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At the Tuesday, March 29th City Commission meeting, the issue of pavers outside the Riviera Country Club on Blue Road was once again addressed by the City Commission. As Gables Insider previously reported, the Riviera Country Club is seeking to change their initial plans for placing pavers connecting the driveway to their parking lot across Blue Road and the sidewalk to asphalt and simple concrete.
At the March 8th City Commission meeting, the Club sent an attorney to speak on their behalf who advocated for changes due to the cost the Club would have to incur. The Club recently completed a $37 million clubhouse for its members, which was part of the same plan. This time, their arguments were different.
The representative of the Club, attorney John Lukacs, tried to blame City staff for the need to make this change from pavers to asphalt. He explained that if the Club placed the pavers, the County would require that the pavers be maintained by the City. He was upset that the City was trying to hold the Club to their development agreement, which they willingly agreed to in 2016.
He threatened the Commission by stating that if the City forced them to hold up their end of the bargain, they would force the City to uphold the County’s requirement. He added that an undue burden was being placed on the Club by the City by requiring the Club hold up its end of the agreement. He also stated that the Club does not want to assume the legal liability for the pavers.
The City Manager explained that the City normally operates with agreements such as these where the City agrees with the County to maintain and passes through the responsibility to the holder of the development agreement. The Mayor explained one example was the Agave project, which operates this way. This was corroborated by the City’s Public Works Director Hermes Diaz. The City even requires that residents who place pavers in the swale portion of their driveways sign hold harmless agreements with the City.
Lukacs implied the City has been unreasonable throughout the process. However, the Mayor asked the Development Services Director, Suramy Cabrera, how many Temporary Certificates of Occupancy (TCO) have been issued to the Club since they opened in December of 2018, and she explained several have been issued. Something, as the Mayor stated, does not normally happen. Without the TCO, the Club would not be allowed to operate, as it is not eligible for a Certificate of Occupancy until the full scope of the work is completed.
The Club representative called the Commission disingenuous. However, as Vice Mayor Michael Mena pointed out, the Club was the one that made the initial request in its plans to have pavers on the road. This was not the City’s request, it was the Club’s request.
At several instances, Lukacs was forceful and antagonistic. He even tried to take control of the meeting telling the Mayor and Commissioners that it was not their turn to speak and that he would finish his comments before they could speak.
During public comment on the issue, resident Maria Cruz who resides near the Club, brought up a point that irritated Lukacs. She explained that the Club had reached a development agreement with all the set conditions, including the pavers on Blue Road. Following the Club’s completion of the clubhouse, they had decided that they did not want to move forward with the pavers and wanted the City to let them off the hook. She explained that if the pavers were not enforced, the entire clubhouse should be demolished, as the project was approved as a whole and not in parts.
Following Cruz’s comments, Lukacs went after Cruz, asking why she emailed the County about this issue. The Mayor explained, with the concurrence of members of the Commission, that Cruz has been an active resident for years on issues in many areas in the City. In this case, she is a resident in the area. Cruz is one of the City’s most active and vocal residents.
Commissioner Rhonda Anderson also chimed in on this point and stated that the time to request the change was when the original plans were approved not now.
Architect Robert Behar, a member of the City’s Planning and Zoning Board who was at City Hall to address another issue, asked to speak and confirmed to the Commission that the Planning and Zoning Board at the time had requested the pavers be included in the project, as a condition for the approval of the entire project.
Lukacs then went after Behar asking him who had asked him to be present to speak and why he was there. The Mayor addressed the point, stating that Behar had asked the Mayor if he could speak to clear any doubts on the issue.
City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos almost gave the Club what they wanted, by providing confusing counsel to the Commission. A motion was made and she recommended it be amended to include the changes to the pavers. City Manager Peter Iglesias had to step in and correct her, in order to prevent the Commission voting to approve the change.
In the end, the Commission upheld the requirement to place the pavers and asked the Club to begin work as soon as possible to complete the project, which has been pending for over three years.
Questions of liability have also come to light on other issues. In August of 2021, a patron of the country club drove her car through a fence in the elevated valet area of the clubhouse and plunged 12 feet onto a golf cart parked in the driveway on the first floor. Luckily, the driver and passenger of the car only received minor injuries and no one was on the golf cart at the time. However, the safety of the design of the driveway have come into question, as have the quality of the materials used in the fencing around the valet. Gables Insider is investigating the issue.