Comments about real estate, economy, and issues that affect my job as a Realtor.
Lately, of great importance is the display of the most important
PRE-CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS IN SOUTH FLORIDA.
My name is Henry B. Nathan
I am a realtor at United Realty Group.
My phone # is 954-296-6741
In Loophole Country… or why most of us love to be eaten by the Sharks
It’s not about what’s good or what’s bad for the city, or
about what’s good or what’s bad for the majority of the parts involved. It’s
about principles, he says.
All things considered; principles, ethics, and philosophy apart, my only real objection is about the loopholes.
Let’s read this interesting case in a recent issue of the
Surfside condo owners
battle over selling to developer
Condominium unit owners complain that their condominium
board has made deals with developers to make the building ripe for demolition.
This is about the The Seaway Condominiums at 9149 Collins Ave in Surfside.
For 20 years, Stephen Norris has lived in a modest condo in
pretty Seaway Villas, a low-slung 1930s building with a primo spot right on the
beach in Surfside.
But a majority of his fellow condo owners, most of whom
don’t live in the building, have accepted buyout offers from a big developer
that will make many of them rich. And now, because of a controversial loophole
in Florida condo law, Norris — who says he doesn’t want to sell — could be
forced out of his home. Two other holdout owners who don’t live in the two-story
garden-style building, including a Bal Harbour council member, would also be
compelled to sell.
As the holdouts cry foul, the battle over little Seaway
Villas has blown up into a saga replete with allegations of conspiracies and
high-pressure tactics by some eager-to-sell condo owners and developer Fort
Capital Management, questions about the role played by development-friendly
town officials, and a last-minute intervention by Miami-Dade County historic
preservation officials — who say the 1936 building, the first apartment house
in Surfside, qualifies for protection as a historic landmark.
In perhaps the strangest twist, Seaway board president Faith
Doyle applied for, and got, a permit for demolition of the condo from the town
building official — even though no sales have closed, the condo board
apparently took no vote on the sale of the building or the demolition, and the
three holdouts are still legal owners of units in the building.
Condominium unit owners complain
that their condominium board has made deals with developers to make the
building ripe for demolition.
Condominium unit owners complain that their condominium board has made deals
with developers to make the building ripe for demolition.
To make matters even more complicated, a letter emailed by
the Seaway board to Norris and other unit owners strongly suggests Fort Capital
and Surfside building officials were complicit with condo leaders in concocting
an essentially phony demolition permit, which they had no intention of acting
on, in an attempt to forestall historic designation.
The email says that after Fort Capital officials
“approached’’ the board with the idea, unnamed town building officials told
them they could file for the permit “with no supporting documentation or materials’’
and “the Town would take no action on the application.’’
“This simple act, it is said, may prevent an historic
designation. That application could then sit inactive for up to six months,
following which it would be denied by the Town,’’ the email continues.
“It borders on the insane,’’ Norris, a stockbroker, told members of the county’s
preservation board at a heated meeting on Wednesday as he described his
reaction to receiving a copy of the demolition notice. “It’s nothing short of
Surfside’s building official, Ross Prieto, denied being
involved in any discussion of the matter, calling the suggestion “absolutely
false.’’ Doyle, a nurse, did not respond to an email and a message left with
someone at her home by phone. Fort Capital’s Michael Conaghan did confirm that
his firm told the condo board that obtaining a demolition permit — which is
valid for six months — before designation happens could trump the legal
protections conveyed by historic status. But he said the firm had no further
Demolition is not imminent. The Miami-Dade preservation
board voted last month to consider designation of the Seaway as historic at the
request of Norris and another holdout, Bal Harbour councilwoman Patricia Cohen.
That triggered an automatic moratorium that preservation officials say they
believe freezes the demolition permit, issued in August, until the preservation
board makes a final decision.
Prieto also said the condo board would have to satisfy a
long checklist of other requirements before the building could be torn down.
For now, the three holdouts can block dissolution of the
condo association under Florida law — though that could change over the next
couple of weeks, when the Seaway board will meet to change its rules to allow
termination of the condo.
Some of their fellow condo-owners say it’s Norris and Cohen
who are acting unfairly. They say blocking the condo termination or designating
the building as historic would likely kill the pending sales and deny other
owners, some of whom they say are elderly and not financially well off, a
chance to cash out and improve their lives.
