‘Real Housewives’ star and husband can tear down historic home

02/13/2014 4:13 PM

02/13/2014 9:15 PM

The Miami Design Preservation League has dropped its lawsuit trying to block the demolition of the Star Island home owned by Real Housewives of Miami cast member Lisa Hochstein and her plastic surgeon husband, Leonard “the boob god.”

The appeal was the only thing standing between the 1925 home, designed by Walter DeGarmo, and the wrecking ball.

As part of a settlement agreement, the Hochsteins also agreed to drop a countersuit challenging the preservation league’s ability to file for historic designation of his home. The couple also agreed to contribute $25,000 toward the league’s cost of fighting to protect the home.

Leonard Hochstein and his attorney, John Shubin, did not return requests for comment.

The settlement ends a year-long battle between the celebrity couple and Miami Beach’s historic preservation community. The fight highlighted an uptick in the number of historic Beach single-family homes that have been demolished, and was used as beacon to push for changes in the city’s preservation laws.

“It’s very upsetting for everybody because maybe the most historic home in Miami Beach is going to be demolished,” said preservation league chairman Charles Urstadt.

Driving over the MacArthur Causeway, the white manse at 42 Star Island is clearly seen against the waters of Biscayne Bay. Its prominence was one of the reasons preservationists fought so hard to save it, plus the fact that it was designed by Florida’s first registered architect.

“This house has character,” said Historic Preservation Board member David Wieder at a meeting to consider designating the home historic.

The Hochsteins bought the house in foreclosure for about $8 million in late 2012. Jeannette Branam — whose grandson was murdered along with his wife in the highly publicized “Joe Cool” boat hijacking in 2007 — had lived in the home since 1978.

The celebrity couple says the home has to come down because it is structurally unsound and below the flood plain. They want to build their dream home: a 20,000-square-foot estate, complete with six bedrooms, seven bathrooms, a home theater, game room, wine cellar, five-car garage and guest house.

In March, the Hochsteins got city approval to tear down the home. But by then, the preservation league had already filed an application to protect it from demolition and to have it declared historic.

Then came the court action.

The preservation league went to court to appeal the city’s approval of a demolition order. And the Hochsteins sued, questioning the league’s right to meddle in city processes.

But even a legal win for the league — which some say was a long shot — would not have saved the home. All it would have done is require the Hochsteins to go back to the city to get their tear-down plans approved again. The catch is that the city has no authority to deny demolition if a home has not been designated historic.

That battle ended last month. The final decision on whether to protect 42 Star by declaring it historic fell to the City Commission, which rejected it.

“Essentially MDPL recognizes that the City Commission unanimously rejected the Historic Preservation Board’s unanimous recommendation of its historic designation,” said Kent Harrison Robbins, a lawyer for the preservation league. “Given that, the house is lost.”

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