‘Real Housewives’ star gets OK to tear down home

03/05/2013 5:57 PM

03/06/2013 7:26 AM

A celebrity couple on Tuesday finally got approval to tear down an 88-year old mansion that preservationists want to protect.

But the saga over the Walter DeGarmo-designed home is likely to drag on: The Miami Design Preservation League has vowed to keep fighting to preserve the home.

Despite the promise to keep trying, an attorney for the couple argues that Tuesday’s approval is final, granting development rights that can’t legally be taken away.

Leonard and Lisa Hochstein — he, a plastic surgeon known as “The Boob God” and she, a cast member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami — bought the mansion just months ago. They want to tear it down to make way for a larger home, complete with a wine cellar and five-car garage.

“I’m ecstatic,” Lisa Hochstein said after the approval. “I’m hopeful it will be done before this summer.”

After the Hochsteins asked Miami Beach’s Design Review Board to approve their plans, preservationists filed an application to save the home from wrecking balls by declaring it historic. The battle over the house has dragged on for months.

Kent Harrison Robbins, an attorney working pro bono for the preservation league, argued that the Hochsteins shouldn’t have gotten their plans OK’d because of procedural issues.

Preservationists have also taken issue with a structural report submitted on behalf of the Hochsteins, which claims that the home is structurally unstable. Structural engineer Herbert Gopman told design board members that the report was “basically useless.”

Board members said they were comfortable with the report and approved the Hochsteins’ plans.

William Cary, the city’s historic preservation director, has argued that denying the Hochsteins’ application would be unethical because the home was not historic when they bought it, and preservationists did not mount their fight to save it until after the couple made plans to tear it down.

“This is the most God-awful position that our staff can be placed in,” Cary said. “It would be ethically inappropriate for another board to intervene at this time.”

After the vote for approval, Robbins wouldn’t say whether preservationists would try to appeal the decision. He has argued that an appeal is possible, but land-use attorney Michael Larkin, representing the Hochsteins, says otherwise. Larkin said the design board’s approval vests the Hochsteins’ development rights and protects the couple against a still-pending application for historic designation.

Still, Robbins said the preservation league would move forward with the historic designation process and hopes it can persuade the Hochsteins to change their minds.

“There’s always hope, until the bulldozer knocks down this building,” Robbins said.

The Hochsteins still need to get building permits — first for the new house, and then for the demolition of the old one — before the wrecking balls get called in.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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