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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Surprises on the Latest Visit to Charles Avenue

The Charles Avenue Historical Marker is across the street from the
E.W.F. Stirrup House. Once called Evangelist Street, Charles is one of the
oldest streets in Miami, which is why it was designated a Historic Roadway.
Last week's visit to Coconut Grove was full of surprises.

Ostensibly I was in The Grove for 2 semi-clandestine meetings with two of my super-duper secret anonymous sources. One wanted to go off the record on the Coconut Grove Playhouse deal. The other was my original tipster on Trolleygate.

However, there were also several loose ends I wanted to clean up concerning the Playhouse parking lots and the two vacant lots on Charles Avenue, immediately across the street from the historic, 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House. Despite its cultural and historic significance, the house continues to undergo Demolition By Neglect at the hands of a rapacious developer: Aries Development, controlled by Gino Falsetto.

To bring new readers up to speed: When Miami-Dade County finally carved out a deal which freed the Playhouse from purgatory, it took away the parking lot Paradise Parking, DoublePark and Caribbean Parking had been operating between the Playhouse and the Bicycle Shop. This lot was turned over to the Miami Parking Authority to administer. At the same time, the MPA also leased to Aries Development 45 parking spots immediately behind the Playhouse.

March 25: A lawyer advised this was a crime in the making.
Did these companies also squat on the Playhouse parking lot?
This reporter has been investigating rumours that the Paradise parking group had been squatting on the parking lot land for the last several years. To date, no one has been able to produce a contract that gave these companies the right to operate a parking franchise on the Playhouse parking lot.

The last time I visited (March 25) Double Park, Paradise Parking and Caribbean Parking had erected a meter (pictured right) where they were leasing the 45 parking spaces from the MPA. They had no right to erect their own meter because it was not their own lot. It was looking as if they might be squatting again. The meter had not been activated and I needed to see whether they had started collecting potentially illegal parking fees.

Have I mentioned yet how Double Park, LLC is owned by Gino Falsetto, while the other 2 companies are owned by business associates of Falsetto

A second, lesser, reason to reconnoiter is that -- SURPRISE!!! -- lines had finally been painted on this parking lot. The last time I was there I had counted the potential for 57 parking spots, judging from the barely legible lines painted years ago. Counting the spaces and documenting the fact that Paradise Parking, et al, were pocketing parking fees that should have belonged to the MPA would be a great investigative article. Another feather in the Not Now Silly Newscap.

March 25: Detail of sign above right
I had already received a (FREE) legal opinion that squatting on a parking lot and collecting parking fees could be considered a case of theft against every driver who paid up and/or the actual owner of the property. If, as alleged, these three companies had been squatting on the Playhouse land for the past several years, that would be a lot of individual cases of theft. And, whether they squatted or not, these companies were able to rake a lot of parking fees off this parking lot over the last several years.

SURPRISE: The meter had been removed, leaving only the base. Now anyone who wants to park there has to walk a block to the nearest meter -- on the far side of the Playhouse -- which cannot be viewed from these parking spaces. We'll see how that works out.

Looking past the empty residential lots to the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the 5-storey
Grove Gardens Residential Condominiums dwarfing the 120-year old house.
To be perfectly honest, I had hoped to catch Paradise Parking in what appeared to be a crime in the making because it's a company owned by the same rapacious developer who is allowing the E.W.F. Stirrup House to undergo Demolition by Neglect. That would be Gino Falsetto and Aries Development, which built The Monstrosity behind the Stirrup House: the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums.

It was while I was counting the parking spaces -- another SURPRISE: there are only 45, as per the agreement with the MPA -- I looked back across the two empty lots to the E.W.F. Stirrup House. The simple 2-storey white and yellow house -- designated historic -- is completely dwarfed by The Monstrosity, built by the same rapacious developer who owns these 2 empty lots pictured above. There had been two little single family houses on these lots. Aries acquired the lots and knocked the houses down so the property could be used as a construction marshaling yard in order to build The Monstrosity.

Little by little Aries Development has been chipping away at this Historic Roadway. Aside from the 50-year lease on the Stirrup House, Aries now owns the Bicycle Shop, creating bookends on either side of any potential Coconut Grove Playhouse development.

