Commissioners in Surfside, Florida have rejected a proposal to swap the public waterfront with the prospective buyer of the condominium collapse site so that a memorial to the 98 victims can be built there.
The decision follows an emotional meeting on Tuesday as family members of those who died in the South Champlain Towers collapse and city residents on June 24 filled the committee rooms, the Miami Herald reported. They had to set up an overflow room to accommodate the crowd.
After about an hour of public commentary, commissioners told families of the victims they would not consider a proposal to demolish the Surfside Community Center and build a new one, along with a memorial, at the site of collapse. They also said they would not submit such a land swap to voters in a referendum.
“My heart breaks for you because I know this is something you had hopes for,” said Mayor Charles Burkett, who was the sole supporter of the proposal. “I hope you won’t give up hope.”
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Commissioners Salzhauer and Nelly Velasquez called on opponents of the idea to speak out.
“This is the time when we come together as a community to defend our community center and all properties owned by the city,” Velasquez wrote on social media. Salzhauer wrote separately that the city “will NOT allow this tragedy to be exploited for profit and become the invaluable community center of Surfside and the quality of life for our residents.”
Deliberations were sometimes interrupted by disgruntled family members, the newspaper reported. A man shouted “Let the people vote! A woman pressed Salzhauer with her recent comments, saying, “You called us delusional.”
The board agreed to explore ways to build a memorial for the victims, either on a strip of land where part of the tower fell or somewhere else.
Currently, a $ 120 million bid for the Champlain Towers South property is on the table. The trade-in plan would have allowed the buyer to build a tower instead on the site of the 10-year-old Surfside Community Center, which has an oceanfront pool and waterslide and rooms versatile. A new center would be built, along with a memorial, at the site of the disaster.
Miami-Dade judge Michael Hanzman, who oversees the collapse class action lawsuit, had favored the swap as a way to compensate victims through a property sale while allowing for the construction of a memorial.
“It shouldn’t be their decision, it should be the residents’ decision,” said David Rodan, whose brother and three cousins died in the collapse. “They’re scared because they know the residents want to do the right thing, they want to look back and see a memorial where it should be instead of a building.”
Rodan told the Herald that he and his group would continue to push for a referendum.
“The community wants to see a memorial there and if the land swap is the only option the community is ready to move their community center five blocks away,” Rodan said.
However, some residents who oppose the land swap told commissioners they supported a memorial site, but not at the expense of the community center.
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“I’m in favor of a memorial. I think it’s fair to the victims and their families. I’m not in favor of a land swap,” Surfside resident Paul O’Malley told NBC6.
Raquel Oliveira, whose husband and 5-year-old son died in the collapse, called on commissioners to help families find a way to build a memorial.
“Maybe the swap isn’t the best option or maybe it is,” she said. “What I’m asking is that we have some time to make the right decision.”