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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Unpacking Coconut Grove ► Part Nine ► Good Neighbours and Bad Neighbours

A recent article in the South Miami News caught my attention. The headline reads "Neighbors hope buyer can be found to preserve historic Milledge House." The story concerns a house less than 3 miles away from the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the 120-year old house I am trying to save from a (allegedly) rapacious developer.

In short: The Milledge house was built in 1901, on a plot of land less than a half mile away from where it currently sits, and moved to SW 74th Street in 1944 by the Milledge family. “It was historically a cracker farm house,” said owner Lewis Milledge. “Mom put in federal features and changed the window treatments for the look of colonial Williamsburg.”



The good neighbours of SW 74th Street are hoping a rapacious developer doesn't swoop in and buy the Milledge House, priced at $1,085,200. The house sits on an irregular sized lot several times the size of size of the lots in the general vicinity. This size makes it quite attractive for a developer to snatch up and subdivide the lot and build several houses  Raquel Garcia writes:
The irregular-sized lot on which the Milledge House sits.
It is a tranquil and flourishingly green street where the cardinals still sing loudly in mid-afternoon and the neighbors get together for block parties and holidays. Several area property owners have united to lobby for the uneventful transfer of the Milledge home now for sale at 4700 SW 74 St. The community hope is that a new buyer will also fall in love with the neighborhood and preserve the property and character of the street.

“We all love our block,” said neighbor Jill Kramer. “We want to maintain the charm of our street, it is very important to us. We are afraid of developers that don’t care.”
The Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums peeking out from
 behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Note all the garbage allowed
to collect around the tree. Photo taken September 7, 2012.
A developer who doesn't care could be considered a bad neighbour; concerned only about profits and not about the character of a neighbourhood. One developer that has proven himself to be a bad neighbour concerned more about profits than the character of a neighbourhood is Gino Falsetto, one of the owners/developers of Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums immediately behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Falsetto, through his Aries Development company claims to have a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. According to the memories of residents along Charles Avenue, when the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums was built, it was expected that the Stirrup House would be renovated for the community as a community center of some sort. However, that never happened and the house has now been sitting idle and empty for a number of years.

The Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums where owners spend nearly a million dollars to buy a unit.
Pile of trash behind the E.W.F. Stirrup House, visible from
the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums, but not
from the street where by-law inspectors would see it.
Photo taken September 7, 2012

Imagine if you paid close to a million dollars to buy a condo unit in the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums. From the street your building -- with its two high-end restaurants, old-timey Taurus Bar, and valet parking -- looks beautiful. Then you take a look out your condo window, only to look down at the trash heaps that have been allowed to grow like Topsy on the property of the E.W.F. Stirrup House. You would naturally think you had a bad neighbour. However, you probably would never know (unless you've done the kind of research I've done) that your bad neighbour is also the same developer that owns the building you bought your condo in. That would make you a bad neighbour by osmosis.

If you lived along Charles Avenue, especially if you were a property owner, you would have every reason to think you had a bad neighbour. You would have been walking past the the E.W.F. Stirrup House for the last several years, watching the house fall apart due to Demolition by Neglect. If you cared about your own property values, you would be concerned about the weeds allowed to grow on the Stirrup property and the fact that no one cleans up the trash allowed to accumulate. Take note at the garbage allowed to collect around the tree in the picture above left. It takes weeks for that much garbage to pile up. More telling, however, is this series of pictures taken several weeks apart:

On the sidewalk immediately in front of the E.W.F. Stirrup House was a postcard-sized flyer on August 20, 2012.

The same flyer blown closer to the fence, still on the sidewalk in front of the E.W.F. Stirrup House on August 24, 2012
The same flyer, now faded, closer to the fence, and almost buried by leaves and growth on September 7, 2012.
Graffiti tagged wall on September 7, 2012.
Neighbours walking along Charles Avenue would also be able to see the graffiti tagged on the wall that separates the E.W.F. Stirrup property from the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums. They would also be able to see the piles of garbage, including carper remnants, nestled up against that wall. These piles have also been growing bigger week by week, even though there's a dumpster on the property in which this garbage could be thrown.

I would also be remiss if I didn't point my finger at another bad neighbour in Coconut Grove. Tom Falco is the Editor and Publisher of the Coconut Grove Grapevine. In my opinion he's far worse than Gino Falsetto. No one really expects a (alleged) rapacious developer to be a good neighbour. Developers generally tend to be out for themselves; to make a profit at any cost. However, that's exactly how Tom Falco appears to run the Coconut Grove Grapevine. While he pretends to care about Coconut Grove, Falco only seems to care about his pocketbook.

Tom Falco's logo used under Fair Use laws.
Tom Falco laughingly calls the Coconut Grove Grapevine "Coconut Grove's Only Daily News," but that would be a misnomer. It's only the news that he feels wouldn't hurt his bottom line. When asked to help me on deep background to better understand the politics of Coconut Grove he told me that he didn't "want to get involved in that." However, continued research has confirmed my original suspicions: If it's something that's happening in White Coconut Grove, Tom Falco is all over it and promoting the hell out of it. If it appears that a business might have money to spend on advertising in the Coconut Grove Grapevine, Falco is all over that too. However, when it comes to Black Coconut Grove, or Charles Avenue, Tom Falco has little to say. And, what he does have to say, seems carefully modulated so that it will not offend any of his potential benefactors, such as the restaurants on the ground floor of the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums, also owned in part by Gino Falsetto.

STOP THE PRESSES!!! Oddly enough, just as I was preparing to publish this column, I was also going to say that Falco has written very little about the Coconut Grove Playhouse, when -- Lo & behold -- it appeared that he did so between my starting this article early this morning and now. Falco says:
I have a theory and I am probably wrong, but this constant stalling and battling tactic [on the Coconut Grove Playhouse] may be taking place on purpose so that the whole thing crumbles in on itself and the structure can then be knocked down and a new structure can be placed onsite, which many people want.

[...]

 One of the entities involved is cheating me out of about $2000 for advertising (that's another story I'll post soon), so I am not surprised at this point that crooked hands may be at play here.
That's always been my theory about the Coconut Grove Playhouse and the E.W.F. Stirrup house: Demolition by Neglect. Falco links to a story in the Miami Herald which mentions Aries Development by name. This is the same company -- owned in part by Gino Falsetto -- that has also scuttled previous deals to return the Playhouse to the city of Miami and the same Aries Development that claims a 50-year lease on the E.W.F. Stirrup House. If this is the company that has allegedly cheated Falco out of $2,000, maybe he finally understands why I have been investigating Gino Falsetto. If not, who's been cheating Tom Falco's Money Making Machine?

BTW: the Miami Herald says:
[Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos] Gimenez was able to engineer a settlement agreement with one of two main playhouse creditors, developer Henry Pino. But the second, Aries Group, which had previously reached an agreement with the playhouse board to redevelop the property, claimed it was owed more than $2 million by the nonprofit group.
I keep trying to tell Tom Falco that I have nothing to gain in trying to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House. I'm not a resident of Miami and/or Coconut Grove. I am not Black. I have no advertising to sell that would impede my journalistic endeavours. I am trying to save a 120-year old house and the legacy of the man who built it simply because it's the right thing to do. I've done a lot of legwork on this story. Maybe Tom Falco is willing to join forces with me to see this house is not lost to a developer to do whatever he wants with it. [Unless that's not who allegedly cheated Falco out of $2,000. If it's someone else, never mind.]

Tom, you have my email address. I am always open to talk about how we can work together save this house.


Coming up next: The Broken Window Theory of Criminology.

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