by Naja Girard…….
The cloud over the new Oceanside Marina hotel is getting darker.
For months questions have been lingering about the appearance of a luxury 175-room hotel on Stock Island when only 17 hotel building rights (called “transient ROGO’s”) were on file for the project (instead of 175). Well, things just got worse. There is good reason, this week, to question whether 12 of those lone 17 transient (hotel) ROGO’s even existed or whether they were created out of thin air using false documents.
It is a bizarre story, where Oceanside Marina becomes tangled with another Pritam Singh development: Hawks Cay Resort, completed in 2004, on Duck Key.
When Pritam Singh bought Oceanside Marina in June of 2013 it was a failed development. By November of that year Singh’s new project was already moving smoothly through the County’s development approval process. There was no talk of a gigantic hotel at the time, only of single family condominiums. The “hotel” itself existed solely as a modest 17-room section in some corner of one of the 4 large buildings to be constructed.
So, the mystery was: How did we end up with a 175-room hotel?
SEE RELATED: Oceanside Marina: Bait and Switch
When searching for answers in County records, one meeting in particular was perplexing. On November 19, 2014, the Planning Commission was listening to Mr. Singh explain why 12 “bedrooms” he had chosen not to build 13 years ago in units at Hawk’s Cay Village should transform into the right to build 12 new “hotel rooms” at Oceanside.
If the reader feels lost at this point don’t worry, the Commissioners shared your confusion. “We’re talking villas at Hawk’s Cay. We’re not talking hotel rooms,” interjected William Wiatt, the Planning Commission Chairman, “We’re talking about privately owned vacation rentals.”
“Are we winging this?” asked Commissioner Ron Miller in response to a convoluted explanation by the County’s lawyers. But in the end, the Planning Department bureaucrat, in a monotone voice, assured the commissioners that staff had “verified” (Mr. Singh’s claim) that the previously permitted 12 bedrooms [now known as transferable “hotel room vested rights”] had not been built. “My rights… My vested rights,” repeated the animated Mr. Singh. And the County recognized the 12 controversial “hotel room vested rights” ROGO exemptions.
Now this is the part where we double-check the claims made during that hearing.
The Blue Paper requested copies of all emails exchanged at the County level that had anything to do with the new Oceanside Marina development. There were 5376 emails to comb through. One of them included a list that Mr. Singh’s attorney, Barton Smith, had provided to the County: It showed all the units built by Mr. Singh at Hawk’s Cay with specific addresses along with the corresponding number of bedrooms for each. That list turned out to be false.
At first glance it appeared to conclusively confirm the statements made, under oath, by Mr. Singh during the public hearing: Almost all of the units were 2-bedroom and only 600 bedrooms had been built whereas 614 had been permitted. A signed affidavit swore to the truthfulness of those numbers.
The problem was when we cross-referenced each specific address with the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s records we found that 23 of the addresses listed as 2-bedroom homes by Mr. Singh were described by the Property Appraiser as 3-bedroom units. For the addresses of 2 Hawk’s Cay homes reported in Singh’s list as 2-bedroom units, the Property Appraiser described them as 4-bedroom units.
We also found a website called duckkeyonline.com that maintains historical data regarding the sale of the homes at Hawk’s Cay. There we found that many units reported as having only 2 bedrooms by Mr. Singh had been sold over the years as 3-bedroom units.
From there we tracked down the actual advertisements describing those purported “2- bedroom” units as 3-bedroom units, with each bedroom duly photographed in the most advantageous lighting for the benefit of potential buyers. In fact, we found 44 ads describing homes listed by the developer as having only 2 bedrooms had been advertised for sale as 3 or 4 bedroom units.
For example, 7402 Marina Terrace located in “Sanctuary Village” at Hawk’s Cay is described as a 2-bedroom unit in the document provided by Mr. Singh, but on the Property Appraiser’s website it appears as a 1,760 sf villa with 4 bedrooms. The unit was also advertised as a 4-bedroom waterfront executive villa listed for sale at $699,000 in April of 2016 on villageathawkscayrealestatesales.com. The ad provides a photo of each of the four bedrooms.
In fact, when we were done painstakingly cross-referencing all of the units built at Singh’s Hawk’s Cay with web advertising and government records we found that rather than having leftover “un-built bedrooms,” Mr. Singh appears to have built well in excess of the 614 bedrooms that had been permitted by the County.
Did we mention that Mr. Singh had also sold some of his leftover “vested bedroom rights” to private people? Well he did. What would be the status of those transactions if the “vested bedroom rights” did not in fact exist?
Only an onsite physical inspection of the 275 villas built by Singh could provide the exact number, but from what we have found so far in the available records it appears there could be more than 50 un-permitted bedrooms at Pritam Singh’s Hawk’s Cay development.
Obviously, The Blue Paper has only limited resources to investigate such intricate issues, there is however undeniably a legitimate question as to the validity of 12 of the 17 “hotel ROGO’s” the County allowed Mr. Singh to transfer to Oceanside Marina.
Transient ROGO’s in Monroe County are currently listed for sale for $95,000 each. If our numbers are correct, the cumulative benefit of the creative documentation of 12 imaginary transient ROGO’s would add up to a value of $1,140,000.
The November 19, 2014 hearing before the Planning Commission qualified as “quasi judicial.” On the video record Mr. Singh is seen being sworn in by a county attorney, enjoined to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
At press time over 100 people [on Facebook] have called for an independent investigation of the Oceanside Marina development.
How to contact Monroe County County Commissioners: http://www.monroecounty-fl.gov/index.aspx?NID=27
Note: This article was updated on Jan 21st, 2017. The following sentence was added: “In fact, we found 44 ads describing homes listed by the developer as having only 2 bedrooms had been advertised for sale as 3 or 4 bedroom units.”