Miami-Dade judge nixes Fisher Island lawsuit, paving way for new condo project

Fisher Island Holdings plans to build 10-story, 57-unit luxury condo development

From left to right: Heinrich von Hanau, James Ferraro and Thomas Lauria (Palazzo Del Sol, The Ferraro Law Team, White & Case)
From left to right: Heinrich von Hanau, James Ferraro and Thomas Lauria (Palazzo Del Sol, The Ferraro Law Team, White & Case)

UPDATED, Aug. 3, 6:45 p.m.: Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman blocked a legal maneuver aimed at stopping Heinrich Von Hanau from building one more luxury condominium and 12 houses on Fisher Island.

Hanzman approved a settlement agreement on Monday involving Von Hanau’s Fisher Island Holdings, while dismissing a lawsuit filed by homeowners Thomas Lauria, Jeff Horowitz and George Perlman.

Last year, the trio sued Fisher Island Holdings, a related entity, Fisher Island Club and Fisher Island Community Association, in an effort to void a deal that settled previous lawsuits against the developer.

“Fisher Island has been embroiled in seemingly endless litigation,” Hanzman wrote in his order. “It damages property values, and it damages the perception of the community and the people who live in it. It is time for all this litigation to meet its end.”

The settlement allows Fisher Island Holdings to move forward with plans for a 10-story building with 57 condos at 6 Fisher Island Drive and 12 single-family homes at 68 Fisher Island Drive. Once completed, no other developments will be allowed on the island.

Jason Sternberg, the attorney for Fisher Island Holdings, said his client is pleased with Hanzman’s ruling “so that it can focus on the development of the final world-class residences on Fisher Island.”

In their lawsuit, Lauria, Horowitz and Perlman alleged the proposed developments would eliminate a third ferry landing used for emergencies, resulting in dangerous life safety issues on Fisher Island. One of the wealthiest enclaves in the nation, Fisher Island is only accessible by ferry, boat or helicopter.

The plaintiffs also alleged a three-member committee that evaluated the settlement agreement could not act independently because of close relationships with Von Hanau.

Lauria and Alan Kluger, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, declined comment.

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Sashi Bach, the attorney representing Fisher Island Community Association, noted Hanzman wrote in his order that the settlement agreement would pass a fairness test with “flying colors.”

“That was a result of the committee working around the clock to get this deal done in the best possible way for Fisher Island,” Bach said. “It is a phenomenal deal to get things on the right path forward.”

The settlement agreement has Fisher Island Holdings making a $2.5 million cash payment.

Committee member Jim Ferraro, owner of a penthouse in Fisher Island’s Palazzo del Sol, said previous lawsuits against the developer were trivial, including a complaint about a seawall that was recently rebuilt on the isle.

“We could have easily lost that lawsuit,” Ferraro said. “You don’t want your life to be all about litigation. You want your life to be about sunshine and dinners.”

The Lauria lawsuit accused Ferraro and another committee member, Archie Drury, of being conflicted due to their relationships with Von Hanau. For instance, the plaintiffs alleged Ferraro could not render an impartial opinion on the settlement because Von Hanau gifted him a case of wine, and because he had offered the developer tickets to the Tour de France. Drury allegedly had a conflict because he attempted to buy a condo from Von Hanau by offering the marketing and promotional services of his wife, who is a high-end and well-paid model, as consideration for partial payment, the plaintiffs claimed.

Hanzman ruled that the allegations were irrelevant and insignificant, describing them as “all sizzle and very little steak.”

Ferraro also scoffed at the allegations. “The developer gave a case of wine to all the people who live [in Palazzo Del Sol].” he said. “As far as the bike tickets, that was me offering him something, and not the other way around. I have no interest except what is best for the island.”

In addition to Palazzo Del Sol, Fisher Island Holdings also recently built the condo building Palazzo Della Luna.