By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Hallandale Beach city commissioners have let a prominent developer off the hook for nearly half-a-million dollars in fines for property code violations accumulated before it bought the land at a much lower price than paid by the former owners.
In a contentious 3-2 vote on Wednesday, commissioners eliminated a trio of liens on property owned by the family of longtime Miami developer Tibor Hollo.
Jerome Hollo, an executive vice president with his father’s flagship corporation Florida East Coast Realty, said the commission’s decision allows him to move forward to obtain financing for a proposed 250-room hotel, residential and retail complex called “Bourbon Street” on 3.55 acres in the 800 block of N. Federal Highway, next to the Mardi Gras Casino.
“It’s going to be a wonderful project for the city,” said Hollo, who is also an executive with the company that purchased the property, 801 N Federal LLC. The younger Hollo appeared personally at Wednesday’s meeting at the request of the city commission, presenting them with preliminary architectural renderings of the proposed project.
But while the commission majority felt the $453,000 in fines were unfairly punitive, two other commissioners, William “Bill” Julian and Michele Lazarow, opposed the measure excusing the fines.
“I have a hard time forgiving this amount,” Julian said, adding he believes it would be the largest fine mitigation in the city’s history.
Julian said the Hollo group knew about the city’s liens when it bought the property in 2010 for $2.5 million. He also noted that the previous owner paid $12 million for the property in 2006.
“You got a heck of a deal and you are coming in [seeking relief]” knowing all that, Julian said.
“This is taxpayers’ money and I am being called to waive it,” said Lazarow. “We are trying to protect the taxpayers.”
But Mayor Joy Cooper, Commissioner Anthony Sanders and Vice Mayor Alexander Lewy agreed that total relief was appropriate.
“There is no money leaving the coffers of Hallandale Beach,” Lewy said. He added that well-off developers should not be treated differently than “mom and pop” property owners.
The Hollo group, Lewy said, “wants to do construction.”
Commissioner Sanders indicated Hollo should not be penalized for getting a good deal on the property.
“He did a good business deal,” Sanders said.
Mayor Cooper said the intent of fines and liens has been to get property owners to clean up their property and comply with city codes, not to be punitive. That approach is common in many cities, she said.
Cooper noted that then-city manager Mark Antonio had asked the Hollo group to clean up the land under a city initiative to enhance and make properties attractive for development. Hollo’s group was told that if they complied the fines would be dropped, according to city documents.
“You did what Mark Antonio asked,” said Cooper.
Cooper accepted a $500 contribution from Tibor Hollo for her successful reelection campaign this past November.
Hollo’s attorney, Alan Koslow, pointed out that the fines were accumulated by former property owners and began with only $500. The fines increased daily when they did not comply, he said.
As part of the agreement to drop the fines, Hollo agreed to pay $4,615 to cover the city’s costs in connection with the violations, which included unsafe conditions and littered grounds that led to loitering and slum and blighted conditions.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), which is governed by the commissioners, previously agreed to award the Hollo group $25,000 to clean up the property, with payment to be made once the liens are cleared.
If commissioners had not erased the fines, the city manager was authorized under city code to wipe out 90% of the fine.
That power concerned Julian and Lazarow.
“We are the ones who should make the decision,” Julian said.
Commissioners agreed to review the policy, which past city managers have used to wipe out fines both large and small. For example, in July 2010 the city manager forgave 90% of assessed code violation fines for foreclosed home at 747 NW Fifth Court – dropping the total owed from $176,300 to $17,630.
City records show the Hollo group acquired the properties on North Federal Highway in November 2010 from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation through a foreclosure process.
Both Tibor Hollo and Jerome Hollo are listed in state records as officials of 801 N Federal LLC.