“Garbage is garbage”: Damac’s condo plan for trash pickup next to memorial angers victims’ families

Damac Properties scored preliminary approval for its luxury condo project in Surfside, despite an outcry from victims’ families against plans for a garbage pickup area next to the collapse memorial. 

The Town of Surfside Planning and Zoning Board voted 4-1 in favor of the Zaha Hadid Architects-designed development on Thursday night, with board member Lindsay Lecour casting the sole dissenting vote. The board recommended site plan approval to the town commission, which is expected to give a final say in September. 

Led by Hussain Sajwani, Dubai-based Damac plans a 12-story condo building with up to 52 units on the 1.8-acre site at 8777 Collins Avenue. It’s where 98 people died in the collapse of Champlain Towers South in June 2021. 

Surfside designated 88th Street, from Collins Avenue east to the beach, for a memorial. But Damac’s project design showed the sanitation and recycling loading dock entrance and exit would be on 88th Street, just west of the memorial. 

“Placing the garbage facility adjacent to the memorial is [disrespectful] to all of us.… Garbage is garbage,” said Pablo Langesfeld, whose daughter, Nicole Langesfeld, and son-in-law, Luis Sadovnic, died in the collapse. “Eighty-eighth Street must be a memorial. Period. No garbage trucks and no garbage traffic. Let’s not forget that this new building will not erase the bloody night of June 24, 2021. In the name of those 98 people who died … remove that garbage facility from that site.”

After the meeting, Damac and town officials met to try to address the garbage collection issue, 

Damac spokesperson Niall Mc Loughlin said in a statement. “The intent is to collect garbage just east of the intersection of Collins Avenue and 88th Street,” he said. “We’re working to remove the garbage area from the loading dock area and develop a system to deliver it from within our site to the designated location without running along 88th Street.”

The reason trash pickup was placed on 88th Street is that the Florida Department of Transportation bans large vehicles from exiting on Collins Avenue, a state road and the only other street fronting the project, James Galvin said during the meeting. 

“The trucks would have to back out of Collins [Avenue] and block at least two lanes of traffic,” he said. 

All other traffic, including residents’ access to the garage, deliveries such as FedEx trucks, and Ubers would use Collins Avenue, Galvin told the board. To protect the memorial from the sanitation trucks, which would make collections once or twice a week, the vehicles would pick up garbage and recycling in an enclosed area that won’t be visible from the street. Trash would be stored in an air-conditioned indoor area to prevent the spread of odor. 

Yet, Lecour argued that if the project design is tweaked, the trucks would be able to use Collins Avenue. The issue is whether Damac is open to redesigning the condo building. While it’s no small feat, it can be done given the developer’s top team, and a new plan can be presented to FDOT, she said. 

“We have a once in a lifetime chance here to do something that works for our town,” Lecour said. “I know it’s really hard.… I think this merits maybe just a little bit more study. I wonder if I could get your support to defer one month, at least one meeting, to ask the developer to see if they can get the loading off 88th Street.”

The proposal violates a commission resolution approved last year to designate all of 88th Street for a memorial, with the only exception for use by emergency vehicles such as fire rescue, she added. 

Town administrators and Damac’s representatives disagreed. 

Although 88th Street is a town road, state agencies also have a say, Town Manager Hector Gomez said. The town’s designation of 88th Street for a memorial is a resolution that can’t trump state laws, said Anthony Recio, an attorney for the town. 

And, Galvin said, it’s not a matter of Damac presenting a new design to FDOT. The developer already met with the state agency before drafting a design plan, and the existing plan resulted from this consultation. 

Shortly before the vote, David Rodan, who lost his brother and three cousins in the collapse, approached the dais to implore the board to push for the removal of the garbage loading dock from 88th Street. 

“I am outraged to see that the proposed plan of the new building is taking so much of 88th Street, a street that was assigned for a memorial — which is not much, but is all that we will have to go to connect to our loved ones,” he said earlier during the meeting. “It’s going to be a stain on this town.” 

Contention also spilled over to another issue. The night before the meeting, former Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett circulated an email showing photos of Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger, some commissioners and planning board members David Forbes, Carolyn Baumel and Ruben Bravo at an evening get-together at a Four Seasons hotel bar. Burkett insinuated that the officials may have been discussing town business outside of the public eye, despite a state law that requires government decisions to be made publicly. 

Forbes called the email “lies” and Burkett a “bully” during the meeting. In fact, he said, planning board members often disagree on various town issues during their meetings. 

“We discussed our jobs, kids … and most of all [Lionel] Messi,” he said. “At no time was city, county or state business talked about.”

The garbage loading dock isn’t the project’s only problem. The southwest portion of the development site is a flood zone, prohibiting the planned two-level underground garage, said James McGuinness, Surfside’s building official. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s pending amendment to the flood maps would remedy the issue, the new maps are yet to go into effect. Damac has filed a letter to FEMA asking it to update its map.

Damac bought the site at 8777 Collins Avenue last year for $120 million, as the sole bidder for the land in a court-ordered sale. The firm’s latest plan for 52 units marks a drop from its previous proposal for 57. Condos would average about 7,000 square feet, though many units could be much bigger.  

The firm hasn’t shared pricing yet, but brokers predicted units could go for more than $3,000 per square foot. At that price, the average-sized unit could ask over $21 million. 

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