It’s been two weeks since residents of the Regent Palace Condo buildings in Surfside were encouraged to evacuate, but not everyone has left.
The condo association for the three-story oceanfront property — a two-building complex located six blocks from the site of the June 24 building collapse — issued a voluntary evacuation request earlier this month after an engineer found unsafe conditions on the roof of the property, said association President Joerg Dogondke. He said emergency shoring was then installed to reinforce 15 “compromised” columns in the garage.
“If someone tells you the hurricane is coming, some people believe and leave right away and some people wait for it to show up,” he said Wednesday.
The voluntary clearing of the buildings, constructed in 1951, is the latest example of the angst residents of older Miami condo buildings have felt since the 40-year-old Champlain Towers South fell — though some question whether property owners are taking advantage of the situation to clear future redevelopment sites.
Until repairs can be made
Surfside Building Official James McGuinness, who has not ordered a mandatory evacuation, wrote in an email Monday to Dogondke that he supports the decision of the condo association to ask residents to leave “until further analysis can be performed and/or repairs can be made to insure life safety.”
Some residents complied, but others have stayed behind, saying they feel safe or can’t afford to find a place anywhere else.
“They said it’s not unsafe, they said you can still stay,” said unit owner Patti Petersen, who has lived in the north building for 20 years. “I go to sleep peacefully.”
A renter named Ernesto, who did not give his last name, said he couldn’t find a new apartment on such short notice because many are asking for three months of rent payments up front. Dogondke said one of the building owners had provided free, temporary housing to displaced residents. Ernesto will be staying with a friend in Pompano Beach until he finds a new place, he said.
“The worst part is [there’s] nowhere to go,” he said. “Everywhere is really expensive.”
Following the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo, Miami-Dade cities have evacuated a number of residential buildings including in Miami Beach and North Miami Beach. On Wednesday, the parking garage of the Winston Towers 600 condo building in Sunny Isles Beach and the area above the garage — including the gym, pool deck and tennis center — were evacuated after the city deemed the area to be unsafe while construction is ongoing in the garage as part of the building’s recertification, said Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin.
“We’re really just being extra cautious as I hope everyone else is,” Svechin said.
In Surfside, Mayor Charles Burkett praised the Regent Palace Condo Association for quickly moving to shore up the buildings and evacuate its residents.
“This has been an awakening for every property owner,” he said. “I don’t think we’re gonna have a catastrophe at that location…because of the responsible actions of these owners.”
Buildings may soon be sold
The evacuation in Surfside may not be temporary. Dogondke said an investor has purchased units in the buildings and plans to demolish the property to build something new.
“There’s a good chance that there will not be a repair,” he said.
Even if she were never asked to evacuate, Petersen said she doesn’t plan on living at the Regent Palace for much longer since an investor approached her asking to buy her ground-floor unit in the north building of the complex. She said most, if not all, of her neighbors are planning to sell.
“All these negotiations have been going on for years,” she said.
Dogondke said the evacuation is not in any way influenced by the ongoing negotiations. The 70-year-old buildings, which have 34 units, were in the process of obtaining their building recertification when the engineer found the safety issues, a Surfside spokesperson said.
“At this stage, the building has visible issues and we just don’t want anybody to get harmed,” Dogondke said.
But Surfside Commissioner Eliana Salzhauer said she questioned why the property was allowed to deteriorate.
“What it is is a convenient excuse to move the project along,” she said, referring to the redevelopment of the property. “Why was the building in such disrepair to begin with?”