(Miami-Dade County, FL) -- "I read Fred Grimm’s Opinion “Is it a plot, or just a huge, ugly house?” published in the Local Section of The Miami Herald on Thursday, May 24, 2012. I have enjoyed Mr. Grimm’s articles for years. However, satirical commentary that fuels and makes light of intolerance towards any community is wrong. The sarcastic comment in the final paragraph that maybe I “would be happy to change the code to zone out only certain kinds of people....You know what I’m talking about” is not only inconsistent with my long record of public service, it is simply untrue.
"Mr. Grimm took some comments that I made in a long impassioned speech and made them seem worse when he spliced them into his column. I apologize to the Muslim community for any words that I uttered out of frustration with the County’s Building Department and its Director for permitting this structure to be constructed in my community without a public hearing, while this same Department bullies long standing homeowners in this same community for building a tool shed, a back yard barbeque, a back yard gazebo or a roofed terrace and makes them spend $10,000 to go through a public hearing process or spend hundreds of dollars for a demolition permit to destroy the structure.
"I am an elected official and should measure my words when speaking because anything you say seems worse when you later read it in print. However, I am human and I am anything but a politician. I don’t read flawless politically correct speeches from a podium or a teleprompter written by a bunch of professional speech writers. I speak from the heart and when I get frustrated and angry with the bureaucrats in our government, I lash out as most of us often do. I also make mistakes when the level of frustration and anger rises, as all of us do. When I make mistakes, I want my friends to point them out and let me know so that I can correct the mistakes and learn from my mistakes.
"The Muslim community has been a strong supporter and good friend to me for a very long time and I have been very grateful and proud of our strong bond. I have been a generous supporter of the Muslim community as well. When the Muslim community requested a van for their Project Downtown to deliver food to the poor and needy, I gave my full support without hesitation. When the Muslim community needed seed money for a free clinic, I was there front and center as well. I have been invited to pray with my Muslim brothers. I have broken bread and shared many meals with my Muslim brothers. My personal appointee as County Commissioner to the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board represents the Islamic community. On the 60th Independence Day of Pakistan, the Pakistan American Cultural Society presented me with their highest award as “A friend of Pakistan,” in appreciation of my friendship and goodwill to Pakistan and the Pakistani-American community.
"On Thursday, a group of leaders from the Muslim Community, most whom I have known for many years, came to meet with me at one of my bi-monthly town meetings. We sat down in a circle and spoke about these issues from the heart. They agreed with my concerns about the structure that was constructed without following the proper process, and that this is not an issue of race or religion. However, they were offended by the article in The Herald, and explained to me that some of the statements that I uttered in a moment of frustration with the County Administration may be offensive to members of their community. I repeated some statements that I had heard from my constituents who are also very frustrated and angry with our County Government over this issue in a moment of a heated discourse and unintentionally offended my friends in the Muslim community. Once again, I offer my sincere apologies to my friends.
"This is an issue of a structure that is completely out of scale and out of character with the existing single-family house residential district where it is being constructed. Section 33.5 of the Code of Miami-Dade County reads as follows: “All buildings constructed shall be of an architectural style and color which will harmonize with the premises and with other buildings in the same neighborhood. All questions raised on this subject shall be referred to the appropriate zoning board for recommendation.” This means that when a structure does not harmonize with the neighborhood, it must go before the local Community Council for a public hearing where the neighbors are provided due notice and given the opportunity to testify at the hearing. That process was not followed here.
"According to your article, the owner of the nearly complete house insists that he’s building a family home for his Cuban-born mother. This young man, in his early thirties, is building his mother a nice 35 foot high, three story family home, with almost 9,000 square feet of living space composed of 11 bathrooms and 9 bedrooms, commercial kitchen, commercial elevator, and huge bundles of high tech electronic cables entering the structure. The Prayer Room/Exercise Room (as detailed on the blue prints on file with the County) on the third floor of his mother home is 70 feet long by 27.33 feet wide or 1,913 square feet. The square footage of the third floor alone is larger than the total square footage of most of the surrounding homes.
"The reason why local governments throughout the United States have zoning codes is to protect the most precious and valuable investment of most families, which is their home and the residential character of their neighborhood.
"This is not an issue of racism as you imply in your article. This is an issue of common sense and logic with respect to the placement of a mammoth structure, which has cost several million dollars to build, in a middle class single family neighborhood with modestly scaled homes. If this home were under construction in “horse country,” the Redlands, Coral Gables, Cocoplum, Coconut Grove, Miami Beach or anywhere else where you have 10,000 square foot mansions, it would not be an issue and it would not raise an eyebrow. However, if I see something that does not make common sense on any level and is in complete contradiction to all our zoning laws, I must speak up. The fault does not lie with the owner of this property or the existing single family homeowners in the community; the fault lies with the County professionals that we hire to regulate the planning and construction of these structures and entrust to protect the residential character and quality of life of the homeowners that have lived in these residential neighborhoods for many year."
For more information, please contact Commissioner Souto’s office at 305-222-2116.