Jan 062017
 

Oceanside Marina November 2002 (State Archives of Florida/McDonald)

Just as we were wondering whether Pritam Singh’s soon to open “175-room Hotel” on Stock Island was legal, The Blue Paper received an interesting tip. Pritam Singh is suing 7 of his neighbors for alleged unlawful vacation rental use of their condos at Oceanside Marina. He wants them to rent long-term. The $100 million question is whether there is in fact any difference between those old condos (2003) and the new ones recently built by Mr. Singh at that very same marina. They look like the same “attached units” with shared walkways and shared elevators. Some are now questioning whether Mr. Singh’s legal argument against his neighbors could be turned around so that he too might be required to rent long-term.

Since its creation in 1996, “Oceanside Marina” has been shared amongst over one hundred small property owners. Some owned one of the 22 residential condo units facing the ocean. Others had bought one or two of the 96 boat slips or they owned a rack for their boat in one of the dry storage boat barns. And many of the owners of the residential condo units paid their mortgages by renting to tourists by the week.

Enter Pritam Singh.

In June of 2013 he buys the marina upland for $4.75 million. Before long he begins to buy out the individual property owners. Per property appraiser records he [or his direct affiliates] now own 27 of the 52 dry storage racks, 22 of the 96 wet slips and 7 of the 22 residential condos. He succeeds in assuming control of the dockominium association [the wet slips] and the dry storage condo association, but the members of the residential condominium association block him from becoming a member of their board.

Singh moves into one of the residential condos he’d purchased and begins complaining about his neighbors’ vacation rental business. On December 1, 2015, Barton Smith, Mr. Singh’s attorney, obtains an official reversal of the County’s position on the legality of vacation rentals at Oceanside Marina.

Initially, the County had found that condos at Oceanside could be used for vacation rentals. In an April 18, 2007 County Planning Board resolution (P21-07), Aref Joulani, Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources, wrote, “Vacation Rental Use is allowed [at Oceanside] because it is not specifically prohibited.”

In an August 9, 2013 email, Mayte Santamaria, the current Senior Director of Planning and Environmental Resources, confirmed that vacation rental use was lawful for the “22 market-rate units” [at Oceanside] “Yes, can use the market-rate units as vacation rentals in MU zoning district.”

But, after the request came from Pritam Singh’s attorney, Ms. Santamaria did a 180:

“As the MU zoning district does not provide for vacation rental use of attached dwellings units,” wrote Ms. Santamaria, “the vacation rental use of the subject property is not permitted,”

Armed with that “Letter of Understanding,” Pritam Singh began suing his neighbors.

The first hearing involved such matters as how much noise the tourists make in the swimming pool and how afraid Mr. Singh and his wife are of them. To present such complex legal issues Mr. Singh had hired, not just one, but two prominent local attorneys: Barton Smith and Michael Halpern. Before the case could proceed the Judge felt he should first disclose that Mr. Smith’s family had been very generous to his election campaign fund.

He would ultimately grant Mr. Singh’s request for an emergency injunction, ordering his neighbors to cease renting their condo on a short-term basis and acknowledging that Mr. Singh had a good chance of prevailing in the case, based on the Planning Director’s new interpretation of the code.

After the hearing, we ended up standing beside Ms. Santamaria and an assistant county attorney in the courthouse elevator.

Ah trapped!

BP to Ms. Santamaria:  Aren’t you concerned that you look like you changed your mind about those people’s rights?

County Lawyer to Ms. Santamaria: Don’t answer!

BP:  But aren’t you concerned that people are going to think those condos are exactly the same as Pritam Singh’s condos? Why does he have the right to do vacation rentals but not them?

Lawyer: Don’t answer. Don’t answer.

(You gotta love how slow those courthouse elevators are.)

BP: But doesn’t it look….

Lawyer: Don’t answer. Don’t answer. Don’t answer.

The door finally opens. They almost run away.

Since then Pritam Singh has added 6 more Defendants in his “condominium war.”

Most of the individual owners [of each type of Oceanside condo] we talked to are afraid to speak on the record, convinced retaliation could result.

So, if the county and the courts are convinced vacation rentals are prohibited in those older “attached units” at Oceanside why doesn’t the law also apply to Mr. Singh’s new “attached” vacation rental complex?

According to Ms. Santamaria it is the fact that Mr. Singh’s development agreement specifically allows vacation rentals that justifies the apparent disparity. The County Commission did approve the agreement that specified all 175 units could be rented on a transient basis, even though Mr. Singh only had 17 actual “hotel unit” permits.

