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


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

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But if there is a single resident whom San Marino neighbors blame for the film crews, it's Marita Stavrou. A former actress and ex-wife of NBA star Reggie Miller, Stavrou is still a mainstay of Miami Beach society. Glossy magazines snap her with hip-hop moguls such as Russell Simmons and Jay-Z.

Stavrou bought the small house next to Buchanan's for $3.1 million in 2006, knocked it down, and submitted plans for a 6,600-square-foot spread. When Buchanan and other neighbors complained, Stavrou's lawyers stepped in.

After the mega-pad was built, Stavrou turned it into an ATM by constantly renting out to ad agencies and TV producers. Indeed, several online listings appear to advertise the house as available for rent at a cool $60,000 a month.

Aside from breaking the law, the short-term renters are endangering the crumbling island, Buchanan says. "They block the streets and break underground pipes. They are ruining this fragile manmade neighborhood."

(When a New Times reporter buzzed Stavrou's front door to ask about shoots, she said, "Oh, I don't know anything about that." Asked if she would come outside to talk, she said she wasn't home, claiming the gate had called her phone.)

Cesar Valdesuso, a Cuban-born pulmonologist on the other side of Stavrou's place, echoes the complaints. "It's not a house at all, but a business. When she wanted to build it, we all asked her: 'Why do you need such a big house?' And now we understand," he says.

He lived in Los Angeles before moving to Miami Beach two decades ago but says that in all his years in L.A., the movie industry never disturbed him as it does now. The doctor stands in his backyard. His boat bobs gently on the evening ocean swell. To the west, the sun sets behind the skyline.

"This place is beautiful," he says. "That's why we moved here." Then he points to the empty lot next door, surrounded by a fence. "See? They've already started building a seawall. Soon they'll block the view of the sunset I've had for 20 years. And for what? So they can build another empty mansion to rent out to people from Hollywood."

Nine months after going public with his neighborly feud, Irwin Friedman is no longer seen as a lone permit-opposer venting his personal frustrations.

In fact, his proposal to limit Beach filming has the backing of residents Buchanan and Valdesuso, as well as hundreds of other homeowners. His larger message — that neighborhoods should push back against the TV crews creeping in like melaleuca — is catching on. When the Kardashian sisters tried to find a Miami Beach pad for their reality show, three neighborhoods rejected them. (Eventually, North Miami took them in).

But the clearest sign of how seriously Friedman's ideas are being taken is the fierce opposition they've sparked. After decrying any changes to permit rules, the movie industry has since relented to limiting filming to ten days per month or 75 days per year.

Orosz, the producer, says that's more than enough. "That's a 60 percent reduction," he says. "Is that really a compromise? I think the film industry is being incredibly giving."

Friedman is holding fast, though, insisting on a maximum of just five per month. The island's $100-million-a-year film industry hangs in the balance.

"The industry has said they must have a minimum of ten days," Commissioner Libbin says. "If it's one day less, they say they are packing up and moving to Fort Lauderdale."

Orosz says Friedman is stoking the flames on a nonissue. "One or two complaints per year should not start a lot of knee-jerk reactions," he says. "The city probably gets more complaints about local tree-trimming services than about us." He says that in addition to undercutting the local economy, further restrictions will hurt industry employees, many of whom live in Miami Beach. "They are also residents, and now they are concerned for their well-being."

Friedman insists he's no zealot set on scuppering movie studios' success. Rather, he says regulation and compromise are the cost of doing business in a city like Miami Beach.

"They say we are trying to ruin the industry, but it's not true," he says. "Why five days? Because I'm a realist. The city needs the money; I respect that. Celebrities raise property values; I get that too. But when they infringe on my lifestyle and ruin the peace and quiet and beauty I came here for, all because they want to make money, there's a problem. The city is like a heroin addict. It's not going to take the needle out of its arm unless we make it."

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Michael E. Miller

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