Cocoa Beach: Lies My Commissioners Told Us.

Last week as we noted, the City of Cocoa Beach Commission passed a variance of 70 feet for the height of the redevelopment of the International Palms property.

It is one thing to agree or disagree on the vote itself, but it is another thing try to lie or deceive people.

Let’s start with the basics.

The drawings presented by the developer are pretty. Conceptual drawings are supposed to be pretty. They are supposed to present the building in the most favorable light.

Yet they are not the final plans or the way the renovation may look.

When people stood up during the public comment and said “we need something like this as it is really pretty,” they were buying into the idea that the conceptual drawings are going to be the end design.

The impact of this is that when the developer stood up and said “the hotel will only have 502 rooms,” that may or my not be true. It may have 600 or 700 rooms because the conceptual drawings are not the same thing as plans.

The problem was further illustrated by the fact that the developer, as part of their pitch, said that only “20.9 percent of the property would be at the variance level of 70 feet.”

During the discussion, Commissioner Skip Williams asked in that the drawings were conceptual, if the developers would make a condition of the variance that the roof area at 70 feet would not exceed 25% – 4.1% more than the developer was claiming would be the roof area at 70 feet.

You would have thought a bomb had gone off in the room.

Both Mayor Malik and Commissioner Miller attacked Williams saying it was unfair to hold the developer to the conceptual design percentage. When Williams replied that he was actually willing to accept a promise for 4.1% more of the area, the response was still that the drawings were concepts and that they could not pass a variance on the basis of conceptual numbers.

That’s not true.

Variances are passed all the time with conditions attached to them. The developer didn’t have to answer Williams’ question as Malik and Miller ran interference for them. Both Miller and Malik interrupted Williams in violation of Commission rules. It seemed to us to be a calculated move in order for a percentage of the property at the 70 foot height was not to be a part of the variance. The end result is that the developer can come back with more area roof height, more rooms, etc., and there is not a darn thing the City can do about it.

We have to wonder why Miller and Malik were so passionate about not getting a commitment from the developer other than they know the final design will have more rooms and area up to the 70 foot height than are shown in the non-binding conceptual drawing.

The developer and Malik stated that there won’t be anything like this beach side.

They should have told Satellite Beach and the City Council of Satellite Beach.

The night before, the Satellite Beach City Council passed code revisions to allow a new building that is going to be a four and a half star hotel, with meeting rooms, conventions centers and retail space for stores and restaurants on the property. The biggest difference will be that the proposed development in Satellite Beach will actually be taller than that of the International Palms development. In short, taller, similar amenities, and just as nice. Funny how the Cocoa Beach Commission failed to state that. What is not funny is that the developer made the claim knowing that their “expert” witness on the need for variance had been advising the City of Satellite Beach on the proposed development there.

There is another project that is similar in scope beach side. Malik and the developer’s statements were either willful ignorance or a lie.

Malik, Miller and Martinez said the proposed development will bring more money into local businesses.

We are highly doubtful of that.

The property is being developed to keep visitors on the site. Multiple restaurants, shops, etc., won’t add to the local economy because guests won’t leave the property. It is similar to staying at a Disney resort. Why go anywhere else when everything you have is within walking distance of your room?

Even if there is an uptick to the local businesses because of guests trying out the “local flavor,” that uptick will likely be offset by locals – upon whom the local businesses depend – who will be trying the new restaurants and shops on the International Palms property.

It was stated several times that this variance does not set a precedence for other variances.

Technically this is true. A variance to the height of 70 feet does not automatically guarantee the next application for a similar variance will be granted.

However, one of the criteria for granting a variance is that the applicant would not be encumbered by restrictions that other similar buildings and sites did not have to comply with. So while the next applicant cannot say “you must grant me the variance because of the precedent of the International Palms building,” they can say “you gave the International Palms a variance and to deny us that same variance would place a burden on us that they did not have to deal with.” One of the boxes on the “variance check list” gets automatically checked because of past actions in granting the previous variance. In fact, the packet the developer made and presented to the Commission included the variance that was granted to the Ocean Dunes project, saying in essence “you gave them a variance, you should give us the same a variance as well.”

