By Steve Plunkett
The neighbor of the Place Au Soleil eyesore that racked up $1.89 million in code enforcement fines is buying the property with plans to tear down the house and build a larger home on adjoining lots.
Gulf Stream commissioners in August told Assistant Town Attorney Trey Nazzaro to begin foreclosure proceedings on the house at 2775 Avenue Au Soleil, dismissing a request by heirs of recently deceased homeowner Richard Lavoie to slash the lien to $20,000 so they could sell the property for $420,000.
This time the heirs more than doubled their offer as part of a deal in which Daniel Stanton, the CEO and founder of fast-growing retail chain Stanton Optical, would buy the house next to his for $430,000 and pay for its demolition.
“We’re here to offer you $50,000, which is, realistically speaking, a year’s salary to an average human being, and a demo and a sale to another member of this community,” the Lavoie estate’s lawyer, Cory Carano, told commissioners Oct. 11.
But Mayor Scott Morgan called the sweetened proposal “woefully deficient.”
“While it’s not the purpose of this town to cash in on liens, it is our responsibility and our duty to enforce our rules and ordinances to make sure that those standards are maintained,” Morgan said.
Nazzaro said Gulf Stream reduced a code enforcement lien only once in recent memory, collecting 15% of the total amount levied. For the Lavoie property, that percentage would be close to $285,000.
“I think this has been such a horrific situation for so long, I don’t think $50,000 is the right number,” Commissioner Joan Orthwein said.
Lavoie died in March. Carano noted that Lavoie’s personal representative, who lives in New Jersey, took just 58 days after being appointed to replace a temporary fence around the swimming pool and rejuvenate landscaping, resolving the code enforcement issues. He argued that at the town’s maximum fine of $500 per day, that would make the heirs liable for roughly $17,000.
“I’m not here to really address what the decedent did or did not do. I’m here on behalf of the estate,” Carano said.
Morgan said the heirs should pay $150,000 but the other commissioners talked him into $125,000. The heirs accepted.
Stanton, who bought the neighboring house with his wife, Hanna, for $1.05 million three years ago, said their goal was “to be compliant with the architectural codes and expectations of the town … and to have a bigger place to have my new baby born in March to run around in.”
His architect and contractor already were evaluating what could be built on the joined lots, Stanton said. “We’re able to do this with whatever speed we can,” he promised.
Gulf Stream’s file on Lavoie was 150 pages long. The Place Au Soleil Association wrote him twice in 2002 about his lawn and landscaping not being maintained. Lavoie told a special magistrate in April 2005 that he had put in new sod and an irrigation system the week before, after getting two letters from the town.
Gulf Stream sent a repeat notice of violation that August after the grass died again; a month later a special magistrate fined Lavoie $4,000.
A December 2005 letter noted code violations including “tall grass, dead trees, a pool that was completely black and a collapsed pool screen,” Nazzaro said. After two more letters and another special magistrate hearing, Lavoie cleared the debris and erected a temporary fence around the pool in April 2006.
In July 2006 he was fined $200 for again neglecting his lawn. And in April 2009 Lavoie was fined $500 a day again over the status of the lawn and because the temporary pool fence had collapsed.