After Hurricane Irma: Singer Island condo condemned; people scramble

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
By Julius Whigham II

Published September 18, 2017


RIVIERA BEACH -- A wall of a Singer Island apartment complex toppled to the ground during Hurricane Irma, leading the city to condemn the property and leaving 15 to 20 people who’d been paying modest rents there scrambling for housing in the storm’s aftermath.

The owner of the Singer Island Yacht Club is poised to make the rest of it come down as well. It has won the city’s approval to redevelop the Intracoastal Waterway site into an eight-story complex called Singer Island Gateway, a “premier, signature project replacing a dilapidated condominium,” records show.

Residents, who said they were paying $500 to $800 per month in rent, were given until 5 p.m. Friday to be out. Some said they had complained to managers about conditions at the property — just south of the east end of the Blue Heron Boulevard Bridge — before Irma left its imprint. Others said the city’s decision left them without a place to go.

“It’s so stressful because we went through the hurricane,” said Daysi Batista, who is seven months pregnant and had to move from a first-floor apartment with her fiance, Danny Estavariz. “The hurricane was already harsh enough. We went like a week without power, and we just got our power two days ago and then this hits us. It’s just really bad.”

Riviera Beach Fire Chief Reginald Duren said the Red Cross was working to help tenants find temporary housing.

The wall, on the south side of the complex, fell amid wind gusts topping 75 mph in Riviera Beach. Its fall exposed the interior of a second-story residence amid the debris and brush the storm left at the Lake Drive site.

City inspectors had little choice but to condemn the building, Duren said Thursday, when residents learned they had to vacate.

“There are issues throughout the city,” Duren said. “This was a very significant one.”

Daysi Batista and Danny Estivariz stand outside their apartment before packing their belongings at the Singer Island Yacht Club Condominiums in Riviera Beach on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. Residents have been told that the building has been condemned after damage from hurricane Irma, and all residents must be out by 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 15, 2017

Plans to demolish the five-story building were in the works long before hurricane season, with the city reviewing and approving the application in late March, Kevin Lawler, Singer Island Gateway’s vice president, said Friday. Tenants were given month to month leases with plans to shutter the building this fall and begin demolition by the end of the year.

In its place will rise an eight-story building with 135 condominiums on the barrier island between the Intracoastal and the Atlantic Ocean.

“When we took ownership of the building through foreclosure in 2014, from a cost-benefit point of view, we knew that we were going to be tearing the building down,” Lawler said.

No residence on either the fourth or fifth floors of Singer Island Yacht Club has been occupied in recent years because of water damage caused by the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes — Frances, Jeanne and Wilma — that was not repaired by the association that governed the building when it was a condominium, Lawler said.

Despite those concerns, two separate surveys showed that apartments on the lower levels were safe for occupancy, he said.

Chantal Vargas lived in the first-floor apartment directly below the spot where the wall collapsed. She said Friday she told management in the past of concerns such as cracks in her walls and water coming through her ceiling. She wasn’t shocked to hear what city inspectors decided.

“I’m not surprised due to the continual concerns of the structure itself and the safety for human life that management was fully aware of,” said Vargas, 48. “Irma just pretty much sealed the concerns.”

Batista said a police officer initially knocked on her door and said she would have to leave right away.

“They didn’t even put the notices (up). They just told me that you’ve got to get out,” she said. “They just started telling me you have to leave now. I told them, ‘I’m pregnant. How are you going to kick us out that quick?’ I don’t have (any) place to go.”

The condemnation is reminiscent of other central Palm Beach County condominiums that had be evacuated following storm damage a decade ago.

Frances, Jeanne and Wilma in 2004 and 2005 ripped off chunks of the facade of The Tiara, half a mile northeast of the Singer Island Yacht Club, and it was declared uninhabitable. Residents moved back after it was rebuilt nearly from scratch. The 1515 on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach was demolished in 2010, six years after being damaged by Frances and Jeanne.

Estavariz, who has lived at Singer Island Yacht Club for two years, said he believed his residence was safe. Estavariz and Batista said they are hoping to find room with family and have begun looking at nearby proprieties, but weren’t sure they they could find another place to live right away.

“I don’t know where to go,” Estavariz said. “But I don’t want to get arrested, so I guess I’ll go on the streets and have my stuff on the streets. It’s putting us in a very bad situation, a very inconvenient situation.”