The “precedence statement” is not a lie, but it is deceptive.

According to Mayor Malik, the development will lower tax rates and or the amount of taxes people pay.

We are highly dubious of that claim as well.

Historically, cities like to spend money, not keep money in the pockets of the citizens. Furthermore, as the purpose of the development is to help raise the tax base in the City due to the development and the impact on raising the values of other properties, even if one kept the same tax rate, because the values of properties are supposed to go up, the associated taxes will go up as well.

Malik, Miller and Martinez stated that the “code” prevented them from going higher than 70 now or in the future.

That’s an outright lie.

The City building codes and the Land Development Codes can be changed. All it takes is 15 days. One day for the notice of a Commission meeting, the first Commission meeting, and then the second meeting 14 days later.

The changing of the codes is one of the reasons that people wanted the 45 foot height limit to be in the Charter and not easily changed. They did not want the heights to be higher. Now Commission members are saying that the 45 foot height can be bypassed with a variance to the max height of 70 feet in the Building Codes and the Land Development codes but nothing – and we mean nothing – prevents the Commission from changing the requirements in the respective Codes and variances being granted to that new height.

One of the points Malik tried to make was that the ability to make a structure more than 45 feet tall only applies to 13% of the City.

Initially that sounds like a great thing.

Imagine if your house was having the same issues as the International Palms property. Your house is old, is not energy efficient, needs better drainage and wastewater management, etc. You get the brilliant idea to build a four story home, 48 foot tall building (four storied homes were common in Colonial days.) You want a floor for your mother in law a floor for an office / workout area and two floors for your living space and bedrooms.

Oops! Sorry! You can’t build that. Only large corporations and companies can do that.

To put it another way, imagine George and Martha Washington’s home of Mount Vernon was in Cocoa Beach. If the building needed to be torn down and rebuilt because of a myriad of issues, it couldn’t be done. The main house of Mount Vernon is over 45 feet in height. The father of our country could not rebuild the same house if it were originally built in Cocoa Beach.

That example is extreme and some may call it silly. We accept that. We can also accept that a conversation should be had on the height of homes if homeowners wanted to build up. (After all, the larger square footage under the roof would mean a higher taxable value, which means more tax dollars in the coffers. That’s the same argument that the Commission used to justify the International Palms variance.)

What is good for the goose is good for the gander. The City Commission didn’t care that the people don’t want high rises in Cocoa Beach, so they shouldn’t care how tall someone builds their own home.

The idea that only 13% of properties can go higher may sound great, but in fact it is biased toward large developers and hoteliers and against the little guy in the City.

We discussed on December 4 the variance criteria that was summarized in the City agenda support memo.

You may remember the criteria that the City said the project met:

• Advanced age and deteriorating conditions of existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Substandard stormwater management systems associated with the land and existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Substandard life safety systems associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Substandard energy conservation systems associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Elevated incidence of crime associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.
• Elevated fire or emergency medical service calls associated with existing buildings and structures on the land.

There was always something that bothered us about the City’s approval of this criteria and while we hinted about it, it finally crystallized in our minds: none of the criteria have anything to do with the height of a building. Not a one.

It is almost as if the City created the criteria in order for a company to pass the requirements no matter what.

However, there are two other requirements as well.

The first we discussed here earlier – the fact that because other buildings in the area may be as tall, the construction of new projects will check off the box that if property “A” has a certain height, property “B” should be able to build to that height.

The second criteria is one of economics – the applicant must be able to show an undue economic burden if they are not granted the variance.

The Justification for a Variance packet put out by the developers says that the project is not “economically sustainable” if the variance is not granted.

Here are the numbers the developers provided to support that claim:


Here is the testimony under oath the representative of the developers gave on the “economic viability” of the project without the variance:


Here is the testimony under oath the “expert” the developers trotted out gave on the “economic viability” of the project without the variance:


And finally, here are the questions that were asked by Commissioners on the “economic viability” impact on the project absent of the variance:


The above is not a typo. No one said a thing.

