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Coral Gables

Owner of Gables Estates home sues Coral Gables over historic designation

The Landon House at 2 Casuarina Concourse in Gables Estates, designed by prominent architect Alfred Browning Parker, is once again the subject of a legal battle between Coral Gables and the estate of B. Carlin over its designation as historic.

The 11,183-square-foot home was built in 1966 for art-collectors and philanthropists Robert Kirk Landon and his then wife, B. Landon.

Earlier this month, property owner Cascar LLC, which represents the estate of B. Carlin, whose sole beneficiary is the B. Carlin Foundation, filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court seeking damages of at least $7 million for the loss in fair market value resulting from a denial of the estate’s application for demolition of the residence, plus associated costs. The suit seeks damages under the Bert J. Harris Private Property Protection Act, which the Florida Legislature passed in 1995 to provide greater protection to owners of private property that loses value because of government regulation.

The Coral Gables City Commission unanimously voted in February to reject the owner’s contention that keeping the home intact was “an undue economic hardship.” Cascar LLC wants to set aside the city’s historic designation of the property so the home, set on two acres along Biscayne Bay in the upscale gated community, can be demolished.

At the February hearing appraiser Robert Gallaher, hired by the owner, delivered his report to the city, concluding that the property value would be between $10 million to $12 million on the condition that demolition would be allowed. If the house were to remain, the value would decline by more than half, to about $3.5 million to $5 million.

The suit cites four written contracts for sale on the property with offers ranging from $8.5 million to $10.2 million in 2010. The suit also lists seven written offers ranging from $5.5 million to $10 million. Of these seven, the only written offer not conditioned on the buyer obtaining a demolition permit was the lowest, with an effective date of November 2011.

None of the contracts or offers have been closed.

The city’s Historic Preservation Board voted unanimously in February 2012 to designate the property historic “based on its historical, cultural and architectural significance and its exceptional importance,” and the City Commission upheld that designation a month later. Historic properties cannot be demolished in the Gables, but can be modified, as recommended by the commission earlier this year.

At that hearing, Vice Mayor Bill Kerdyk Jr. suggested that the owners could boost value to the house without affecting its designation by adding a 10,000-square-foot addition, while former commissioner Ralph Cabrera suggested modernizing the kitchen after owners and their supporters said the house and its amenities were substandard.

“Bert Harris was created for exactly what occurred to the B. Carlin estate,” said Andrew Hall, the attorney representing the owner. “If you are going to create a governmental regulation that puts a disproportionate burden on a property owner like this one … it has economic consequences. When the government makes a decision that meets the standards of Bert Harris, the affected property owner can expect the government to compensate that owner from the harm that comes with that decision.”

Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen disagrees.

“The city continues to believe that it took appropriate action without an inordinate burden on the property, and it was properly designated a historic landmark,” Leen said Friday. “We plan to defend this lawsuit and assert all our available defenses, and we are confident we will do well in court because we acted pursuant to the law and in accordance with our ordinance and did not violate Bert Harris. Indeed, because the city’s historic preservation ordinance predates the Bert Harris Act there can be no valid claim against the city under the terms of the Harris Act itself.”

Hall, however, called that argument “nonsensical” on Friday.

“You can’t question which statute came first,” he said. “Bert Harris doesn’t come into play until a decision was made, so that first line of defense is silly. No one would have any doubt that if Miami-Dade County announced that they were pleased to tell you your house has become a public park you’d expect Dade County to pay for that house. Bert Harris recognized that harm can come at a lesser level when the government puts a burden on a property owner that isn’t a full taking but still causes harm and a disproportionate burden like this designation. They are taking money away from the property owner. …[T]hat’s money we would have received for the foundation and charitable purposes had the city not made this designation,” Hall said.

Cascar has argued that the house is not a true representation of Parker’s work. The late architect was known for designing homes that reflected their environment. Two other homes in the Gables bear his stamp and are listed on the Coral Gables Register of Historic Places — 915 Bayamo Ave. (built in 1954) and 6801 Granada Blvd. (built in 1951).

Historian Arva Moore Parks, University of Florida architecture professor Martha Kohen and author Randolph Henning ( T he Architecture of Alfred Browning Parker, University Press of Florida) have all supported the home’s historical designation. “It is one of, if not the best example of, Alfred Browning Parker’s work in South Florida,” Parks wrote in an email to the city’s historic board.

Those who feel the home is not reflective of the design quality and principles of Parker (who died in 2011 at age 94) counter that the vacant home — empty since a remarried Donald Carlin’s death in 2009 — has limited views of Biscayne Bay and the Coral Gables Waterway, in addition to antiquated kitchen and bedroom areas, making it “aesthetically unpleasing.” Several Gables Estates residents have written letters to that effect to the Historic Preservation Board.

“B. Carlin was an art collector and one thing art collectors fear is light. When it contacts art it causes art to fade. That’s why museums will always control light to minimum candle power so as not to have an adverse effect on the art,” Hall said Friday. “So this house was for her work and what she wanted. Something that was on the outside was kept on the outside. If you look at the principles in his book, that is the opposite of what he [Parker] stood for.”

Coral Gables seeks to have the suit dismissed, Leen said.

“I think we have a strong argument,” he said. “We have a lot of defenses and I feel confident that we will prevail.”

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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