NBC 6 Investigators

Collapsed Fla. Condo Residents Raised Concerns About Construction Next Door

In January 2019, a condo board member said they also had concerns about the construction for the now completed Eighty Seven Park

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Residents at the Champlain Tower South raised concerns about construction next door two months after a town official received a report on “major structural damage” but reassured them the building was in “very good shape.” 

Last week, part of the tower collapsed. Eleven people have died and 150 are still unaccounted for. Emails posted online by the Town of Surfside responding to a public records request give some details. 

In October 2018, engineers with Morabito Consulting warned of “major structural damage” to areas around the pool deck and garage. They were strong, but not uncommon language for buildings 40 years old on the barrier island. 

The next month, Ross Prieto, the Town of Surfside building official, met with the condo board and association and assured them the building was in “very good shape” according to meeting minutes.

Around two months later, on Jan. 23, 2019, a condo board member notified Prieto they also had concerns about the next door construction for the now completed Eighty Seven Park.

Condo board member Mara Chouela wrote she was worried the construction was too close and impacted Champlain Tower South. 

“We have concerns regarding the structure of our building,” Chouela wrote, adding pictures of the construction from the Surfside condo complex directly north. 

She asked for city officials to check her concerns out. 

The same day, Prieto responded “there is nothing for me to check,” suggesting the condo board monitor the fence, pool, and nearby areas for damage. They could also hire a consultant to watch it, Prieto suggested. 

Chouela responded saying they would loop in their attorney to make sure the property wasn’t being damaged. NBC 6 does not know at this time if the complaints led to any action. 

NBC 6 has been unable to reach Chouela after multiple emails and phone calls.

Many attempts to reach Prieto have been unsuccessful. Prieto is no longer with the Town of Surfside and recently was a contract employee with the City of Doral’s building department. 

A spokesperson for the City of Doral tells NBC 6 his employer notified the city he was taking a leave of absence. 

Eighty Seven Park was developed by 8701 Collins Development LLC, which includes four firms: Bizzi & Partners, New Valley LLC, Terra Group, and Great Eagle Holdings. 

A spokesperson for 8701 Collins Development, LLC “has no comment on communications that transpired between the Town of Surfside and residents of the neighboring property" in a note written to NBC 6.

The mayor of Surfside said earlier they would comb through all of their records for Champlain Towers to understand what happened and tell the public. 

The concerns about the construction next door in 2019 came up in last Friday’s emergency town meeting. 

“Some of the evacuees from the building, the survivors, have told me when that building ( Eighty Seven Park ) was going up they felt that vibration. It was a very strong and chaotic time for the building,” Commissioner Eliana Salzhauser said.

She voiced concern that new development to the North and South would impact older buildings in Surfside. 

“So the difference between Champlain North and Champlain South is that Champlain North thankfully has not had a twenty story giant building constructed next to it,” Salzhauser said. 

Jason Borden, an engineer with O&S Associates conducted an hour-long inspection of Champlain Towers last year. He says while next door construction may have contributed to the collapse it likely did not cause the tower to come down. 

“It’s unlikely,” Borden said.

In his expert opinion, the neighboring Eighty Seven Park is too far away from the Champlain Towers south garage wall and the area suspected of having a structural failure. The problem, he says, likely was something much deeper underground within the collapsed structure.

“Local differences up near the surface from that pressure are unlikely to have caused it. They may find that it had some contribution,” Broden said, “It's unlikely to be a root cause.” 

It’s important to reiterate that no official investigating the collapse has claimed the neighboring construction impacted the Champlain Towers, only that concerns were raised. It will likely be weeks to months before there’s an official reason the part of the building came down. 

NBC 6 does not know if Surfside officials could’ve done anything about Eighty Seven Park, which is right across the town border in Miami Beach. NBC 6 requested more information from both cities.

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