PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL-Entities controlled by Catalfumo Construction & Development are suing two homeowners for delaying more than $370 million of local projects in which the developer is involved. The defendants, who live near the project site, claim in part that so much new building will diminish their quality of life.

William Siebenrock and Agustin Hernandez are challenging approval by the authorities of an expanded water management and retention system near their homes. They claim the drainage plan threatens to damage environmentally sensitive vegetation and species in the neighborhood, as well as worsen flooding.

Their action effectively stalls any further development until the drainage plan, already approved by the South Florida Water Management District, is reviewed by a state administrative judge. And that could take at least two months.

The Palm Beach Gardens-based development firm, headed by Dan Catalfumo, contends in a Palm Beach County Circuit Court lawsuit that undue delay jeopardizes contracts it has to sell a portion of its land holdings along PGA Boulevard near The Gardens shopping mall for $26 million. The out-of-state buyers are planning to use the parcel for constructing as much as 500,000 sf of retail/restaurant space and 340 residential units.

Actually, a total of three suits have been filed. In one, Catalfumo is asking the court to block the defendants’ petition for an administrative judge’s ruling on the original approval of the water management plan. The other seeks as much as $40 million damages, in part representing interest being paid on construction loans that have already been obtained but cannot be put to use until work can proceed.

Yet a third suit has been filed by another group seeking $5 million in damages from the residents for interfering with a contract it has with Catalfumo. This group, headed by Catalfumo development director Randall Greene, is buying 3.2 acres from the developer for construction of a 46,000-sf office building.

An attorney representing Siebenrock and Hernandez contends, in a published statement, the suits were “designed to intimidate.” They were further characterized as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which have reportedly been banned in some states.

Catalfumo denies that claim and insists the suits have merit. The suit maintains the residents know their objections to the drainage plan are unsupportable, especially since it was originally proposed by the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District and not by the developer.

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