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Both sides now suing over old diesel power plant

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of November 28, 2013)
Photo: The red-brick old diesel power plant.

With three interested buyers for the red-brick old diesel power plant on the railroad tracks downtown – one offering cash to turn the building into a boutique distillery and retail destination – the city is still haggling with current tenants who owe more than $70,000 in back rent.

Shortly after the parties agreed to preserve their right to seek legal remedy in the ongoing dispute, beachside lawyer Janet Croom on Nov. 4 filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of tenants B-B Redevelopment Team LLC, a business partnership of her husband, luxury custom homebuilder David Croom, and Phil Barth of Barth Construction.

The suit, which has been assigned to Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Cox, seeks unspecified damages and alleges breach of contract, fraud and misrepresentation by the City of Vero Beach on agreements to rehabilitate the now-defunct 1926 electric generation plant which served city customers until the 1960s.

Both sides claim to have spent large sums on environmental cleanup and renovations under the 2001 lease agreement, which set rent to be paid to the city at $19,677 per year.

Vero City Attorney Wayne Coment said Vero has not responded to the allegations, because it has nothing to respond to at this point. “While the lawsuit was filed by B-B, the summons and complaint has not yet been served on the city so the response period has not begun to run. No response has yet been prepared,” he said.

In the meantime, the city moved to document alleged violations by B-B Redevelopment to the long-term lease agreement with the city. “The city did serve B-B with eviction notices since they filed the lawsuit,” he added.

The two eviction notices served on Nov. 8 not only state that B-B failed to pay more than $70,657.84 in rent, but also that the tenants violated the lease and the city code by storing boat trailers and temporary structures on the property and erecting unapproved signs.

The city also contends the tenant failed to complete renovations, failed to submit a plan for the remaining antique electric generator still in the building and failed to maintain liability insurance coverage.

Though both the three-day and 10-day notice periods on the city’s demand letters have passed, city officials have not yet forced Croom and Barth to vacate the building. Those demand letters could give the city leverage to work out an amicable solution, but for now, the parties seem at a stalemate.

“We have agreed with their counsel, Janet Croom, that we will not proceed further because of the prior agreement requiring 30 days’ notice to terminate,” Coment said. If the matter is not resolved, he expects beachside attorney Eugene O’Neill of the Gould Cooksey Fennell law firm to craft a response and represent the city.

Vice-Mayor Jay Kramer, who said he was interested in sitting in on the discussions in hopes a compromise could be worked out, was unofficially appointed as the council’s point man on the issue. Only one council member can legally sit in on closed-door sessions due to Florida’s open meetings law.

The parties and their attorneys met last Thursday afternoon, but when asked if any progress was made, City Manager Jim O’Connor said, “No resolution, so we will talk again.”

Public record shows that Coral Springs residents Lisa and Guy D’Amico, who are building a home in Ambersand Beach on the north barrier island, offered $595,000 cash for the property. The old diesel plant and the land it sits on were appraised for $500,000 “as is” in August.

O’Connor said two other interested parties have come forward – the Cultural Council of Indian River County, which currently has offices on 14th Ave., and a local chef named Joel Tallant, who O’Connor said inquired about a potential restaurant project.