So, can a development agreement be contrary to the law?

Well, during another of Pritam Singh’s development agreement debates, before the City of Key West this time, local attorney Bob Goldman argued that the proposed plan for the old Jabour Trailer Park was contrary to law. He claimed he had air-tight legal precedent that said a development agreement could under no circumstances violate the law.

We are told that when deciding whether to approve a development agreement the county commission sits in a “quasi-judicial” capacity – not a legislative capacity.  While sitting in that “judicial” capacity, the county commission must make a finding that the development agreement is not contrary to the County’s Comprehensive Plan or Code of Ordinances. [See Florida Statute 163.3231]

But, if we are to believe Ms. Santamaria’s newest determination is the correct one, then doesn’t Mr. Singh’s Oceanside Marina development agreement violate the prohibition on vacation rental activity in “attached units in the MU zoning district?”

So why does Mr. Singh push the issue through the courts, apparently unconcerned by what seems like an effort to shoot himself in the foot? The question is even more puzzling considering that through the remarkable industry of his attorneys, Mr. Singh has now brought to light that under section 134-1(k)(7) of the county code “any citizen of the county” can sue to prevent a violation of the vacation rental codes and may even be able to recoup his or her costs and attorney fees!

Does that mean that “any citizen of the county” could sue Mr. Singh’s development company regarding the 158 “vacation rentals” they are currently booking at Ocean’s Edge Hotel and Resort?

See Related: Oceanside Marina: Bait & Switch

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Arnaud and Naja Girard
Arnaud and Naja Girard, owners and editors of the new, digital, Key West the Newspaper (The Blue Paper) previously reported for the former Key West The Newspaper, Key West’s longest running independent weekly, published by Dennis Reeves Cooper, Ph.D., from January 1994 until November 2012. The Girards are perhaps best known for their discovery of and extensive research surrounding the US Navy’s 1951 claim of ownership of Wisteria Island but are also responsible for top investigative stories including breaking news coverage of the highly controversial in-custody-death of Charles Eimers on Thanksgiving Day 2013, the catastrophic police tasing of Matthew Shawn Murphy, and the property tax scandal involving Balfour Beatty to name a few. Arnaud and Naja have lived in Key West since 1986.

  14 Responses to “Oceanside Marina Part Two: The “Condo Wars””

  1. More absolutely superb investigative reporting by The Blue Paper!

    Unfortunately, we have seen time and again how easily officials and even the judiciary are influenced when big money or government entities are involved. It appears that there is no Rule of Law.in the Conch Republic, which implies a state of anarchy. That may be a good thing in the long run, once recognized. Singh and others seem to be taking advantage of the situation, and few can match his financial influence, but dirty fighting can still work both ways.

    So Mr Singh is fearful of his neighbor’s tenants? Hmmm. Maybe his neighbors need to be renting really, really cheaply to people who will make Mr. Singh’s fears a reality instead of an obvious ploy? Long term rental of course- or at least as long as it takes to wipe the smug smirk off Singh’s face, assuming it’s ever seen again. I bet some condo neighbors would even chip in to help cover the lost revenue of such an under-priced “rental”. Just saying, you know.

    • Wow look at the internet tough guy suggesting the condo owners gang up and basically hire a thug to intimidate a couple in their 60’s. He would just dig in more and here’s the thing – could easily fight fire with molten hot lava. If he were as petty and aggressive as you, he could find you and have someone wipe that smug look off YOUR face, for years if he felt like it, I’m sure.
      Just saying, you know

      • Sorry, Cisab, is that a real name? I don’t see in Halloween’s comment anything remotely suggesting hiring thugs. Halloween said the absent condo owners should start rending their (perhaps illegal all along) transient rentals to low lifes nobody would want to live around but other low lifes. Pritam Singh is a Buddhist (he says). Buddha was a beggar when he allegedly became enlightened. Therefore, Pritam, and his wife, should be delighted to be surrounded by beggars, drug addicts, drunks, bums, dirt bags. What faster way for them to spiritual advance? Halloween, you are a spiritual master, and a spiritual terrorist, making such an astute suggestion, that just might have punched a heap more buttons than you had even hoped to punch, including Cisab’s. I don’t get the sense that Cisab will be asked to join The Resistance in this life time. Maybe next time around.

  2. Does this mean I do not need a personal cause of action to file suit pro se?

  3. By stopping vacation use it lowers the values. Then after buying them up cheap he will be back in court wanting to reverse it again. This is how the rich get richer.