The payouts from Fort Capital range from the high six
figures to more than $1 million depending on unit size, several owners say.
That represents a substantial premium over the market value of the condos,
which according to the county appraiser’s website range roughly from around
$150,000 to over $300,000. The payout would be especially rich for a handful of
owners who control multiple units.
The willing Seaway sellers and Fort Capital officials
contend the holdouts are not interested in historic preservation, but are using
the process to “extort’’ a bigger payout from the developers, an allegation
Norris and Cohen strenuously deny. Conaghan called Cohen and Norris
“deadbeats’’ who refused to pay a substantial assessment for major repairs a
couple of years ago — though both say they are in litigation with the board,
which they claim improperly handled the project.
The sellers and Fort Capital also claim the building, which
passed a 40-year certification just two years ago, is in bad shape and needs
extensive maintenance that most owners and the association, which they contend
is broke, can’t afford to pay for — even though most of those owners have homes
somewhere else and many rent out their units.
“There is no doubt this will change the lives of the
majority of these residents. This is more money than they have ever seen in
their lives,’’ said Brian Campbell, an investor and businessman who owns two
units in the building but lives in Brickell. “It’s a tremendous windfall, a
great good fortune.
“There is no doubt the building is a ticking clock of
maintenance issues. The building is going to fall further in disrepair. If they
can’t sell, what are these people going to do?”
Just how much is at stake financially? Campbell and a group
of other owners hired powerhouse zoning attorney Lucia Dougherty of Greenberg
Traurig to represent them. Dougherty, whose appearance at a historic
preservation board meeting this week raised eyebrows, more typically represents
big developers in permitting projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Seaway tussle is unfolding amid the broader backdrop of
a sizzling luxury-condo boom and a brewing battle over historic preservation as
developers target previously overlooked waterfront areas like North Beach in
Miami Beach and small towns like Surfside and Bay Harbor Islands.
Controversial sales tactic
Some critics say it’s also helping expose a dark side of the
new real-estate boom — a controversial tactic that cash-rich investors are
increasingly adopting across Florida as they seek properties to redevelop.
In scores of cases across the state, developers have
exploited a little-known loophole in the state’s condo law to force unwilling
owners to sell. The 2007 revision, signed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, was meant
to make it easier to quickly repair condo buildings badly damaged by a natural
disaster or in urgent need of repair or demolition when all owners can’t be
The measure requires a vote of just 80 percent of owners to
terminate a condo corporation, though that can be blocked if more than 10 percent
of owners object. Formerly it took a vote of all owners to dissolve a condo.
Cohen, Norris and the third holdout, Giovanni Macri, who
lives in Italy but uses his Seaway condo as a vacation place, represent just
over 10 percent of owners, enough to block termination. But the Seaway board is
proposing to change the threshold to block termination by changing the rules
governing the condo, a move condo-law attorneys consulted by the Miami Herald
say could well be legal, depending on how those rules are drafted.
In many of the publicized cases of forced condo sales,
owners end up getting market prices significantly lower than what they paid,
often at the height of the previous market.
Several legislators have pledged to tighten the loophole
during next year’s session, but right now condo owners in Norris and Cohen’s
situation have little choice but to fight deep-pocketed developers in court,
said attorney Michael Mayer, of the Fort Lauderdale firm PaytonBolin, who
represents holdouts in a Boynton Beach case.
Mayer said the Seaway case, in which he is not involved,
represents a new wrinkle in the trend, in particular the apparent demolition
“It’s the first I’ve heard of that. But that’s the problem
with these things,’’ Mayer said. “There are so many loopholes now that, for
innocent owners who want to stay in their homes, there are so many ways that
they can get kicked out. It’s a very slippery slope.’’
But there’s a big difference in the Seaway case, said Fort
Capital’s Conaghan, noting that he’s offering owners there several times the
market value of their condos.
“We don’t feel we’re abusing the process at all,’’ Conaghan
said. “On the contrary.’’
Fort Capital’s principals say they are preservationists,
pointing to their work at the Surf Club redevelopment project. They are
restoring the landmark Mediterranean Revival core of the club, which is
designated historic, and combining it with a set of new glass towers as part of
a conversion into a Four Seasons, with a project cost running into the hundreds
of millions of dollars.
