Developer of stalled Eden condos asks Boca Raton for permit extension

Article Courtesy of The 

By Luis F. Perez

Published August 24, 2007 


It may be called Eden, but many say the Boca Raton condo project is nothing but trouble.

Now the developer who failed to complete the luxury condos has a new plan: a community for seniors.

That's if the Boca Raton City Council grants Ceebraid-Signal Corp. another two years to finish the four-building project plagued by a swirl of lawsuits and liens. The project was scheduled to have been completed three years ago, and it's the third time Ceebraid has asked for a permit extension.

At the Eden site, three building skeletons have not seen a full construction crew for months. One person who lives in the completed building compares the experience to living in Beirut


Ceebraid promises that this time it has "imminent financial restructuring" and will be working with "another experienced and substantial developer," city records show. Meanwhile, the developer is trying to buy back the units it sold and has returned money to those who put down deposits.

"It's such a nightmare," said Steve Platzek, a lawyer hired by condo owners.

It's not clear what Ceebraid means by "senior residences" or how many of the current owners would want to stay. The most recent data from the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser's Office show 27 people closed on their units in Building A, the only completed building. Some are living in there.

In 2003, Ceebraid billed the project at 300 W. Palmetto Park Road as a 204-unit luxury, resort-style condominium on the 8.5-acre site where a 250-unit apartment complex once stood. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units ranged from about 800 to 2,000 square feet and were priced from the low $200,000s up to about $450,000.

Ceebraid promised an 8,000-square-foot clubhouse with fitness center, meeting facilities, basketball and racquetball courts and a billiards room. A pool, concierge service, a business center, 24-hour security and a climate-controlled wine storage area in each building were all part of the plan.

One five-story building stands today next to three hulking, gray building skeletons that haven't seen a full construction crew in months. One resident said it's like living in Beirut. Piles of concrete block and roof tiles sit next to a fence along Palmetto Park Road. On Thursday, no construction workers could be seen on the site.

Adam Schlesinger, vice president of Ceebraid in West Palm Beach, declined to comment Thursday.

But he has said publicly that problems with the construction company, three hurricanes and skyrocketing building prices all slowed the project. Now he faces a slumping real estate market.

Platzek said Schlesinger has offered to buy back the units at the prices he sold them for in 2002 and 2003 plus 1 percent of the sale price for closing costs.

"That's not fair market value," Platzek said.

He said the unit owners couldn't find a similar unit in east Boca Raton for what they paid back then. Some owners have made improvements on their property as well, including one who put $80,000 into his condo, Platzek said.

Ceebraid's track record includes delays at another Boca Raton project, the Bacara, and with the redevelopment of the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. Town of Palm Beach officials threatened to fine the developer for continued delays. Those projects are now done.

In a move last year that enraged buyers, Ceebraid spent nearly $100 million to buy the Holiday Isle resort in Islamorada with plans to turn it into a luxury condo-hotel while Eden languished.

Jackie Badome, an agent at Nestler Poletto Sotheby's International Realty, had her Eden deposit returned earlier this year. She was glad to have it.

"They put my life on hold for a very long time," she said.

She wondered why anyone would want to stick with Eden. As a real estate agent, she said it made sense for owners to sell their units back to the developer. Those condos are "unsaleable," she said.

Eden's troubles have spawned more than 1,600 postings on one Web-based discussion board, one of which prompted a police investigation. City officials asked police to question an engineer hired by the contractor to inspect the construction work.

Hector Vergara, who oversees the buildings' structures as they go up, told police he and his wife, Olga, purchased an Eden unit more than three years ago. He denied any special treatment but acknowledged the purchase "appears to be and possibly is against the board of engineers ethics."

Olga Vergara said she's a real estate agent and put money down on a unit. That money has since been returned, she said. Hector Vergara couldn't be reached for comment despite two phone messages left at a number provided by his wife. Police cleared him this month.

John Rimes, a prosecutor with the Florida Board of Professional Engineers, said there's nothing in the state law or the board's ethics guidelines that addresses inspectors having a financial stake in a project that they're overseeing.

Boca Raton officials just want to see the Eden finished.

"The city would like to see the project completed as advertised," said Mayor Steven Abrams.

To become a 55-and-over community, Eden would need at least one person over age 55 living in 80 percent of the condos, said Gary Poliakoff, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who teaches condo law at Nova Southeastern University.

The City Council is scheduled to take up the permit extension request at a Sept. 11 meeting.