  4. Again I ask, why has not Last Stand filed suit about this? Why would it all on one person, brave and stalwart, Rick Boetteger, who did a splendid job investigating and prosecuting County Commissioner George Neugent, against whom I ran in 2006 and 2010, for ethics violations, before the Florida UnEthics Commission. About as much a waste of time as prosecuting a case before the Florida Department of Environmental UnProtection and the Florida Department of Law UnEnforcement, Rick learned.

    What is the name of the esteemed judge who received the generous campaign contributions and did not automatically recuse himself?

    What is the name of the esteemed county attorney, who kept telling the shape-changer, Santamaria (another descriptive noun first came to mind, which I knew the blue paper would not publish): “Don’t answer, don’t answer, don’t answer”?

    Surely the blue paper is not surprised at how this has gone, since they know Pritam Singh is driving it, and he has Barton Smith as his lawyer, and Field Marshall Jim Hendrick behind all of that.

    T’wasn’t all that long ago, County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, upon learning Barton Smith was in favor of the County Commission passing something regarding land use, said, since Barton Smith wanted it passed, she was voting against it, because there had to be something bad for the county in it, if Smith was for it.

    I described in my reader comments in last week’s part 1 of this article how Jim Hendrick had proven to me that Pritam Singh is not possessed by Lucifer: Pritam is the best salesman Jim ever met. Pritam can make people look at what he wants them to look at, and not look at what he doesn’t want them to look at. I told Jim, that’s how Lucifer sells. I rest my case.

    Actually, take heart. Hendrick trained Barton Smith, when Smith was renting office space in the law firm where Hendtick worked on Whitehead Street.

    Take heart. Hendrick and Singh are Buddhists. :

    Take heart.

    http://www.pritamsingh.net/philanthropy

    Pritam Singh’s Works of Philanthropy
    Supporting a Variety of Causes

    Heavily involved in a variety of causes that are aimed at addressing social issues, the Singh family proudly supports a variety of causes and nonprofit organizations. Their support, including financial donations, has been given to:

    Adopt a Kindergarten Class
    American Cancer Society
    American Youth Soccer Organization
    City of Key West Children’s Holiday Festival
    Conch Wrestling
    Coral City Elks Lodge
    Corcovado Foundation
    Domestic Abuse Shelter, Inc.
    Food for Thought Key West
    Fraternal Order of Police
    Fraternal Order of Police Southern Most Lodge #028
    Friends of Curtis Hantz
    Global Citizens Circle
    Grace Jones Daycare Community Center
    Habitat for Humanity
    Key West High School Project Graduation
    Key West Police Department Love Fund
    Key West Skate Park
    Key West Symphony Orchestra
    Learning Center of Key West
    Lord of the Seas Lutheran Church
    Marathon Rotary Club
    Pirates of the Marquesas
    Samuel’s House
    Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
    Southernmost Hockey Club
    Take Stock in Children
    The Cultural Preservation Society
    The Sharon Academy
    The Sunbeam Christian Day Care Center
    Unified Buddhist Church

    There was time when I told Hendrick, who was praising Singh’s donations to saving the whales, that Singh needed to start giving back locally some of the loot he was making locally. Maybe Hendrick passed that along to Singh?

    Whatever, I understand the Mafia gives lots of money to worthy causes, including churches.

    Can’t say I have ever known of Asian Buddhists who carry on like Singh and Hendrick carry on. Perhaps the American strain of Buddhists is more evolved than the Asian strain?

  5. To all who can…. immediately start illegal rentals of you property. When haled into court simply claim “the Pritam amendment”… it’s just like taking the 5th….

  6. Why should anyone fear a vacationer paying high dollars ? Yes it upsets the number of rentals of low income housing but they would not been renting it anyways.

  7. Naja, have you even yet considered Pritam actually is possessed by Lucifer, and that his infection is contagious and that is what explains the minding-bending situation you and Arnaud have written about for 2 straight weeks? If you think this is a joke, Naja. It is not a joke. It is what has happened. And that’s why you cannot get any traction in the county government with it, and probably never will. Looks me me you only chance, the only chance, is for Last Stand to sue the county government for violating its own laws, rules and regulations.Note I said chance. I did not predict victory, given what I know is driving this situation. You really should have considered that movie about the Russian priest, which you and Arnaud showed to me right after I first came to stay in your home, as the theme for your and Anaud’s relationship with me, as a statement on the work I do. Lucifer is very real, and is running just about everything on this planet. That’s the first thing that must be seen and accepted. And that has zero to do with religion, which at least recognizes the existence of Evil, even though not in a way that is doing religion much good, since it does not realize Lucifer is running religion, too.

