A $15 million assessment to install fire sprinklers at Key Biscayne’s tallest building helped set the stage for a unit owner recall effort that saw four resignations at the Casa Del Mar condominium last week, according to residents at the luxury seaside complex.
A meeting is set for Wednesday night to certify the recall effort and pick new board members, according to written notices posted for Casa Del Mar owners.
The fire safety changes were decided after the condo lost a costly legal fight with the Village of Key Biscayne Fire Department, which feared that a sea breeze-driven fire could be a disaster at the 27 story tower, built in 1971.
Unit owners had voted to opt out of fire safety changes in 2016, but a later change in state law required the building to address the fire issue. Association leaders sought an alternative life safety system, but the plan was rejected in 2019 by the Village, leading to a series of court challenges – all against Casa Del Mar.
Eventually, the Association agreed to fully sprinkler the structure — a wise move, said Deputy Fire Chief Marcos Osorio. “It could be a blowtorch effect because of the prevailing winds, trapping people above,” he said.
But the battle over the fire project – which will require messy installations inside units — helped set the stage for a recent controversy, again with the Village.
This time, the dispute was over 26 units with enclosed balconies – and the way the then Vice President Ignacio Seguola responded.
In a July letter to owners, Segurola wrote that because older units had no documentation of approval by regulators, a unanimous unit owner vote would be required to save the balconies. He suggested the vote was necessary to get the condo’s 50-year recertification with the Village – even though the balconies had been present when the building passed its 40-year recertification.
Village officials said the Association was not conveying its position on the recertification– it only needed units to file for retroactive permits to cure violation notices sent to owners.
“Zoning regulations will not require removal of existing balconies at Casa Del Mar,” wrote Building, Zoning, and Planning Director Jeremy Gaugher Oct. 3.
The twin incidents left some residents feeling that condo officials were acting in a heavy-handed manner and misrepresenting interactions with the Village.
Diana Garmendia, who resigned as president last week, said she stepped down not because of the recall but because she has been recovering from a medical condition that made her step back from her duties as Board president. She did, though, say that the Board was following the Village’s direction.
“These enclosed balconies have been enclosed for many years but the Key Biscayne Building Department was the one that brought up the issue and the Board was trying to resolve it,” she said.
Segurola did not return messages seeking comment.
Last week, as the recall ballots were being delivered, resident Andrea Zarate said she felt disrespected by the building manager and a board member who challenged her right to bring them in.
“He was belittling,” she said, posting the delivery to YouTube. “There is a large group seeking change.”
Dr. George Ibars, another resident who said the board was putting owners “through hell,” said the recall was prompted by officials’ dismissive nature.
“Then it’s like have they really been responsive to us? They haven’t really been responsive. Let’s get this recall going,” Ibars said.
“And, you know, that guy that is really at the head of all of this is Segurola. So let’s begin there.”