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MIAMI BEACH, FL-The developers of a pending $100 million, 204-room hotel renovation and expansion plan bought a little more time Wednesday as they defend a costly legal challenge to the project.

With an expiration date looming, the Miami Beach City Commission approved an amendment that extends the development deadline in a settlement agreement the city negotiated in February last year with RPH Hotel Associates.

The extension grants the Wilmington, DE-based development group the time it needs to resolve third-party challenges to the settlement agreement. RPH is managed and controlled by an affiliate of Maryland-based Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

Eventually, the development group envisions the construction of a five-star-quality hotel operating in the city’s exclusive South Beach community under Starwood’s “W” brand.

“This agreement is effective until the termination of litigation,” Gary Held, Miami Beach first assistant city attorney, tells GlobeSt.com. “Then (RPH Hotel) will have one year to pull the building permits. That’s consistent with current city law. What we’re doing is maintaining the status quo until the litigation is over.”

The proposed project has a long, almost tortuous, history of disputes that began in 1998, when the city first rejected the development group’s plan to build a 15-story hotel addition adjacent to the 18-story Ritz Plaza Hotel at 1701 Collins Ave.

When the city accepted a scaled back proposal in February last year, three surrounding property owners appealed the decision to a civil trial court. A resolution is nowhere in sight, Santiago Dionisio Echemendia, a Miami attorney who represents RPH Hotel Associates, tells GlobeSt.com.

“This could go on for another year or year and a half,” says Echemendia, a member of the law firm Tew Cardenas Rebak. “Whoever wins, it will go to the state Court of Appeals and possibly the Florida Supreme Court.”

The development team is battling the appeals made by three neighboring property owners–Decoplage, a 600-unit condominium community, and the Surfcomber and Delano hotels.

Those appeals challenged the city’s decision last year to accept a settlement agreement that authorized construction of a new 7-story hotel tower with 80 rooms, in addition renovations on 124 rooms in the existing 18-story hotel building. By approving the settlement, the city granted variances that allowed the developer to exceed 50-foot maximum height restrictions on ground-floor additions by about 29 feet.

In response to the settlement agreement, the property owners made several claims. One argues the new seven-story tower would cast shadows on a neighboring swimming pool. Another claims the 2-story variance would obstruct ocean views. Still another claims the settlement agreement circumvented city ordinances.

About 60 days ago, Echemendia says, the trial court judge heard oral arguments on those appeals and began deliberation on whether to grant a non-appealable order to uphold the settlement agreement. “We’re awaiting an opinion any day now,” Echemendia says.

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