    — Sloan Bashinsky

  8. Naja, you might wish to pull up all the records of the Hickory House purchase by Pritam, for a good bit more than the next highest bidder, which allowed the county commissioners to be rid of the Hickory House and save some face, for a prior county commission’s bail out of one of the commissioner’s friends, who owned the Hickory House, you might get a sense of how Pritam won over the county commissioners’s “hearts”, as part of, hmmmm, a much larger Pritam plan, which became the subject matter of 2 blue paper Oceanside Marina articles, last week and now this week. As I told you and Arnaud at your home maybe a week ago?, if I were a county commissioner, or on the Key West City Commission, if Pritam brought something before the commission, I would vote against it simeply because Pritam was involved. When you exclaimed, that would not be legal!, I said it would be perfectly legal. County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy did the same thing, voted no on something Bazrton Smith wanted the County Commission to approve. simply because Barton wanted the the County Commissioner to to approve it, Sylva said. She did not trust Smith. Where would be hidden gotchas. You and I continued our disagreement. You said no court would allow such a reason for denying a Pritam development. I said I disagreed. I would argue that I had watched and studied Pritam a long time. Nothing he proposed turned out like he had proposed it. Always, it turned out different, in Pritam’s favor. I don’t trust him. I do not do business wiht someone I don’t trust. You said that is not doing business. I said of course it is doing business, the commission and Pritam doing business. Pritam is after profits, he needs the commission’s approval to get his profits. I have a duty to the citizens to vote no, if I am convinced he is not trustworthy, that anything he presents is not what he intends to end up with. Just now, bait and switch comes to mind.

  9. No, actually. Sounds, Naja, from your short comment, that, in the name of “property rights”, you just made legal all that you descried as not legal in your two Oceanside articles.

    It is not only legal, it is incumbent, on elected officials to refuse to continue doing business with developers who keep proving they will not stick to their own development proposals and agreement, but will do all they can to get something entirely different in their favor.

    Sylvia Murphy lectured the county commissioner and county staff, including county legal staff, on that fine point of property law, when she said she was voting against something simply because the developer and developers’ lawyer Barton Smith wanted the County Commission to pass it. Sylvia said, If Barton Smith wants this passed, there is something in it that is not good for the county. Sylvia did not know what that something was, but she was convinced she was right. I imagine she was right, if Barton Smith wanted it passed.

    • Oh brother Sloan. Commissioner Sylvia Murphy was not voting on a quasi-judicial matter regarding development of a particular parcel of private property when she said those things about Barton Smith before voting in a way that did not follow his advice. When it comes to applying zoning laws to specific development requests from private property owners, the government is not entirely free to act however it wishes. [Let’s set aside a discussion of what can or can’t be behind a legislative decision for now.] You might want to have a look at the well known US Supreme Court cases that deal with governmental decisions having to do with zoning and property rights. I promise you that there are some guidelines, and this concept of ‘I won’t let this guy develop his property in this way because I don’t like or trust him [or because he behaved badly in the past]’ is not a legitimate way for the government to take decisions that deal with property rights. Our article asked the simple question: Did the development agreement for Oceanside violate any of the comp plan policies or the code? We gave some examples of fact and code to show that the question is legitimate. This is not about whether or not “Lucifer” [your word] is busy developing hotel resorts in the Florida Keys or whether perhaps “he’s” actually too busy waging war in the middle east and elsewhere to bother with vacation rentals. We are questioning the legitimacy of governmental decision making that led to this development agreement – decision-making that should have been based on the LAW as it stood at the time the decisions were made. Were those interpretations of law reasonable and legitimate? The administrative code says the code should be interpreted to carry out the intent behind it and to weigh on the side of protecting the interests of the community when in doubt. Mr. Singh and his attorney would obviously argue that the interpretations were correct and legitimate [and they did argue that to the County staff and they were successful] but many others would argue that those interpretations were not reasonable and some would argue that they clearly violated the code. Whether our government officials did their jobs properly — That is what is being put out there for discussion. Permitting a private property owner to develop his property in a certain way is not equivalent to “doing business” with them in the way that you describe – the baseline before applying discretionary “conditions” is to assure that the code is not violated.