Even with skyrocketing real-estate prices, these big beach-front homes on Fort Myers Beach have eager buyers. Why they continue to sit vacant, and might sit vacant for a very long time, is complicated. Very complicated.
The homes are located next to Junkanoo restaurant on Estero Boulevard. The financing for the homes came from local business owner Terry Persaud. The builder was Joe Orlandini. Both homes are ready to be sold. Both have buyers. Neither can be sold.
Issue #1. Persaud also owns Sunset Grill in Times Square. The town of Fort Myers Beach and Persaud have been fighting each other over the Sunset Grill property for years, about 7 years, and over several issues.
Persaud purchased the property when it was Top-O- Mast. He says when he purchased the restaurant it needed a lot of work. He closed the restaurant to make the upgrades. At the same time the town council was trying to look at ways to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption on the beach. The Top-O-Mast had a liquor license that allowed them to sell alcohol inside the restaurant and out on the beach. While Persaud was closed and doing the upgrades his liquor license was not being used. The town determined Persaud abandoned the license because it was dormant for 9 months. They said serving on the beach was now a non-conforming use and he could no longer do it. Persaud countered that his license was never abandonded, he was repairing and upgrading the restaurant. So, he sued the town to get his right to sell outside back. He lost the case. He appealed and won. Persaud has now filed a lawsuit against the town for the lost liquor sales on the beach.
Issue #2. The town says Persaud is illegally renting chairs on the beach outside his restaurant. They even sent a code officer undercover to prove Persaud was not simply allowing customers to use chairs who come into his restaurant, and pay a convenience fee. The say he’s renting them to anyone who wants one, and doing it without a license. Persaud went before the special magistrate and lost the case. Fines continue to rack up on him for that violation.
Issue #3. The town says Persaud has illegal signs posted for his parking lot. he says he’s allowed to have them. More fines.
Issue #4. The town says Persaud is operating an illegal public parking lot, not just a parking lot for his customers. Another violation, more daily fines.
At some point along the way Persaud went before the Local Planning Agency, in an attempt to resolve the issue. He admits he agreed to several upgrades, the removal of a dead tree, a fence for his garbage compactor, maybe add a few new trees. He says he’s applied for the needed permits to make the upgrades but they’ve been denied so somehow that agreement fell apart and the fines continue to accumulate.
Persaud also believes that being that the parking lot has been there since 1974, and the Times Square area lost all of it’s parking when the road was removed, he’s grandfathered in and the town simply cannot force these changes on him. The town says because Persaud split that property into two parcels (there was a deal being discussed to sell the parking lot to TPI) he lost his grandfather status and the parking lot now has to come into compliance with all other public parking lots.
Persaud has been accumulating daily fines on all four violations the town has slapped him with. The total is in the hundreds of thousands if not more. Persaud does not believe he should pay. He doesn’t believe he’s in violation and says the town manager and town attorney are being vindictive because of the liquor license lawsuit he’s filed against them.
You may be asking, what does all of this have to do with two vacant multi-million homes 2 miles away? The answer: both properties are in the same LLC and the town has the right to stand in the way of the sale of the homes until Sunset Grill comes into compliance.
Orlandini went before the town council this week and asked the council to separate the two issues so the homes could be sold and he could be paid. Even Mayor Ray Murphy said he had sympathy for the homeowners and hoped something could be worked out. He suggested calling a special meeting to end the standoff.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt and Town Attorney John Herin stood firm. Hernstadt said they (Orlandini and Persaud) knew they had this issue. “They put themselves in it. He just needs to come into compliance.” Herin added, “The property owner is unwilling to adhere to your codes.” Herin added, “Why should the town allow them to sell the homes then have them turn around and use the profits from the homes to defend themselves in the lawsuit they’ve filed against the town in the Sunset Grill case.”
The fight goes on and the houses remain empty and unsold.