Miami Gardens residents make a last-ditch effort to block F1 racing

Francis Ragoo, right, attends a protest in front of Shirley M. Gibson City Hall in Miami Gardens, Florida on Wednesday, April 14, 2021.  Activists rallied against moving Formula 1 racing to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

Francis Ragoo, right, attends a protest in front of Shirley M. Gibson City Hall in Miami Gardens, Florida on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. Activists rallied against moving Formula 1 racing to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

mocner@miamiherald.com

Just weeks before Formula 1 racing outside Hard Rock Stadium debuted, nearby residents made a last-ditch effort in court to stop the Miami Grand Prix, saying the noise would be “unbearable”.

The lawsuit brought by Miami Gardens residents, led by former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Betty Ferguson, is aimed at deadlock the event from May 6th to 8th. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Alan Fine on Wednesday expressed “frustration” at having to review the matter in such a tight timeframe, but said he would make a decision on whether to dismiss the case already on Monday.

The residents’ lawsuit said the noise levels from Formula 1 racing “will cause serious disruption and physical harm to residents of Miami Gardens,” citing an engineering firm’s estimate that the event would be in homes within a 10-mile radius 2.5 miles, the stadium will generate noise of up to 97 decibels – “similar to the noise levels generated by a chainsaw”.

But attorneys for both Hard Rock Stadium and the city of Miami Gardens said the judge shouldn’t take any Steps that could prevent the Miami Grand Prix from moving forward before the city decides whether to issue a required special event permit.

The city and not a court should decide whether the event is compatible with the city’s noise protection ordinance. This law states that noise “should not unduly disturb the quiet and comfort of neighboring dwellings” but does not define what noise levels would meet that threshold.

“Numerous courts before me have resisted the temptation to commit to something that hasn’t been exhibited,” Fine said. “Shouldn’t I wait and see if the city government gives permission for special events?”

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An artist’s rendering of the course for the Miami Formula 1 Grand Prix, held annually at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Miami Dolphins

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Sam Dubbin, a residents’ attorney, said the judge doesn’t have to wait for the city’s approval before blocking the race.

“They live in a shared apartment and are entitled to protection under the law,” Dubbin said during the hearing.

But Joseph Serota, an attorney for the City of Miami Gardens, said residents might only have a legal battle if the city first issued a permit and then failed to enforce its own noise ordinance.

Fine said the case creates a difficult situation because the city has not yet made a decision on the permit and could potentially wait until days before the event.

“We’re in this limbo before issuing a special events permit,” Fine said. “It’s a very uncomfortable place for a dish.”

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Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Betty Ferguson holds a sign at a pre-Super Bowl protest. Martin Wasolo mvassolo@miamiherald.com

Miami Gardens residents filed their lawsuit March 1 after a federal judge dismissed a civil rights lawsuit last July, saying residents had failed to prove the event was racially discriminatory.

In that case, District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. wrote that while it was “plausible” that any damage from the Grand Prix would disproportionately affect black residents since more than 70% of Miami Gardens’ population is black, “that but alone is not enough to show a discriminatory intent.”

The Miami Gardens City Council last April approved a 10-year contract for the annual Formula 1 event in the Hard Rock Stadium parking lot, an agreement that includes a $5 million community benefits package. The city council had previously opposed the event but changed course following the election of several new officers in 2020.

Serota, the city’s attorney, argued Wednesday that residents do not have the authority to try to reverse the city’s approval for the event in court. Instead, he said, “If you don’t like what they’re doing, you have a choice.”

“The court really has nothing to do,” he said.

This story was originally published April 13, 2022 7:45 p.m.

Aaron Leibowitz is a municipal government reporter for the Miami Herald. He writes about local politics in every city, town and small town in Miami-Dade County and sometimes beyond.

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