As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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As A-Rod Battles His Neighbor, Miami Beach's Film Renaissance Hangs in the Balance

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1137 N. Biscayne Point Road: French owner and fashion photographer Francis Milon, one of the founders of mega-nightclub Mansion, has obtained 13 permits.

4358 N. Bay Road: In less than a year, Alex Rodriguez has gotten 20 permits and hosted more than a dozen photo shoots, a Victoria's Secret commercial directed by Michael Bay, and four days of filming for The X Factor.

420 E. San Marino Drive: Marita Stavrou, ex-wife of former NBA star Reggie Miller, has rented out her house 21 times to crews from The X Factor, Ebony magazine, and Victoria's Secret.

4821 Pine Tree Drive: Villa Vecchia is currently Miami Beach's most sought-after location, with 25 permits for everything from Magic City and Iron Man III to Telemundo telenovelas.

6396 N. Bay Road: This beachfront mansion is currently owned by Miami Heat star Chris Bosh, but all of the 30 film permits here — including shoots for Kohl's, Chadwicks, and H&M — date to before he bought the house in 2010.

Many of these most frequently rented houses have sparked neighborhood battles, with allegations of illegal short-term rentals and code violations. Villa Vecchia, for example, was owned for nearly 20 years by perfume importer Luis A. Quintero. But neighbors say he was rarely there, instead opening the $20 million mansion up to raucous private parties and endless movie shoots.

"They would rent it out for all kinds of commercial enterprises: parties, weddings, anything they could make some money off of," says next-door neighbor Lewis Levey. "It is illegal to rent your house like that, but if the city gets some money, they'll let you do anything."

Earlier this year, however, Quintero's lifestyle came to a skidding halt. He was arrested and accused of using a Swiss account to hide $4 million from U.S. tax officials. He pleaded guilty, served four months in federal prison, and paid more than $2 million in penalties. Quintero sold Villa Vecchia this past July for a below-market $13 million to a mysterious corporation called 4821 Pine Tree Drive LLC.

Records don't reveal who is behind the Delaware-based company. But that person continues to bring in the moviemakers. "They block my driveway, they wake us up at 7 in the morning," Levey complains. "These guys are constantly building sets, tearing sets down... If there were no laws here, I would just go over and smack some heads around."

Winick, from the Miami Beach Film Office, says the city investigates complaints and does its best to balance industry demands with neighborhood concerns. But the show must go on. "Like it or not, Miami Beach is a town where image is important. And this is an image-making industry. If they stop making images here, then we don't have anything to project to the outside world."

Buzz a few doors in Miami Beach's nicest neighborhoods and you're bound to hear complaints. One Palm Island resident called the cops when her neighbor was filming a loud Persian music video. And this past January, a neighbor ratted on Jason Louis Zabaleta for hosting an unauthorized music video shoot for Ukrainian pop star Kamaliya Zahoor. He has also been accused of writing bad checks, was recently ordered by a judge to pay $75,000 for outstanding loans, and is getting sued by the city for unpaid utility bills at his mansion on North Bay Road. (New Times could not reach Zabaleta.)

Less savory films, too, have flooded Miami Beach. Last year, local porn company Reality Kings was scolded for shooting a skin flick on Monument Island. Unauthorized pornos have bitterly divided über-exclusive Fisher Island. Winick says smut companies ignore the rules and never apply for permits. Or if they do, they don't admit to filming porn. Reality Kings manager Jeffrey Greenberg owns a $17 million manse near Friedman's home on North Bay Road where nine shoots were permitted in the past two years — supposedly for Burn Notice and fashion spreads. (Greenberg and his lawyer did not return calls from New Times.)

The true frontline of Miami Beach's film fight is San Marino Island, though. No less than six houses there have requested permits in the past year and a half. Niang, the French reality TV producer, lives at 14 West San Marino. The giant gray-and-white house is owned by Northern Irish retired racecar driver Eddie Irvine, who neighbors say once tried to arrange a Hummer driving course on the island before they objected.

Sassoum and Irvine aren't the only San Marino residents slapped on the wrist for breaking film rules. On May 10, Francisco and Alina Villasante were warned to stop filming without a permit after next-door neighbor Edna Buchanan complained.

"I thought they were shooting a porno next door," the legendary crime novelist says. "There were guys dressed as Batman and Robin next door, skipping around the pool singing in falsetto. They got a little frisky when they saw me watching. When they saw me taking a photo, they started simulating fellatio."

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Michael E. Miller

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