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Surfside land swap for Florida condo collapse site rejected

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 9/15/2021
FILE - In this  Sunday, July 11, 2021, file photo, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett gives remarks during the daily morning news conference outside the County's operational center in Surfside, Fla. A Miami Beach apartment building owned by the mayor of Surfside where a condominium collapsed in June has given his tenants 45 days to vacate the building so extensive repairs can be completed. The lease termination letter from Burkett said they've been waiting for the city of Miami Beach to issue permits to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in 2017. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald via AP, File): Building Collapse Miami © Provided by Associated Press Building Collapse Miami

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Commissioners in Surfside, Florida, have rejected a proposal to trade public beachfront to the eventual buyer of the condominium collapse site so that a memorial to the 98 victims could be built there.

The decision followed an emotional meeting Tuesday as family members of those who died in the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South and town residents packed the commission chambers, the Miami Herald reported. They had to set up an overflow room to accommodate the crowd.

After about an hour of public comment, commissioners told the victims' families that they wouldn't consider a proposal to tear down Surfside's community center and build a new one, along with a memorial, at the collapse site. They also said they would not put such a land swap before voters in a referendum.

“My heart breaks for you because I know this is something that you were getting your hopes up about,” Mayor Charles Burkett, who was the lone supporter of the proposal, said. “I hope you will not give up hope.”

Commissioners Salzhauer and Nelly Velasquez had appealed to opponents of the idea to speak up.

“This is the moment we come together as a community to defend our community center and all town-owned properties,” Velasquez wrote on social media. Salzhauer wrote separately that the town “will NOT allow this tragedy to be exploited for profit and become the undoing or Surfside’s priceless community center and our residents’ quality of life.”

Staff with the HistoryMiami Museum work at the site of a memorial wall honoring the victims of the nearby deadly building collapse on June 24 that killed 98 people, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. The museum is working with the city and county to catalog the items and preserve them in an archival bin for safekeeping. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky): Building Collapse Miami © Provided by Associated Press Building Collapse Miami

Deliberations were interrupted at times by upset family members, the newspaper reported. One man yelled “Let the people vote!” A woman pressed Salzhauer on her recent comments, saying: “You called us delusional.”


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The board agreed to explore ways to build a victims memorial, either on a sliver of land where part of the tower fell, or at another location.

Currently, an offer of $120 million for the Champlain Towers South property is on the table. The swap plan would have allowed the buyer to build a tower instead at the site of Surfside's 10-year-old community center, which features an oceanfront pool and waterslide and multi-purpose rooms. A new center would be built, along with a memorial, at the disaster site.

Dried flowers hang from a fence as staff with the HistoryMiami Museum work at the site of a memorial wall honoring the victims of the nearby deadly building collapse on June 24 that killed 98 people, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. The museum is working with the city and county to catalog the items and preserve them in an archival bin for safekeeping. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) © Provided by Associated Press Dried flowers hang from a fence as staff with the HistoryMiami Museum work at the site of a memorial wall honoring the victims of the nearby deadly building collapse on June 24 that killed 98 people, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. The museum is working with the city and county to catalog the items and preserve them in an archival bin for safekeeping. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Miami-Dade Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing the class-action lawsuit over the collapse, had favored the swap as a way of compensating victims through a property sale while enabling a memorial to be built.

“It shouldn’t be their decision, it should be the residents’ decision,” said David Rodan, whose brother and three cousins died in the collapse. “They’re afraid because they know that the residents want to do the right thing, they want to look back in history and see a memorial where it should be instead of a building.”

Rodan told the Herald that he and his group will continue pushing for a referendum.

“The community wants to see a memorial there and if the land swap is the only option, the community is willing to move their community center five blocks,” Rodan said.

However some residents who oppose the land swap told commissioners they support a memorial site, but not at the expense of the community center.

“I’m in favor of a memorial. I think it’s only right for the victims and their families. I’m not in favor of a land swap,” Surfside resident Paul O’Malley told NBC6.

Raquel Oliveira, whose husband and 5-year-old son died in the collapse, asked commissioners to help the families find a way to build a memorial.

“Maybe the swap is not the best option or maybe it is,” she said. “What I ask is that we have a little bit of time to take the right decision.”

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