Wurzak sues Fort Lauderdale over approval of site plan for Naftali’s 1,000-unit project

Dalmar Hotel owner alleges the commission’s vote on the site plan violates the city’s downtown master plan

Fort Lauderdale Sued Over Approval of Naftali Project

From left: Wurzak Hotel Group’s Jake Wurzak, Naftali Group’s Miki Naftali and Mayor of Fort Lauderdale Dean Trantalis along with a rendering of the nearly 1,000-unit development planned at 201 North Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale (Getty, Wurzak Hotel Group, Naftali Group)

Hotel developer Jake Wurzak is suing the city of Fort Lauderdale over its approval of Naftali Group’s towers planned for the site next door to his Dalmar Hotel. 

Wurzak, via his 299 N. Federal Master LLC, is alleging the city commission’s Dev. 5 site plan approval of Naftali’s nearly 1,000-unit development at 201 North Federal Highway is invalid and not final.

The vote allowed for two deviations from the city’s downtown master plan that boost the maximum floor plate size and the maximum streetwall length. Wurzak told The Real Deal that it sets “a very scary precedent in Fort Lauderdale if zoning laws are just treated as suggestions.” 

Wurzak alleges that the city’s process to consider Naftali’s deviations failed to meet the principles and the overall intent of the city’s downtown master plan. Wurzak is seeking declaratory judgment. His entity is also alleging that the resolution passed by the commission is invalid because it incorrectly states that it passed unanimously, according to the lawsuit. 

The Fort Lauderdale commission voted 4-1 for Naftali’s site plan. Commissioner Warren Sturman voted against it, while Mayor Dean Trantalis, commissioners John Herbst, Steven Glassman and Pamela Beasley-Pittman voted in favor. 

Naftali, led by Chairman and CEO Miki Naftali, paid $20 million for the property at 201 North Federal Highway in 2022, shortly after its $40.5 million purchase of a Miami Worldcenter development site. 

In December, the commission voted to increase the floorplate size for Fort Lauderdale project’s the top floors to nearly 16,000 square feet from 12,500 square feet. 

The changes will allow the developer to build a 936-unit project in 47-story and 45-story towers next to the Dalmar, a 25-story hotel at 299 North Federal Highway. During the December meeting, Wurzak, who spoke in opposition to Naftali’s requests, estimated that the deviations gave the developer about 220 units more than it could build by right. 

The Dalmar was completed in 2019, before the commission amended the downtown master plan, which changed the maximum building height from 30 stories up to whatever the Federal Aviation Administration will allow. 

Naftali agreed to put about $9.4 million in the city’s affordable housing fund instead of charging below-market rents for some of the units. That payment “carried no promise that those funds would be used for affordable housing in the city of Fort Lauderdale,” according to Wurzak’s complaint. 

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Naftali said in a statement that it plans to move forward with the project as scheduled. It is not a defendant in the lawsuit that Wurzak filed. 

“[We] look forward to working with all parties involved to make this development a success,” the statement reads. 

City Attorney Thomas Ansbro said via email that the city does not comment on pending litigation. 

During the meeting, Wurzak said the approval would “have a disastrous effect” on his Dalmar hotel. He said that Naftali’s mindset is “unjust, unneighborly and unacceptable.” 

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“Nine months ago when I learned of this project on my own, I called the developer to express my concerns,” he told the commission. “The developer’s response to that call: ‘You do something for me, I do something for you.’” 

Wurzak alleges that the resolution “leaves the door open” regarding Naftali’s design of the garage, which would become the new view from the Dalmar’s pool deck and restaurant. The garage design would obstruct air flow, the view to the south and the Dalmar’s amenities, according to the complaint. 

Commissioner Herbst suggested Naftali meet with Wurzak to agree on the design, with the city attorney suggesting the developer come back to the commission, which is not part of the resolution the commission passed. 

“How is it possible that the city process allows for approximately 200 free units to be given away without a standard?” Wurzak told TRD. “That’s what’s most concerning. … That’s why we have zoning laws and standards in place so people, when they invest in a community, can rely on some level of predictability.”