As I continued taking pictures of Charles Avenue I walked from the vantage point shown above back to the E.W.F. Stirrup House, where I met a curious stranger.

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL!!!

I was almost back at my car when I saw a woman walking across the Stirrup property towards me. The only people I've ever seen on that property were workmen. A red-headed, middle-aged woman in a dress was A SURPRISE, which is why I walked towards her. We met at the gate to the Stirrup property and had a heavily accented conversation after she demanded to know why I was taking pictures of her property.

Pictured: The scene of the conversation.
I didn't take her picture.
Several times she asserted it was her property. I let the fib go because I know the history of the property better than my own family tree. It's owned by Stirrup Properties, LLC, a company headed by 2 of the grandchildren of the original owner, E.W.F. Stirrup. A 50-year lease is held by Aries Development, which has been allowing this historic 120-year old house to undergo Demolition by Neglect. I'm pretty sure that this woman is not Aries Development Group.

Our conversation went something like this:

MF: [Accented English]: Why you take pictures?
ME: I've taken a lot of pictures of this building. I come here every few days and take pictures of this house. I have thousands of pictures of this house.
MF: Why you take so many pictures?
ME: I'm interested in the history of the house. It's a famous house. This is the oldest house on the street. The second oldest house in Miami.
MF: I know. You work for newspaper?

ME: No. I have a blog.
MF: What's your name?
ME: Headly Westerfield. [This elicited no reaction whatsoever.] What's your name?
MF: Magda Falsetto.
ME: [Falsetto?!?! DING! DING! DING! My notebook has been in my hand all this time, so I start scribbling notes of the rest of our conversation.] M-A-G-D-A?


I was so surprised that it wasn't until later that I realized I didn't ask the obvious question: "Are you related to Gino Falsetto?" DOH!

MF: Yes. This is my property.
ME: So why don't you fix up this house? This house has been empty for 8 years.
MF: Longer!
ME: Longer? Then why don't you fix it up?
MF: It takes long time to get permits from city.
ME: You've had more than 8 years.
MF: It takes long time to get permits. Is problem at city.

April 4, 2014: La Bottega advertises. It has no permits
to move the Farmers Market to the Stirrup Property.
ME: Didn't there used to be a wall there? Where did it go? [Indicates the back of the Stirrup property where a wall once separated it from La Bottega, a restaurant on the ground floor of The Monstrosity. La Bottega has started advertising the Farmer's Market moving there beginning on the 27th of April.]
MF: We are making a garden to bring tables out here.
ME: On this property? From the restaurant?
MF: Yes. It will be beautiful garden.
ME: Don't you think you should fix the house first? It's an construction zone. The house looks terrible.
MF: It takes long time to get permits from city.


NO SURPRISE: She repeated this "long time to get permits from the city" sentiment about 7 times because I kept circling back to asking why the house wasn't fixed already. One cannot get permits from the city if one has not submitted plans. The last time I checked no plans had ever been submitted to the city by Aries to renovate the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

TO BE FAIR:
That was a whole 2 months ago, during the Great Tree Massacre of '14.

Aries will need to submit up plans before it can be issued permits to renovate the E.W.F. Stirrup House. It will also have to apply for a retroactive permit for landscaping and  destroying the trees on the Stirrup property. So far Aries has gotten away with having no permit for the destruction of the cinder block wall. Will it also try to get away with moving restaurant and bar seating onto the Stirrup property? Will it even try to obtain the proper permits to move the Farmer's Market to the Stirrup property?

It's not like Aries Development has even tried to be a good Coconut Grove neighbour, so why should it be trusted now?

IRONY ALERT: Gino Falsetto and Aries Development is on the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee. More than a year ago I attended a meeting where Aries assured the Preservation Committee that it was going to fix up the Stirrup House right away. In that time Aries has only caused more destruction to the house and the property.

But, who knows? I might be surprised. Aries may finally do things legally.

Who am I kidding? I'll have to keep an eye on them.


Why is E.W.F. Stirrup so important to Coconut Grove?
Read: Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!!
Now Honour Your Past