When Andre Frings returned to his South Beach apartment from a trip to New York last December, his jaw dropped at what had happened to the historic building next door. The 1926 art deco edifice was completely gutted, the graceful façade gone. Frings suspected the developer had broken the Beach's historic preservation codes, so he filed a complaint. The city investigated and, sure enough, found that demolition had exceeded the scope of permits. The developer spent months making fixes.
Democracy at its finest, right? Not for Frings. Last month, the developer -- Brickell-based Jeffrey Schottenstein -- filed a lawsuit against the SoBe resident, seeking more than $15,000 for the egregious crime of reporting his problems to the city.
"It's ridiculous because I don't have any influence. I'm just a resident," Frings says. "All I did was write to the city about my concerns."
Andrew Hall, Schottenstein's attorney, says Frings was wrong to air his grievances when work was already underway. "Guys like this, they think they're smarter than everyone else," he says. "He doesn't care about the consequences of his actions."
Frings's attorney, Michael Schlesinger, has a different take on the suit. "It's a frivolous action brought solely to intimidate and punish [Frings]," he says.
Frings, a 48-year-old New York native who's lived in South Beach for seven years, had always liked the shape of the building at 830 Fifth Street. So when he returned to find the building totally stripped, he emailed a Planning and Zoning official.
The city decided Frings's complaints had merit and ordered corrective work. At February's meeting of the Historic Preservation Board, members drafted a list of dozens of changes.
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In June, Schottenstein struck back at Frings. His suit calls the resident an "officious intermeddler who acted vexatiously."
Frings says he's already out thousands of dollars in attorney fees. He hopes a judge will recognize the case as courtroom bullying.
"It's crazy, and no one from city hall has helped me at all," he says. "I thought this city was all about community participation and historic preservation."