Owners In Surfside Were Complaining About Tower Construction Next Door

Helping Those Affected by the Surfside Tragedy 8:05

(WAB NEWS) – Two and a half years before her building ended in a pile of rubble, Mara Chouela, a resident of Champlain Towers South, launched the latest in a series of irate complaints about the neighboring construction project.

“We are concerned that construction next to Surfside is too close,” wrote Chouela, a board member for the condo association, in a January 2019 email to a construction official in his city in Florida. The workers were “digging too close to our property and we are concerned about the structure of our building,” he wrote, attaching photos of construction equipment directly in front of the wall of his building property.

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Just 28 minutes later, the official, Rosendo Prieto, replied that “I have nothing to verify.” The reason: The accused construction, an ultra-luxurious tower known as Eighty Seven Park, was directly across the border that separates the city of Surfside from the city of Miami Beach, which runs between the two buildings.

In the wake of the Champlain Towers South disaster, Eighty Seven Park is facing new scrutiny: Champlain residents had complained that construction on the neighboring building would cause their units to shake regularly, according to friends and family of condo owners. , and also according to emails published by the city.

The luxury tower known as Eighty Seven Park, on the left, next to the ruins of Champlain Towers South.

There is no evidence that the construction of Eighty Seven Park, which took place between 2016 and 2019, contributed to the collapse.

“We are confident that the construction of 87 Park did not cause or contribute to the collapse that took place at Surfside,” the construction group behind Eighty Seven Park said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday.

But the 18-story tower would not have been allowed to be built across the border in Surfside, where buildings are subject to a 12-story height limit (although Champlain Towers received an exemption in the 1980s to add 3 additional meters, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.)

That height limit does not apply in Miami Beach. The new tower looms over its now-dilapidated neighbor, its graceful glass curves contrasting with the stucco or concrete balconies of the still-standing section of Champlain South.

Magaly “Maggie” Ramsey told CNN that her mother, Magaly Delgado, who is among the missing Champlain residents, was concerned about the work being done next door.

“She complained about a lot of tremors and things that were being done to the other building that sometimes she was worried about what might be happening in her building, that could put it at risk,” Ramsey said.

The new tower was designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano and listed as the “star architect’s first residential project in the Western Hemisphere.” Its units sell for millions of dollars, far more than most of those in Champlain South, and an outlier in what has historically been a middle-class neighborhood in Miami Beach.

The owners of Eighty Seven Park have included the world’s highest-ranked tennis player: Novak Djokovic bought a condo on the building’s ninth floor in 2019 and sold it earlier this month, according to property records, less than two weeks before the collapse. mortal.

Peter Dyga, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors, said the likelihood that the construction of Eighty Seven Park “is a major cause” of the Surfside collapse “is slim, but no clues or ideas should be excluded.”

“There will probably be several things at the end that have contributed in one way or another,” he said. “Still, buildings are built alongside buildings all the time, and that doesn’t mean they collapse.”

He said that a slight tremor would not be unusual.

There are many other potential causes: Engineering reports and a letter from the building’s condominium association have documented examples of structural damage to the lost tower, with a 2018 report warning of “abundant cracks” in the concrete of the building’s parking lot. .

Residents’ struggle with the construction company across the border became a topic of conversation in Surfside. Marta Castro, a former board member of Champlain Towers East, a nearby building built by the same developer as Champlain Towers South, said she had heard many complaints from her friends and neighbors in the south building about the construction of Eighty Seven Park.

“Everyone in the city knew the problems they were facing,” he told CNN. “My neighbors could feel the vibration, they protested, they complained, nothing happened. I signed so many petitions.

And Eliana Salzhauer, a Surfside city commissioner, said she had heard residents say the building was “shaking all the time” during construction.

“They were very traumatized and shocked,” he said.

The images of day 6 of the search in Miami tragedy 2: 49Debris, noise and lack of response

Records released by the city showed that Champlain South residents sent a series of outraged emails to Terra Group, one of the Eighty Seven Park builders, complaining about construction debris, noise, and lack of response, as often attaching photos and videos.

“I am surprised and disappointed to see the lack of consideration and respect that Terra has shown to our residents,” Anette Goldstein, a member of the condo board, wrote to executives at the construction company. “You said you want to be a good neighbor… This is truly outrageous and unprecedented from what we hear from other associations in the area that have dealt with construction alongside them.”

In this aerial view, search and rescue personnel work after the partial collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium building. Eighty Seven Park is on the left.

A Terra executive responded that construction workers had addressed or were in the process of fixing a number of specific problems, including plastic foam clogging Champlain’s pool and unsecured tarps flapping loudly in the wind.

The emails released by Surfside so far do not show residents specifically complaining to Terra about the building’s shaking, or raising the possibility of structural damage directly with the construction company.

Miami Beach employees responded to more than 50 noise complaints at the building’s management between 2016 and 2019, most of which specified construction noise, and builders were fined for excessive noise at least eight times, according to records from the the city. But there does not appear to have been any code enforcement cases specifically related to the alleged construction shake.

A Miami Beach spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment on whether construction officials in the city were aware of the complaints from Champlain Towers residents or planned to investigate the problem in the wake of the disaster. Prieto, the former Surfside construction official, also did not respond.

Miami Beach approved the construction of Eighty Seven Park in 2015, with a review board allowing for a height increase from 18 meters to 60 meters, according to news reports at the time. As part of the approval, Terra agreed to build public walking paths from the street to the beach and pay the city US $ 10.5 million for improvements to a nearby park and other infrastructure improvements. In exchange, the developer took over the street right-of-way, 87th Terrace, which separates the building from Champlain South.

Joy Malakoff, who served as Miami Beach commissioner at the time, said she had not heard any complaints from Surfside residents about the construction. “As far as I know, Eighty Seven Park was built with great care, well built and expensive,” Malakoff said.

The construction had previously faced controversy over the demolition of the Biltmore Terrace Hotel, designed by well-known Miami architect Morris Lapidus, which was previously on the site. The hotel had not been protected by the historic preservation rules, but Terra had originally said that it would renovate the hotel and add a condo building to the property next to it.

Instead, he demolished the hotel, saying the project was not viable. Some community activists complained of a “hoopla,” the Miami Herald reported at the time.

Malakoff said the hotel was in bad shape. “There were some conservationists who really fought to keep it, but it had already passed its life,” he said.

Now, the condo tower is among the most expensive in the city. His penthouse hit the market in 2019 with a price tag of $ 68 million, a price that would have been the highest paid for any condo sold in Florida, according to The Wall Street Journal. (It eventually sold for just $ 37 million.)

A $ 10.9 million four-bedroom condo in the building was posted on the Zillow real estate website earlier this month, with photos showing an expansive view of what is now a pile of rubble.

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