The Coastal Star

South Palm Beach: Jordan: 3550 project exposes procedural problems

By Dan Moffett

Stella Gaddy Jordan insists that she has been an unwavering supporter of the luxury condo project at 3550 S. Ocean Blvd., the site of the old Hawaiian Inn hotel.

The South Palm Beach councilwoman says that her frequent complaints about the building have been mostly about the construction process, not the product.

“I’ve always been OK with the 3550 project,” Jordan said. “I just think we need to know how we got here. We want to be sure this doesn’t happen again. There was miscommunication throughout.”

For months, Jordan has criticized how the town signed off on plans for the project and how the Town Council didn’t get a final review before construction began. She blames the town’s building inspector and three town managers, who have come and gone during the past five years, for failing to enforce building rules and for cutting council members out of the approval loop.

“The plans should have come to the Town Council after they were approved by the architectural board,” she said after the council meeting on Jan. 8. “We didn’t get to see them. That has to change.”

Had the council given the project that final review, Jordan says, she would have questioned the building’s height and the site’s landscaping. She believes the building, at roughly 106 feet above grade level, is 10 feet higher than code allows. She also thinks the project’s footprint doesn’t have adequate space for landscaping, as state building rules require.

It has been difficult to find a South Palm Beach official, elected or hired, who shares her concerns.

Mike Crisafulle, the town’s building inspector, told the council the project looks the way it is supposed to look.

“The building is being built in the way the plans were submitted,” Crisafulle said. “To me, there is no issue.”

The town’s last two managers, Bob Vitas and Mo Thornton, have agreed. No issues, no problems. Shortly before abruptly retiring in December, Thornton said the 3550 “conforms to the town’s code and was built according to approved plans.”

Council members Elvadianne Culbertson and Bill LeRoy have suggested it’s a moot point to second-guess the project — now that the building is standing and soon to be ready for occupancy.

“What do we do about it?” Culbertson asked with a shrug.

Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb has focused on the positive — and there is a substantial amount of it. With 30 high-end condos selling for as much as $5 million each, the town’s tax base could rise by roughly 30 percent.

“We’re going to get a lot of benefit from this project from the income the town will receive,” Gottlieb said.

Mayor Bonnie Fischer has said the council may consider two of Jordan’s concerns. It can close a loophole in the code that doesn’t specify height limits of garages — an omission that contributed to confusion over the 3550 structure’s total elevation. And the council can tighten its building approval procedures.

“The 3550 is a great building,” Fischer said. “However, it would behoove the town to examine garage height and footprint with respect to future development.”

  The new condo building, developed by Manhattan-based DDG real estate investment group, is expected to open its doors sometime this summer.

In other business:

• Joseph Kusnir, the town’s consultant from StormwaterJ Engineering in West Palm Beach, told the council that work on the town’s sewer lines is likely to cost substantially less than expected. The council set aside $512,000 to repair and replace the aging pipes, but because a main line didn’t need work, Kusnir said the project, slated for completion this spring, “definitely will come in under budget.”

• Robert Kellogg, the newly hired and sworn-in interim town manager, said he expects to sign his formal contract by the Feb. 12 council meeting. In December, the council agreed to pay Kellogg a $95,000 annual salary. 

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