hearing would be necessary, nor have a challenge getting approved for a business license.
“If you think about all the activities that we asked to be approved at that hearing, none of the activities are inconsistent with the zoning code or what the residents said they wanted to take place there,” Dotson told the South Florida Times.“For the city to have denied us what we requested, we believe violates a number of federal and state laws and our client is evaluating what course they should take to protect the rights of the people who would be serviced by such a facility.” Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert questioned the accuracy of Dotson’s claim and offered a different point of view.
“I think it might change the character … a hotel, medical office and rehab center separate would be different than one combined,” Gilbert told Dotson.
During public comment at the meeting, current and former Miami Gardens residents (and other stakeholders) voiced both support and opposition for the facility at the meeting.
The mayor cautioned the audience against letting their feelings get the best of them when expressing their views. “The record is not helped in any way by emotion,” Gilbert said.
Former NFL player Marvin Jones’ said his father was a functional alcoholic and he supported Fallen Leaves opening its doors.
“We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend that it (substance addiction) don’t exist, but it does exist,” Jones said. “Some of the things that they’re talking about doing, I’m all for that. It could have made a difference in my life.”
Former mayor Shirley Gibson was one of the residents opposed, citing her belief that the facility was not conducive to positive economic development.
“We are a very fragile city … We have to stay focused on what we want here and how we actually have that facility or those businesses add to the ultimate value of this city moving forward. I do not believe that Fallen Leaves meets that category for us,” Gibson said.
Dotson said he believes the law is on his client’s side and they are considering what recourse to take.
“All three of those uses can take place on that property without a hearing and they are permitted to take place as a matter of right,” Dotson said. “The city cannot impose rules that do not exist on property owners, otherwise we have no idea what rules we should be following.”