Conaghan said Fort Capital would be willing to work with the
county preservation office, which oversaw the redesign of the Surf Club, to
save the facade of the Seaway Villas and some of its chief features, including
a keystone beachfront patio. That would be combined with a redevelopment of the
Surf Club Apartments, a separate co-op they’ve bought just north of the Four
Seasons project and immediately south of the Seaway.
Meanwhile, Fort Capital has filed plans with the town to
build on the Surf Club Apartments site alone, saying it can’t make their
To combine them, Conaghan said, Fort Capital needs to own
“Unfortunately, two people are standing in the way of that
happening,’’ Conaghan said, referring to Norris and Cohen.
The American way?
But Cohen says being coerced by private interests to sell
her property is un-American. And she said the issues go beyond questions of
fairness, adding that hers is just one example of the consequences of the
foreign and out-of-town investment money flooding into Miami real estate, and
pricing or driving out local residents. Fort Capital is backed by investors
from Turkey, Brazil and Peru.
That the price Fort Capital is offering her — $1.25 million,
according to Conaghan — is several times what she paid for the condo is beside
the point, she said.
“I don’t know when this notion began that, just because
they’re overpaying, I have to sell my unit,” Cohen said, complaining that
Conaghan, his representatives and other condo owners have harassed her
relentlessly even though she has made it clear she does not want to talk to
them. “Where does it say in the U.S. Constitution that the sharks get to gobble
up the small ones?
In any case, both Cohen and Norris note, the assessed market
values have more than doubled at the Seaway, thanks to the Four Seasons
project, and they expect they will continue to rise.
“I applaud them for building a Four Seasons. I’m happy
everyone’s value is going to be enhanced,” Cohen said. “I don’t want to fight
with them. But these are bullies. Last time I checked, that’s not the American
Norris and Cohen’s request for historic status, meanwhile,
has exacerbated tensions between Surfside officials and the county’s
preservation staff and the independent, appointed board that makes decisions on
The county’s preservation office, which has jurisdiction
over municipalities lacking their own programs, has for years been trying to
identify and protect historically or architecturally significant buildings in
Surfside and Bay Harbor Islands, among other waterfront towns, before they are
overtaken by redevelopment — a central mission of the office.
But the effort has spurred a backlash by developers and some
municipal and elected officials in both Surfside and Bay Harbor, whose objections
have blocked or stalled designation of some significant Art Deco and Miami
Earlier this year, at the request of Surfside officials and
Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, the preservation board granted a
six-month delay on designation of a proposed historic district and an
individual Deco apartment building in that town.
At a Surfside commission meeting Sept. 12, Heyman delivered
a rambling broadside against county preservation officials, accusing them of
unspecified violations of preservation law, and — to huzzahs from some
commission and audience members — ridiculing the buildings they had identified
as meriting protection.
The vice mayor, Eli Tourgeman, called the buildings — which
include Deco and MiMo designs by some of Miami’s most prominent architects of
the era — “dumps,’’ while extolling an unnamed developer who wants to replace
them with what he called a “really, really high end’’ project.
Then, at the county preservation board’s Sept. 17 meeting,
Cohen and Norris made their request for designation for the Seaway with no
advance notice. The board voted to consider the application after the assistant
county attorney who advises them, Eddie Kirtley, told them property owners have
the right to make such a request.
The preservation office had already identified Seaway Villas
as a candidate for designation, but abstained from bringing it to the board to
honor Heyman’s wishes, Miami-Dade preservation chief Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman
At the board’s next meeting, this past
Wednesday, Slesnick Kauffman and preservation specialist Sarah Cody presented
an extensive report that concludes the building, constructed by the company
that developed Surfside, met two separate legal criteria for designation — for
its “excellent’’ traditional or vernacular architecture and as an important
milestone in the town’s early development.
Miffed Surfside officials then asked the board to suspend
the Seaway process, saying they had been caught unaware. Because no vote was
scheduled, the town officials and Seaway owners were told to come back next
month for a public hearing on the matter.
Preservation board members also praised Kauffman and Cody’s
work. The board chair, Mitch Novick, asked Kirtley point-blank whether he knew
of any violations by staff or the board. Kirtley said no.
Norris told the board he is sincere about protecting Seaway
“It is a beautiful building, the jewel in the crown of
Surfside,’’ he said.
From the Miami Herald - 10/18/2014
Henry B. Nathan is a Real Estate Professional in South Florida.