Condo Siege

From peaceful American dreaming comes a rude awakening

If developers gain the majority of the units, they attain leverage over the holdouts, Dale continues. "There's a lot of techniques to make it unpleasant for people who stay there. When the trash doesn't get picked up and the grass grows long and the pool doesn't get cleaned or they turn [the empty apartments] over to Section 8 renters or they ask for a $40,000-a-year assessment to repair the problems, sooner or later, they might get the message."

The hangers-on remain vocal, while most of the rest won't comment.

One Edgewater House owner who wouldn't allow his name to appear in print hasn't made up his mind about selling and claims he hasn't felt pressure to do so. Regarding the holdouts, he says, "I find no fault with their decisions" but admits he questions "their commitment to the building versus their commitment to themselves individually."

Board President Raul Cosme acknowledges that the thwarted sale "built up animosity."

The holdouts take the glares from neighbors stoically. "I'm portrayed as a greedy bastard," Cioffi complains. "And all I want to do is live here."

Second-floor resident Gerald Leger has enough to worry about these days. The 64-year-old hasn't worked since 1986, when he was injured at his airport job and declared disabled. He was diagnosed with cancer last year. Weary from chemo treatments, he explains, he doesn't know how much time he has left. Having to vacate his home is "my lowest priority," he croaks. "When I wake up, I just look at the ceiling and say, 'Thanks. '"

Leger says he won't sell, "even if it means I'm the only one living in the building. If the time comes and the city condemns the building, then they'll just have to move me out."

Like Cioffi and Levy, Leger is protected by a Florida homestead exemption -- which offers no shield against the onslaught of downtown development. "I live where all the millionaires want to live," Levy says. "Only I'm not a millionaire."

Patricia Achille, who owns a unit in the building but rents it out, is put off by what she sees as "scare tactics" on the part of those pushing for the sale. "I don't want to see anyone suffer," she says. "For someone to move from that building and relocate somewhere else, it's got to be worth it. Why would Ted and Lou take $160,000 and move north or west and pay higher real estate taxes? Why can't people understand that?" Levy and Cioffi have calculated that their annual tax bill would jump from an average of $350 to at least $3,500.

Achille notes that the $160,000 price put on the condos won't buy much in Broward County, where the average single-family home now goes for around $343,400. "They can't do anything with that," Cosme acknowledges. "Frankly, they can't afford to move. I understand their concerns."

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