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Families of Surfside victims to confront town commissioners over proposed land swap

Martin Vassolo, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

There may also be land-use and zoning restrictions standing in the way of the proposal, according to Town Manager Andy Hyatt, who wrote a letter last week to the court-appointed receiver for the Champlain Towers South Condominium Association outlining the town’s position. He said there is no appetite from the town to move forward with the proposal.

“The community center is the centerpiece of the Town’s services to its roughly 6,000 residents and the crown jewel of its public facilities,” Hyatt wrote. “Its central location is integral to equitably providing services to all Town residents, adult and child alike, and the amenities it provides should be maintained in its current central location without interruption. Accordingly, the community center site is not for sale, lease or exchange, even for this worthy cause.”

After reading Hyatt’s letter Friday, Judge Hanzman said he could not mandate that Surfside commissioners approve the plan, but told the outspoken family members in attendance that they could use their voices to lobby for it.

The near-unanimous, almost immediate rejection to the land swap disheartened — but motivated — the families who are pushing for a memorial to be built at the collapse site instead of a new residential building. The current plan is to sell off the land and put a memorial somewhere else in Surfside or in neighboring Miami Beach.

The families, who organized in a WhatsApp group chat, said they launched a media blitz, created the hashtag #SUPPORTTHELANDSWAP, wrote to elected leaders and circulated fliers asking supporters to speak in favor of the land swap at Tuesday’s meeting.

Carlos Wainberg, whose brother-in-law and cousins died in the collapse, likened their fight to that of 9/11 families who fought to build a memorial at ground zero. He said the new community center could be built to have upgraded facilities and more parking, and that private donations could be solicited to pay for the design and construction.


“We’re gonna do everything in our power to try to stop the sale of this land before the Surfside residents actually get the chance to make a decision about what’s supposed to go on that land,” he said.

But Salzhauer said she won’t support a special election, which she said would create a “civil war” in Surfside and allow developers to influence the election.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Salzhauer and another commissioner, Nelly Velasquez, asked residents on the social media site NextDoor to speak up at the meeting after receiving emails from residents opposing the deal.

“This is the moment we come together as a community to defend our community center and all town-owned properties,” Velasquez wrote. ”Please, I urge everyone to dedicate Tuesday night to defend what we all love and cherish. United we are strong!”


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