Judge stops demolition order of looted Fort Lauderdale riverfront condos

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Larry Barszewski

Published May 26, 2012


FORT LAUDERDALE -- An abandoned and looted waterfront condominium complex that the city has been trying to demolish for almost two years could be be saved and turned into an apartment complex for seniors.

A Broward Circuit Court judge this month quashed the 2010 demolition order from the city's Unsafe Structures Board. Judge Mily Rodriguez-Powell ordered the board to consider additional evidence regarding the 58-unit New River Condominiums on Northwest 24th Avenue a block south of Sistrunk Boulevard.


Rather than appeal the ruling, City Attorney Harry Stewart is recommending the city immediately resubmit the case to the Unsafe Structures Board.

Richard Lehmann, an investment adviser who has taken control of most of the units, contends the buildings are no longer unsafe. His company, Drumm Enterprise Holdings, wants to use the small two-bedroom units for senior apartments and already has building permits for some of the work.

"When it goes back in front of the Unsafe Structures Board, it has to go back for existing violations," Lehmann said. "Those existing violations have been remedied."

But Burnadette Norris-Weeks, president of the River Gardens Sweeting Estates homeowners association, doesn't think that's the case.

Fort Lauderdale has been seeking to demolish the New River Condominiums on Northwest 24th Avenue for two years. A judge this month quashed the 2010 demolition order of the city's Unsafe Structures Board and ordered the board to hear more evidence in the case. 


"You can see everything that's been stripped down outside," Norris-Weeks said. "It's basically a big health hazard."

The 45-year-old buildings, renovated in 2005 and converted from apartments into condominiums, fell victim to the foreclosure crisis. The city stepped in and secured the buildings after looters took granite countertops, copper piping, doors, windows and anything else of value. 

Safety isn't the only issue for neighbors, who say the buildings aren't in keeping with redevelopment of the area along the New River's north fork, next to Sweeting Park.

"The community would like to see a structure there that's befitting of the beauty of the area," Norris-Weeks said.

But Lehmann said not liking the way the buildings look isn't a good enough reason to tear them down.

"There may be some neighborhood activists who say, 'Well, we want this for private residences,' but that's really not their call," Lehmann said.

Lehmann said his company either owns or holds the mortgages to 49 of the 58 units, and is in the process of foreclosing on those mortgages. He's hoping his plans can move forward now that the court has ruled.

Rodriguez-Powell said the Unsafe Structures Board did not give proper consideration to the value of the condos and the cost to repair them.

Under Florida's Building Code, if the cost of repairing an unsafe structure does not exceed 50 percent of the replacement cost, than that building can be repaired and made safe. If the repair cost is more than half the replacement cost, than the buildings shall be demolished.

Sean Moore, an attorney for Lehmann, said the cost of rehabilitating the units is under the 50 percent level.

"Certainly they do need work," Moore said. "It isn't so bad that they can't be rehabbed. It's much more economical to do that."

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