Not a blessed thing.

They left it out which makes us wonder about the claim.

After all, a lie of omission is still a lie.

This was a done deal before the Mayor of Cocoa Beach banged a gavel opening the meeting last Thursday. Nothing was going to sway the Commissioners. Being caught in lies and misrepresentations were not going to matter either.

The idea that the hearing on the variance was open and impartial may be the greatest lie the Commissioners told the public.

If you tell the same lie over and over, people will start to believe you and in our opinion, the Commissioners seem to have had plenty of practice lying to the public.


7 Responses to “Cocoa Beach: Lies My Commissioners Told Us.”

  1. Matt Fleming says:

    The 4 links at the bottom of the article are missing.

    • Percy says:

      He used the four empty blocks to illustrate what the commissioners and developer used to satisfy these specific legal requirements, i.e. Nothing, nada, zip, read the paragraph following the last empty block.

      • AAfterwit says:



        We even explained the blank boxes of empty quotes:

        The above is not a typo. No one said a thing.

        Not a blessed thing.

        They left it out which makes us wonder about the claim.

        After all, a lie of omission is still a lie.

        We thought it was self explanatory and illustrated the point.

        Some people didn’t get it, we guess.

        Thanks again.

        A. Afterwit.

    • AAfterwit says:

      Matt Fleming,

      Thanks for the comment.

      In some ways it is gratifying that people expect us to link to everything or quote everything as we do try to be thorough.

      However, in this case, we used the empty “quotation boxes” to show what was not said in both words and graphically.

      We even wrote in the next paragraph:

      The above is not a typo. No one said a thing.

      Not a blessed thing.

      They left it out which makes us wonder about the claim.

      After all, a lie of omission is still a lie.

      Hope you understand now.

      Thanks for the comment.

      A. Afterwit.

  2. Jane Doe says:

    Wow – doesn’t look like this news item missdc a thing. Very nice and informative.

    I just visualize all these hugh RESORT type hotel owners attempting to fence in their private beach areas like Al Newhardt, the Gannet Guru did years ago. Lori Wilson and Al Newhardt wanted s safe play area for their children so really didn’t go out that far with their fence on the sandy part of their back yard beach area, i.e., behind the historically known Pumpkin Center!!

    As most old timers in Cocoa Beach know, the Atlantic Ocean storms do like to hammer out beach-side residents and WA LA – good by beach-side playground.

    I think greed goes along with all these lies and soon other developers will start trying to move in overtake the survivors. Maybe the global economy expected to start failing within a few years.

    Residents will have time to start a petition earlier than in the past. Then the mayor and two commissioners that make statements, other than those noted in your article, might not get re-elected.

  3. victor w speed says:

    I was one to vote Three or Four times for restricted building height restrictions. It took that long to get the city to get it. We voted knowing that we may eventually pay higher taxes too maintain the character of the city we love.
    So it looks like the dollar rules ??.
    I will gladly sign the petition.

    • Percy says:

      The city’s charter has not changed with regard to height, it’s still lists 45′ as the maximum building height. What has happened very slowly ever since the 45′ height limit was originally approved is what you could call requirement “creep”. First the land development code is updated to allow for a variance to go above 45′ (up to 70′) , Then the voting requirements are updated to only require 4 (instead of 5) commissioners to approve a variance. Then you loosen the requirements for a variance to basically allow anyone to apply for and receive a 70′ variance. This is the approach developers are taking to work around the will and f the people. As anyone with any integrity would know, that was not the intent of the original 45′ height requirement or the intent of the latest 45′ height requirement charter amendment. However, we rely on our elected officials to represent all of the residents (not just the big money developers) and this is what you get when we elect a commission that chooses to support developers over the wishes of the residents. We really need to elect some folks that will support the residents next election. If you have any or know of any resident friendly folks that might be interested in running for the city commission please try to get them to throw their hat in the ring. I suspect they will be up against some well funded (by the PACs) candidates but commissioner Williams has shown that you can win without big money funding if you have the support of the residents. The power we have is the power to vote in folks who support the residents.