Land swap proposed to allow on-site memorial for Florida building collapse

Financial viability of proposal to be examined, as many survivors and victims’ families oppose memorial at nearby park, are uneasy with building luxury units at site of disaster

Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, on June 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, on June 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

AP — A proposed land swap to allow for an on-site memorial to the victims of the deadly Florida beachfront condominium collapse will be examined for financial viability, a judge ordered onWednesday.

Many survivors and victim family members of the Champlain Towers South collapse oppose a memorial at a nearby Miami Beach park. Many are uneasy with replacement of that doomed building with a luxury structure on what they regard as sacred ground.

“We think it’s kind of a burial site,” said Carlos Wainberg, who lost several family members in the June 24 disaster in Surfside, Florida, and favors the land swap idea.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the 12-story building to collapse, killing 98 people.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, who is overseeing lawsuits filed in the collapse aftermath, told a court-appointed receiver to investigate the proposed swap.

“It is something that is going to be looked at,” Judge Hanzman said at a status hearing. “There will never be enough to fully compensate everyone.”

Peter Martin, of New York, who was in Miami visiting his brother, pays his respects at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Champlain Towers South building collapse, on July 12, 2021, in Surfside, Florida. (AP/Rebecca Blackwell)

The proposal would work this way: a new Surfside community center containing a Champlain memorial would be built on the collapse site. In exchange, land on which the 10-year-old community center now sits would be sold to provide compensation to survivors and victim family members.

A proposal to purchase the existing Champlain site for about $120 million is still being negotiated, with other bids expected. A complicating factor is the potential that the town of Surfside will enact a zoning change that could reduce the property’s value.

“The right thing is to add as much value to the property as possible,” said Oren Cytrynbaum, a former Champlain resident and attorney who informally represents many victims. “Lives have been lost. Lives have been displaced or ruined.”

Surfside officials said that a September 9 workshop is scheduled on the zoning issue but no vote by the town council has been set. The zoning question has to do with how much density — in other words, potential condo units — would be permitted in a new building.

Hanzman had previously expressed dismay that Surfside would continue to pursue a zoning change affecting the Champlain site’s value.

“There’s no deal until and unless it is approved by this court,” the judge said.

Another hearing is set for next Wednesday.

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