It has been a tough road for homeowners on Grove Isle since a new developer acquired interest of the commercial properties on the island in 2013. It’s turned residents’ lifestyle upside down.
For almost two years, my firm has represented a group of homeowners who do not oppose re-development on the island but do oppose the proposed development approved by the city of Miami. The new arena-style 65-condo-unit development will leave homeowners without the amenities for which they paid, and many will lose sunlight, breeze and views while being cloaked in darkness.
Meanwhile, the mainland will be flooded with noise and light pollution from floor-to-ceiling glass walls and multiple rooftop entertainment venues. Concrete will replace green space on a third of the island. Homeowners were not informed of this until 2015, after plans were approved and the developer announced the closing of the Club House and hotel, which were also open to the public.
There were no public hearings; public input wasn’t sought, though several mainland associations and the city were bound to a long-standing and hard-fought-for covenant running with the land.
Even though the approved plans did not comply with the covenant, its restrictions convinced Miami-Dade County to waive the required shoreline-development approval instituted to protect established neighborhoods. Homeowners were forced to litigate their grievances. In 2015, then-Circuit Court Judge Bronwyn Miller ruled in favor of the homeowners, mandating the developer to build a minimum 26-room hotel and a club house, and adjust his plan so as “not to affect the density” of the island as per the covenant. The developer would have to reduce the number of condominiums. However, he disregarded the court’s final order and continued gaining permit approvals while depleting the homeowners’ money reserves to keep up the fight.
While allowing the amenities to deteriorate, the developer raised membership dues by about 166% until he closed them altogether in August 2019. Eight months later, while most of us were sequestered because of COVID, demolition took place without addressing life-safety issues, such as the severely damaged seawall and a structurally compromised bridge — especially since it was intended for use by construction equipment. Pleas to city administrators were answered with, “It’s a private bridge.” Therefore, residents were left with no recourse other than to hire Pistorino & Alam Engineers to inspect the bridge. Its report concluded, “The bridge requires immediate shoring as life safety is at risk. The nature of the failure would … be a sudden collapse of a roadway span at the time a vehicle is present.”
Prior to this report, the developer was not pursuing permits for bridge or seawall repairs and rushed to demolish existing structures. His demolition caused months of construction-silt runoff into the bay and a year of “one vehicle at a time” on the bridge, causing traffic congestion on South Bayshore Drive.
The Public Works department required the developer to re-plat prior to construction on the single-plat island and establish a separate condo association. Instead, the city suggested the homeowners association and the developer negotiate to undermine the covenant restrictions. This settlement created a new exception that must be legislated, not done at administrative discretion.
Since the Surfside condo collapse, the fear of construction within 24 feet of an existing 40-year-old condo tower is mounting. The similarities between the Champlain and Grove Isle towers should be too frightening for anyone to ignore: Both feature buildings in noncompliance with 40-year recertification requirements when reports detail structural deficiencies; both are or were near new development and told that construction methods [to be used for new development] minimize effects to nearby buildings.
If this Grove Isle development is allowed to go forward as is, it will be tantamount to sacrificing the value of countless lives in favor of maximizing one developer’s profits.
Rosario Kennedy is a former city of Miami commissioner and vice mayor. She is the CEO of Rosario Kennedy & Associates.