Surfside Approves New Luxury Condo at Site of Deadly Building Collapse
The Surfside Town Commission approved Damac Properties‘ plan to build a luxury condo development where the Champlain Towers South building collapsed two years ago. The 3-2 decision was made during a contentious six-hour meeting Wednesday, despite fierce objections from surviving victims and family members of the deceased over a loading dock that would be placed near a memorial.
During the meeting, Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger had a man kicked out for allegedly showing his middle finger and pointing a finger gun toward him, and threatened to expel all audience members over interruptions, such as applause. Mayor Danzinger also repeatedly sparred with Commissioners Nelly Velasquez and Marianne Meischeid, who both voted against the development.
Damac Properties, a Dubai-based developer, had acquired the 1.8-acre, oceanfront site for $120 million through a court-ordered sale in 2022, nearly a year after the Champlain condo building fell. Earlier this year, Damac unveiled plans to erect a 12-story building with 57 units, designed by the world-renowned Zaha Hadid Architects. The developer later shaved the number of condos to 52.
Under the proposal, a loading dock meant for trash pickup would be on 88th Street near a memorial to the 98 people killed in the condo’s collapse. The layout angered some victims and family members, who argued the loading dock would defile an area meant to commemorate the tragedy.
“Is it normal for 98 people to get killed in a place they called home and have to rally for respect?” Martin Landesfled, whose sister and brother-in-law died in the collapse, said before the meeting.
Further fueling controversy were differing accounts of prior discussions about the loading dock with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDT).
At last month’s Planning and Zoning Board meeting, a representative for Damac said that FDT officials had instructed the firm to keep the trash and loading facilities away from Collins Avenue, the main road running through Surfside, and move it to the adjacent 88th Street. The board approved the proposal by 4-1 last month.
A day after the meeting, a FDT spokesperson disputed Damac’s claims, saying that officials had not discussed where the loading dock should be located with the firm’s representative at an August meeting.
Another point of contention centered around Damac’s construction staging area, which the developer wanted to set up on 88th Street. Some victims and family members feared the move could delay construction of the memorial.
In recent months, Mayor Danzinger drew heat from some victims and family members for failing to disclose a trip he took to Dubai, where he met with Damac CEO and founder Hussain Sajwani.
The commission’s narrow approval of the condo development came with conditions meant to address the two concerns. Damac is required to submit plans moving the loading dock and the construction staging area to Collins Avenue. Miami-Dade County and FDT also need to greenlight the changes. Damac has previously promised $1.5 million for the construction of a memorial park.
The cause of Champlain’s collapse remains unknown, but most evidence points to faulty design and construction of a pool deck, as well as poor maintenance. In its most recent report, the agency leading the federal probe, National Institute of Standards and Technology, basically ruled out the alternative possibility of a sinkhole and again pointed to the pool construction, but it is not expected to make a final determination before 2025.
Julia Echikson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.