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Hotel Developers Threaten Fort Lauderdale with $59 million Lawsuit
 Following  City's Denial to Proceed with Hotel-Marina Complex

By Brittany Wallman, South Florida Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 15, 2007 - FORT LAUDERDALE -- The city could be on the hook for $59 million for denying a hotel-marina complex proposed by longtime attorney and developer Ron Mastriana and his partner on the project, Tom Gonzalez.

That dollar figure is the appraised market value of The Sails, a hotel-marina-retail project city commissioners rejected recently. Now Mastriana and Gonzalez say the city has to pay up, or give them the approval they were looking for.

The developers' lawyer sent a letter to the city Wednesday demanding $59 million in compensation, or a site plan approval, under the state's Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act. City Commissioners in June voted 4-1, Mayor Jim Naugle dissenting, to reject The Sail.

The Sails was proposed on 8.5 acres south of the E. Clay Shaw Bridge/17th Street Causeway, and was denied on the basis it didn't meet "neighborhood compatibility" standards, and it would impede public views of the ocean.

Commissioners said drivers over the bridge would no longer have a picturesque view of the ocean, and agreed with staff that the project was out of scale for the area.

The city's neighborhood compatibility standards are subjective, and many developers complain that the standard is unfair and uncertain. City planning staff told the Planning and Zoning Board recently that they'd no longer be issuing opinions about neighborhood compatibility.

At a June hearing, a crowd of opponents wore yellow cards on their clothing asking commissioners to "Trim the Sails."

The property is just south of the 17th Street Causeway, off Harbour Inlet Drive, close to Port Everglades. On the land is the "Pink City" Plaza and a Best Western hotel.

City attorney Harry Stewart said Wednesday afternoon that he hadn't seen the letter yet and could not comment.

Mastriana hired the city's former planning chief, Cecelia Ward, formerly Cecelia Hollar, to do the planning work on his project and to present it to the Commission. Ward lives in New York now but recently was lauded by commissioners as "exemplary former employee" of the year. Her photo is hanging in city hall above the elevator doors.

Now he's hired attorney Dan Stengle to challenge the city's denial. Stengle was one of the drafters of the state's tough Bert Harris property rights protection acts, which requires government to compensate land owners if they deny them reasonable expectation of their land.

According to the Stengle, the city's denial falls under the Act's provisions because it "directly restricted or limited the use of real property such that the property owner is permanently unable to attain the reasonable, investment-backed expectation" for use of the land.

Stengle said in a recent interview that the city has six months to settle, under the Act. He had already sent notice to the city of intent to pursue a claim and getting the appraisal was the next required step.

"Frequently it results in an opportunity for settlement," he said recently. "The ideal thing under the Harris Act is that nobody ever has to go to court. You work it out."

Brittany Wallman can be reached at or 954-356-4541.


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