Markers Grove Isle battles way to condo starting line
Markers Grove Isle on Fair Isle is marked by controversy. Developer Eddie Avila expects the $200 million project to place the Grove community on par with Tahiti Beach in Coral Gables and Fisher Island. But most current island residents aren’t on board.
Fair Isle, commonly called Grove Isle, boasts three residential towers with a total of 510 units that date to the 1970s and a club that debuted in 1980. Markers Grove Isle aims to add a five-story, 65-unit condominium.
Grove Isle Associates purchased the seven acres on which the new club and residential building will rise in 2013. Spokesperson for Markers Grove Isle Juan Peñalosa says 30% of its residences are already sold to current residents and residents’ friends.
“I think that this will add another opportunity [for those] that don’t want to leave the island but want something fresh and new,” Mr. Avila said. He and his team are seeking a City of Miami construction permit and he hopes to break ground by spring.
But the project, first proposed in 2014, continues to face backlash. Alan Goldfarb, a resident, joined others when the plan was first floated. He said he learned that the residential component exceeded the five-story cap set by city zoning laws. Grove Isle Associates since revised its plan to the cap to meet zoning laws.
Mr. Goldfarb joined neighbors in another matter. Developers, he said, proposed shutting the club down while residents still paid dues. He and others sought a mandatory injunction to keep the club open. Judge Bronwyn Miller heard the case last spring and ruled in August.
“They were mandated to keep the club open and they couldn’t reduce the quality,” Mr. Goldfarb said. “That’s what it said and that’s how it was supposed to be.”
An additional trial followed. Residents wanted the hotel kept open while developers questioned whether they needed to do so. “The same judge about a year ago ruled that there shall be a hotel which is part of the club,” Mr. Goldfarb said.
Another lawsuit is now on the table. Mr. Goldfarb says developers hiked the dues residents pay while reducing services.
“Mondays our restaurant isn’t open,” he said. “They decided that Sunday brunch wasn’t working. They decided the spa, which had people full-time, would only be part-time or by appointment. The food quality and other things, we contend, have gone down while our dues have gone up and therefore you have the dues lawsuit. That lawsuit is heading to a non-jury trial in April.”
One concern regards the safety and reliability of the bridge connecting Grove Isle to the mainland. But the bridge is inspected every two years, Mr. Avila said, and can tolerate the demands of a construction project.
Other worries linger. Mr. Goldfarb says residents in Grove Isle’s Building Three might have their view blocked and property value dip as a result of the construction. “You might be blocked,” he said. “You might be in close proximity to where that building is. Do you want to buy that fifth floor unit?”
The looming project divides current residents.
Said one living in the first building, farthest from the planned construction site, “I wish to stay anonymous because this is a relatively small community. Many have fought tooth-and-nail against this project, and I don’t want to create any ill feelings between neighbors with my own opinion regarding Markers Grove Isle.”
While most residents are fighting the project, this resident doesn’t feel the same. “Considering this has been going on for several years, the facilities are now in greater disrepair, and these people have every right to build because they own the property. At this point, I’d rather see something sooner rather than later. The property is deteriorating and the price of our units is stagnant.”
The reduction from 12 to eight tennis courts doesn’t concern this resident. However, removal of the hotel is an attention-getter. Thirty of the hotel’s 50 rooms are currently available. Grove Isle Associates expects to reduce that number to 14 guest suites.
There is a reason.
“Under Miami 21 zoning, hotels are not permitted,” Mr. Avila said. “And if we were to build more hotel rooms it would just be additional expenses for the club members to maintain because it cannot be opened to the public.”
Besides zoning and cost concerns, Mr. Avila says the removal of a hotel on the grounds will limit access to the island exclusively to club members and residents. “Right now, if you were visiting the island, and you say you were visiting the hotel or restaurant, they just open the gate and you come in,” he said. “Making it a private island will be for the betterment of all residents.”
Construction plans would extend over a year, during which residents wouldn’t have access to any temporary facility. But the anonymous resident said that’s not a loss: “What they offered was laughable, which would have been an above-ground pool in a parking area. Food service wouldn’t have been on the water. It sounded very slap-dash, and I think that’s why our board rejected that. We’re paying no dues for the time that the facilities are shut.”
Although developers early on suggested use of Biltmore Hotel facilities in Coral Gables as a temporary option, residents refused. Many found closer hotels, gyms and spas. The same source said, “It didn’t seem attractive. It wasn’t much of an offer.”
But the anonymous resident, a 24-year Grove Isle veteran who plans to stay, said the changes will pay off: “I think in the long-term it will increase values here. People on Grove Isle are aware that apartments here are bargain prices compared to other waterfront properties on the area.”
The project is expected to break ground this year despite the opposition, Mr. Avila said, and he expects construction to wrap up by 2020.