Fisher Island homeowners sue developer and community association tied to ferry landings

Developer plans to build a 10-story condo and 12 single-family homes on 14.7 acres currently used for one of Fisher Island’s three ferry landings

Thomas Lauria and Heinrich Von Hanau, with Fisher Island
Thomas Lauria and Heinrich Von Hanau, with Fisher Island

Plans for a new luxury condominium tower and a new single-family home development on Fisher Island would eliminate a third ferry landing used for emergencies, according to a recently filed lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Homeowners Thomas Lauria, Jeff Horowitz and George Pearlman are suing developer Fisher Island Holdings, two related entities and the Fisher Island Community Association. The plaintiffs, who are elected board members of the association, are seeking to void a settlement agreement reached over the summer that paved the way for Fisher Island Holdings to obtain approvals last month from Miami-Dade County for the two projects.

The developer, led by Heinrich Von Hanau, plans to build a 57-unit, 10-story condominium at 6 Fisher Island Drive, and 12 single-family homes at 68 Fisher Island Drive. The projects, designed by Kobi Karp, are to be built on 14.7 acres of land currently used for one of Fisher Island’s three ferry landings, which are the primary way to enter and exit the island, according to Lauria, a partner with the law firm White & Case. For the lawsuit, Lauria and his fellow plaintiffs are represented by Bilzin Sumberg.

Fisher Island, one of the most expensive ZIP codes in the U.S., is accessible only by boat or ferry. The entrance fee for an equity membership at the Fisher Island Club is $250,000, and provides access to the island’s private marina, golf course, spa, restaurants, school and retail.

“Out of left field, the club, the community association and the developer made a deal to eliminate the emergency exit off the island,” Lauria said. “There was no study done and [the settlement] was done under the cover of darkness.”

Lawyers for Fisher Island Holdings and the community association did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit alleges the community association and the developer reached a settlement agreement on June 5 to end previous lawsuits filed against Fisher Island Holdings. As part of the deal, Fisher Island Holdings is relinquishing control of the two main ferry landings to the community association, as well as making a $2.5 million cash payment.

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In exchange, the community association agreed to fully support Fisher Island Holdings’ zoning applications that went before the county commission on Sept. 24.

Lauria said the lawsuit won’t override the county’s approvals of the two projects, but if the settlement agreement is voided, Fisher Island Holdings would not be able to build on the third ferry landing site.

“If they are contractually prohibited from doing it, they can’t do it,” Lauria said. “But I am very disappointed with the county commission. They had no interest in hearing from island residents.”

The lawsuit also accuses community association president and CEO Roberto Sosa of ignoring the three plaintiffs’ requests to hold a meeting with the nine-member Fisher Island Community Association’s board of directors, which is made up of five people appointed by the developer, one appointed by the club and three members elected by Fisher Island homeowners.

The lawsuit alleges that Sosa repeatedly stifled requests for a meeting by claiming that some board members were out of town. “To this day we have not been able to get the community association to hold a board meeting,” Lauria said. “Eliminating the emergency exit off the island is a serious life safety issue. Imagine if there is a hurricane or some sort of disaster and the main ferry ramp goes down. How are we going to get people off the island?”

Von Hanau recently completed the luxury Fisher Island condo buildings Palazzo Del Sol and Palazzo Della Luna. The companies bankrolling the projects are owned by Valmore Trust, the beneficiaries of which are Inna Gudavadze — a businesswoman from the country of Georgia and the widow of one of Georgia’s wealthiest men, Arkady “Badri” Patarkatsishvili — and her daughters Liana Zhmotova and Iya Patarkatsishvili.