UPDATED, Sept. 15, 12:53 p.m.: Aimco’s plans for a luxury high-rise condo tower in South Beach were shot down by a Miami Beach board on Friday.
The design review board rejected the real estate investment trust’s application to construct The Grand Flamingo, which would mark the fourth tower within the 16-acre Flamingo South Beach complex, with six members voting against it and one voting in favor. The vote came after several South Beach residents urged the board to vote it down or continue it, and after one board member called Aimco a “bad corporate citizen.”
Among those who spoke out against The Grand Flamingo are homeowners within Flamingo community’s south tower, a 15-story, 562-unit building on the south side that was partially converted into condominiums in the mid-2000s.
AIR Communities, which last year spun off and became a separate company led by Aimco founder and former CEO Terry Considine, acquired the Flamingo units and land where the tower is proposed from Aimco, SEC filings show. As part of the deal Aimco is leasing the land but is not involved in the litigation. Subsidiaries of AIR Communities are suing the south tower association.
Aside from concerns about the project’s potential traffic impact, Flamingo South Tower homeowners told the board that Aimco and then AIR Communities never delivered on promised improvements, has failed to maintain the south tower or prevent frequent flooding of its parking garage, and is not providing adequate security or services. Residents also complained of the lawsuit against the south tower’s condominium association.
“Aimco has not met with us. They took the time to meet with WAvNA [West Avenue Neighborhood Association], but not the owners who actually live on the site itself,” said Jason Savitz, a 15-year resident of Flamingo Tower South. “Even worse than that, Aimco has filed a lawsuit that is now pending before Judge [Michael] Hanzman.”
David Weissman, a South Tower unit owner, said the developer’s actions were in direct contradiction to the design review board’s instructions to meet with neighbors when it continued the application in early August.
“This is the complete opposite of working with the community – twisting their arms until you hear a snap,” Weissman said.
Residents of The Capri, a seven-story, 69-unit condo at 1445 16th Street, were also opposed to The Grand Flamingo due to the proposed building’s 140-foot height and its potential traffic impact on the two-lane Bay Road. Louis Costanzo, a Capri resident, noted that The Grand Flamingo will be less than 35 feet away from his building, and that Aimco only made two phone calls to the Capri association.
“We have a lot of concerns that need to be addressed,” Costanzo said.
Michael Larkin, Aimco and AIR Communities’ attorney, emphasized that the city’s planning staff analyzed the tower’s plans and found them to be in compliance with the city’s zoning code. Larkin said the tower is the fifth-phase of a redevelopment plan that aims to move Flamingo South Beach from a party community into a pedestrian family friendly complex. The units at The Grand Flamingo would be larger and more family oriented, Larkin said.
Similar renovation efforts within Flamingo’s Central and North towers will also reduce the overall unit count at the Flamingo complex, which has 1,679 units, by 206 units, Larkin added.
Additionally, Larkin said WAvNA and the Belle Plaza Condominium Association now support the application. WAvNA’s opposition ended after the developer vowed not to pursue any zoning variances, to clean the public bay walk twice a day, and to close the new tower’s roof deck after sunset.
Belle Plaza’s support came after the developer promised to provide that association “window washings, balcony cleanings, car washes, pool filters, and legal fees” following design review board approval, according to a letter from Larkin to the board.
As for the Flamingo South Tower, Larkin said he couldn’t meet with them because “we are in litigation with the South Tower organization and litigation counsel has advised us not to meet with south tower residents.” Larkin insisted that the DRB shouldn’t be dissuaded by what is essentially a private legal dispute over what he claimed were the south tower residents’ refusal to pay their fair share of special assessments.
Savitz denounced the special assessment argument as a “red herring” and that he himself has paid every special assessment ever levied. “This is not about a special assessment. What this is about is us not being heard,” Savitz said.
According to the lawsuit against the Flamingo/South Beach I Condo Association, AIR Communities owns 222 units in the south tower, while third party individual unit owners own 340 residences. Aimco paid $53.6 million for its portion of the Flamingo South Beach in 1997.
AIR Communities is alleging that the condo association was obligated under the Flamingo’s reciprocal maintenance, use and easement agreement (REA) to pay $7 million for improvements throughout the community’s common areas and to cooperate with the developer’s quest to get its “revised plans,” including the 14-story tower approved by the city.
Instead, the suit claimed, the south tower’s association agreed to pay $5.7 million “under protest” and withheld its consent for the revised site plan. The lawsuit alleges that because the association violated the terms of the REA agreement, AIR Communities suffered $3 million in damages.
Board member Sam Sheldon, who suggested continuing the application, said he believed Aimco is using its “position to abuse the residents of the south tower.”
“On no other application in my two and a half years on the board I have not had as many aggrieved people as I had on this application, and it is not because of idiosyncrasies, it is because Aimco is a bad corporate citizen,” Sheldon said. “… Aimco acts contemptuously toward their neighbors and, frankly, this board because the directive was to go and speak to members of the south tower and, instead, Aimco is suing the south tower condominium association to compel their consent to this application.”
Board member Sarah Giller Nelson was in favor of rejecting the proposal. She said there are “fundamental problems with what is being proposed.”
Larkin said a denial would be “rather harsh” and “served no purpose.” He suggested continuing the item to November.
Jason Hagopian cast the lone dissenting vote in favor of the proposal.
Aimco and AIR, both publicly traded REITs based out of the same building in Denver, have had other recent conflicts at other properties. In Miami’s Edgewater community, Aimco canceled the leases of all of its residents at the bayfront Hamilton on the Bay tower as it gut renovates the building. Some tenants remain, though they are expected to move out this month.
This story has been updated to reflect AIR Communities’ role in the proposed development and litigation.