Second lawsuit in a week challenges Palm Beach utilities undergrounding project

Suit says 273 unit owners at Palm Beach Towers should not have to pay assessments

Palm Beach
Palm Beach

A second lawsuit seeking class action status is challenging Palm Beach’s plan to underground its utility lines.

The latest suit was filed in Palm Beach Circuit Court by PBT Real Estate LLC, based at the Palm Beach Towers condominium at 44 Cocoanut Row. It names the town, Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks and Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon as defendants, according to the Palm Beach Daily News.

The lawsuit states that all the owners of Pam Beach Towers’ 273 units should be exempt from paying assessments for the town’s undergrounding project because the building’s utilities are already buried underground.

The special assessments are “arbitrary and capricious” because the town has provided no evidence that the town-wide undergrounding project will benefit Palm Beach Towers condominium owners, John D. O’Neill, an attorney and registered agent of PBT Real Estate, told the Palm Beach Daily News.

The town council recently vote to levy special assessments on property owners to fund the estimated $90 million project. The Palm Beach assessments are for 30 years and the town estimates the average assessment at $1,134 for a single-family home and $316 for a condo, annually.

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Last week, two Palm Beach residents also filed suit against the town over the planned project. Condominium owner Carol Kosberg and single-family homeowner Michael Scharf filed a lawsuit seeking class action status.

In the suit, Kosberg and Scharf allege that the special assessments are invalid because the town used a consultant’s “arbitrary assessment methodology,” and that the consultant’s report “hypothesized” special benefits of safety, reliability and aesthetics based on a property’s size, density, location and other factors, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. But Town Manager Tom Bradford had said the town is using a methodology similar to others that have been approved by courts in Palm Beach County.

Kosberg and Scharf filed the lawsuit as a class action on behalf of themselves and the owners of more than 7,000 condo units, single-family homes and commercial properties in Palm Beach.

Everglades Island, Lake Towers and Nightingale Trail/La Puerta Way have buried their utilities, and property owners in those neighborhoods are paying assessments tied to their projects, and will not be assessed as part of the new town-wide project. In the latest suit, PBT Real Estate argues that because its utilities and distribution line are already underground, unit owners should be treated in the same way, the Palm Beach Daily News reported. [PalmBeachDailyNews]Ina Cordle