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DAYTONA BEACH, FL-A developer’s $500,000 check to the fishing town of Ponce Inlet, FL was enough to re-start construction next week on the eight-building, seven-story Links condominium project, 60 miles northeast of Downtown Orlando. The estimated $75 million venture by Atlanta-based American Safety Insurance Services Inc. had been shut down since April 2 over a building height dispute.

Daytona Beach hospitality industry brokers following the controversy tell GlobeSt.com, on condition of anonymity, that everybody involved in the settlement was careful not to call the half-million-dollar check a payoff to the town, but a settlement of the dispute. However, the town council, which still has to approve the deal, asked for the money to settle the fight, brokers tell GlobeSt.com, a view not contradicted by Ponce Inlet elected officials.

State Circuit Judge J. David Walsh ruled April 11 the seven-story, 378-unit Links condos, which have an estimated 70-foot height, could resume construction, even though it exceeded the town’s 35-foot height limit. All future new commercial, industrial or residential construction in Ponce Inlet, however, can’t be taller than 35 feet, the judge ruled.

About 20 existing commercial buildings in Ponce Inlet, already over the height limit, would be allowed to stand, the court order states. Links is part of American Safety’s $210 million Harbour Village Golf and Yacht Club mixed-used enterprise being developed in Ponce.

At risk in the dispute was the project’s multi-million-dollar investments with title insurance companies and lenders, brokers tell GlobeSt.com. But town officials told the developer they didn’t want the Links project demolished but only sought a legal clarification on the town’s height regulations, according to a published report.

However, the developer had feared the court might follow a 1999 state judge’s ruling in South Florida which ordered Martin County developer Thomas Thomson to demolish five completed buildings at his planned 19-building apartment complex at Villas of Pinecrest in Jensen Beach, FL.

Thomson’s project violated the county’s comprehensive land use plan by being built too close to a single-family neighborhood, without sufficient buffers, the judge ruled four years after another state judge had ruled the project could stand.

After Thomson’s appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was rejected, the developer demolished the half-completed venture in September 2002 at a tear-down cost of $3.3 million, as GlobeSt.com previously reported. The developer’s legal costs ran about $500,000, Martin County brokers who had followed the 1995 controversy tell GlobeSt.com.

The 1999 ruling set a precedent in Florida multifamily development circles by alerting developers that completed or half-completed projects could still be ordered to be torn down, even after local government officials had approved the project, GlobeSt.com reported in 2001.

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