Land swap for Surfside building collapse site rejected

Surfside Building Collapse Site – Courtesy: Twitter – Image by Jason Pizzo

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Surfside, Florida commissioners have rejected a proposal to trade public beachfront property to the future buyer of the condominium collapse site so that a memorial in remembrance of the 98 victims could be built there.

The decision was made after an emotional meeting on Tuesday as family members of those who tragically died in the June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South and town residents filled the commission chambers. To accommodate the large crowd, an overflow room was set up.

After about an hour of public comment, commissioners told victims’ family members that they would not consider a proposal to demolish Surfside’s community center and build a new one, along with the memorial, at the site of the collapse.

“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 suggested to opponents the idea of speaking 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.”

Upset family members interrupted deliberations several times. One man yelled, “Let the people vote!” Another woman badgered Salzhauer on her recent comments, yelling: “You called us delusional.”

The board agreed to discuss ways to build the victims a memorial, either on a small piece of land where the tower collapsed or at another location.

Currently, a $120 million offer is up for the Champlain Towers South property. The original swap plan would have given the buyer the opportunity to build a tower at the site of Surfside’s 10-year-old community center. This area features a waterslide, oceanfront pool, and multi-purpose rooms. A brand new center would be built, along with a memorial.

Miami-Dade Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing the class-action lawsuit relating to the disaster, favored the swap as a way of compensating those who fell victims to the tragedy 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.”

He and his group will continue to push 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 continued.

However, some residents who are against the land swap told commissioners that they are in favor of 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 families of the Surfside building collapse. I’m not in favor of a land swap,” Surfside resident Paul O’Malley stated.

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

“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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