A judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit filed by Aventura residents against a developer who wants to build two condo towers near their exclusive communities instead of sticking to the single-family homes he had planned.
Developer Gary Cohen has proposed constructing a 160-unit condo complex, called Privé at Island Estates, on an eight-acre vacant island in the Intracoastal Waterway. A bridge connects the land with the island to the south, Island Estates, which houses 21 single-family luxury homes whose owners have taken issue with the condo plans because of traffic concerns. Owners at nearby Williams Island have also gotten involved in the dispute.
Amid a tangle of lawsuits and a well-publicized battle over a sidewalk the developer built on Island Estates, the homeowners sued Cohen, maintaining the developer doesn’t have the right to build the two 16-story condo towers. Cohen, who developed the southern island in 1998, had originally planned to build single-family homes on the north island. He later decided to build the condos instead.
On May 27, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley ruled that Cohen does have vested rights to develop the land, but it is unclear as to what exactly those rights would allow him to build. The case will continue after Bagley decided not to issue a summary judgment, as requested by the developer.
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“The issue for the Court is whether or not that vested right extends to building beyond the intended purpose, that is, the single-family homes to the condominium units,’’ Bagley said in court. “That’s where the Court believes that there is a genuine issue of material fact, as to whether or not the rights are vested to extend beyond the original intended purpose.’’
“He does have the right to build,” said Susan Raffanello, attorney for the homeowners. “But the question is, ‘What does he have the right to build?’”
Gerald Richman, Cohen’s attorney, said he was pleased that the ruling firmly established that the development rights exist, and he feels Cohen will prevail in proving his rights to build a multi-family project.
He argued that Cohen was within his rights to change plans from single-family to the condo.
“He made preliminary plans to build single family, but the market wasn’t there,” said Richman. “We are very confident that the developer has complied fully with the law, and that Privé has the right to continue its work.”
The dispute has had some notable moments in recent months. The developer couldn’t get city permits to start building unless a second sidewalk was constructed on the island to the south, Island Estates. Homeowners were able to get a restraining order when sidewalk construction started, but then a higher court overturned the restraining order.
The developer quickly laid down cement for the sidewalk, but before it could dry, two homeowners ran their Porsche SUV over the sidewalk. Charges against those homeowners, Dara and David Clarke, were later dropped.
Since the sidewalk has been built, the city has issued permits. Despite the pending litigation, work on laying the foundation for the towers will begin this week.