March 26, 2013

Miami Beach sued over home of ‘Real Housewives’ cast member

Miami Beach is facing a lawsuit over a home owned by a cast member of ‘The Real Housewives of Miami.’

The fight over whether to tear down or preserve an 88-year-old Miami Beach mansion has made its way to court.

Miami Beach resident Leonard Hochstein has filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that Miami Beach’s rules illegally gave a leading nonprofit preservation group — the Miami Design Preservation League — the authority to ask the city to designate his home as historic.

The lawsuit also claims that the application for historic designation is delaying Hochstein’s ability to get permits to build a new home and that his constitutional rights are being violated.

“The lawsuit is without merit and will be vigorously defended and ultimately dismissed,” city attorney Jose Smith wrote in an email to The Miami Herald.

John Shubin, an attorney representing Hochstein, didn’t return a call for comment.

The drama centers around a Star Island mansion designed by Florida’s first registered architect, Walter DeGarmo. Celebrity couple 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 home late last year after it fell into foreclosure.

They asked the city for permission to tear it down and build a new, bigger home. The Miami Design Preservation League responded by filing an application to save the home from the wrecking ball by declaring it historic.

The Hochsteins got their application approved first. But the Miami Design Preservation League on Tuesday filed an appeal of the decision. Their application for historic designation is also still pending.

Miami Beach’s city code allows “any organization whose purpose is to promote the preservation of historic sites” to ask the city to designate a site as historic. The lawsuit claims that that section of the city’s rules is “unconstitutional” and is “being illegally enforced.”

Smith, the city attorney, countered in an email by writing: “In a prior opinion from the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal, argued by John Shubin … the Court rejected an argument that a neighborhood association much like MDPL, lacked standing to appeal an adverse ruling from a county board.”

The lawsuit also claims that the league’s application for historic designation is preventing Hochstein from getting permits to redevelop the site of his recently bought home. But city officials say that the preservation league’s actions aren’t what’s holding up the Hochsteins.

The preservation league’s appeal wasn’t filed until March 26 — which is after the lawsuit was filed on March 22.

Regardless of whether there’s an application for historic designation pending, Miami Beach has special rules for homes slated for demolition if:

• They are deemed architecturally significant by the city’s staff;
• They were built before 1942.

The Hochsteins’ home met both criteria. So, Miami Beach’s city code required them to get new building plans approved before they could get a demolition permit.

Now that the preservation league has appealed the Hochsteins’ approved plans, the plans will be reconsidered in front of a special master, according to an attorney for the league.

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