Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Published December 12, 2015
A messy legal fight over a high-rise condo going up on a
vacant island in Aventura got a little bit clearer last week when a judge
dismissed a $225 million lawsuit filed by developers against nearby
homeowners who oppose the project.
Developers Gary Cohen and BH3 sued more than 20 residents in February,
saying they were “doing everything in their power, legal or not” to stop the
eight-acre project, called Privé at Island Estates, “either out of avarice
for financial gain or selfishness.” The developers said the homeowners had
signed a contract agreeing to the project, and asked for $225 million in
But Miami-Dade Judge Jerald Bagley threw out those claims Friday after a
motion by the defendants to dismiss the case. The judge found that the
homeowners, who live on a neighboring island, had never signed the
agreement. Many of them have complained about increased traffic and a
sidewalk being built on what they say is their property.
Bagley also suggested that the developers had filed the suit to intimidate
the homeowners, referencing a Florida law that prevents “strategic lawsuits
against public participation,” according to a court transcript.
“They sued for $225 million in my view to get some headlines going,” said
Susan Raffanello, an attorney for the defendants. “Cohen was attempting to
punish the homeowners for standing up for their property rights.”
Daniel Lebensohn, one of the developers, said his group may appeal.
“I completely reject what the judge found,” Lebensohn said. “It’s an
underhanded attempt [by the homeowners] to derail a legitimate business
operation in South Florida. . . . Their counsel is no better than your
average ambulance chaser, making lots of noise but lacking substance to back
The developers have already begun construction on the project, which will
include two 16-story towers and 160 units. One of the towers now stands at
four stories, Lebensohn said, adding that sales have been strong.
The dispute between developers and homeowners has caused serious bad blood
The recently dismissed suit is one of at least six filed in local, state and
federal courts by both sides over the Privé project. Several are still
ongoing, including a suit with 2,000 residents of nearby Williams Island.
Developers dropped a $200 million claim against the city of Aventura in May
after they were granted a building permit. They also agreed to pay any legal
costs for the city stemming from the project.
In February, the drama spilled from the courts into the streets when two
residents were arrested after allegedly driving their cars onto a freshly
poured sidewalk the developers had built in front of their home. The couple
said the sidewalk was on their land. Prosecutors declined to charge them.