Judge says South Beach 2 a.m. booze ban ‘unlawful,’ siding with Clevelander hotel

·4 min read

A new Miami Beach law forcing dozens of South Beach clubs to end alcohol sales at 2 a.m. is “unlawful,” a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge ruled Monday, delivering a blow to the mayor’s fight against “hard partying.”

During a hearing, Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko sided with the popular Clevelander hotel on Ocean Drive, which sued Miami Beach last month over the city’s recently imposed 2 a.m. last call in the South Beach entertainment district. Butchko ruled that the city commission’s vote to approve the new law — which went into effect on May 22 — was not properly executed.

“It was arbitrary, it is a violation of local ordinances, and that was unlawful,” said Butchko, who also ruled on the Clevelander’s challenges to new noise restrictions and the extended closure of Ocean Drive.

Butchko said Mayor Dan Gelber’s proposal to end alcohol sales at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. in the city’s entertainment district was improperly presented last month as a general ordinance requiring a simple majority when it should have been pitched as a land-development regulation requiring broader commission support.

Three of the city’s seven commissioners joined Gelber to move up last call. But Butchko said that, because the rollback was limited to a specific zoning district — covering businesses on Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive from Fifth to 15th streets — it should have been handled as a change to the city’s land-development regulations, which requires the support of five commissioners.

Gelber, who has led the city’s charge in recent months to overhaul the party scene in South Beach, said in a statement that the city will appeal the decision.

“Our residents should not be held prisoner to a business model that promotes the all-night hard partying that has generated an unsafe atmosphere in our city,” Gelber wrote. “We will appeal as it makes no sense, legal or otherwise, that the courts would force our residents to endure this kind of misconduct and disorder.”

Kendall Coffey, the attorney representing the Clevelander in the case, told the Miami Herald that the 2 a.m. policy won’t officially be revoked until he drafts an order for the city to review, which will then go to Butchko for approval.

“We would hope that the city would not attempt to enforce it in view of the judge’s ruling but technically speaking there is not yet a signed order,” Coffey said.

The commission voted last month to roll back the 5 a.m. last call for businesses in the district for a period of seven months.

Commissioners also voted to add a citywide voter referendum to the November ballot that would make the temporary restrictions permanent, although a second vote is needed this summer to put the issue before voters.

Just a few years ago, in 2017, voters rejected a proposal to ban alcohol sales on Ocean Drive after 2 a.m. But in the wake of a chaotic spring break, Gelber, who is running for reelection, proposed a permanent 2 a.m. rollback and the repeal of a noise exemption allowing venues like the Clevelander to play live or amplified music as loud as they want in the direction of Ocean Drive. He said the early-morning alcohol sales and unregulated music has encouraged a lawless party atmosphere that spills out onto the city’s streets.

Butchko ruled that the Clevelander has a right to play music above ambient levels, but said the city and the hotel should reach an agreement about the noise levels.

Regarding Ocean Drive, which the city first closed about a year ago as part of its COVID-19 pandemic emergency measures, Butchko declined to force the road open. Instead, she encouraged the Clevelander and the city to work out a way to allow access to hotel guests while keeping Ocean Drive closed.

Coffey said the Clevelander has been unfairly blamed for the behavior of some tourists. The 2 a.m. last call and noise limits would hurt the hotel’s bottom line, Coffey argued, and the Ocean Drive traffic closure is already hurting business.

“It is a very serious, widely respected venue, that has as a part of its brand outdoor entertainment,” he said during Monday’s hearing. “There’s really no Clevelander as any kind of identifiable shape or form can exist without the outdoor entertainment.”

Later, Coffey told the Herald that “no one wants to blare to the Bahamas.” He added: “Live, outdoor music is a core value of the Clevelander and I’ve got to think there’s a way for reasonable minds to work through that issue.”

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