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Monday, February 25, 2013

Inside The E.W.F. Stirrup House ► Before and After

The E.W.F. Stirrup House on February 22, 2013
I've been documenting the E.W.F. Stirrup House since July of 2009, during which time I have researched its rich 120-year old history. In those 4 years absolutely nothing has changed. The house has been allowed to undergo Demolition by Neglect, while the developer that controls the property has done nothing to preserve this architectural jewel. In this follow-up to my recent blog post The E.W.F. Stirrup House ► Before and After, I get back inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

Anticipation of Wednesday's upcoming Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting must have rapacious developer Gino Falsetto scrambling to give the appearance that he actually cares about historic preservation. It would be most awkward if, at Wednesday's meeting, anyone questions whether his stewardship of one of Coconut Grove's historic landmarks has been a monumental 8-year mistake, even if it has been.

After the vines were ripped away. This is what
happens when a community asset is ignored
for 8 years. February 22, 2013
Efforts this past week to 'pretty up' the property -- by cutting back the plant growth that has had 8 years to attack the house -- is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig. When you've allowed a house to rot for 8 years without even bothering to seal the windows from the elements, anything done now is only being done for purely cosmetic reasons. IRONY ALERT: When Falsetto's work crew indiscriminately ripped out the vines that had been allowed to penetrate the house, it exposed the damage Falsetto's 8-year control of the E.W.F. Stirrup House has wrought.

"Some people say" my blog posts have placed Falsetto in an uncomfortable position. Until I happened along, his real estate manipulations were hidden in plain sight. However, as I researched the long history of the E.W.F. Stirrup House, I couldn't help but learn why the house has been empty for these past 8 years. Posting my research (as I discover it) has built up an awareness in the local community and a trust in my reporting. Community leaders in West Grove were unaware of some of the history I've uncovered. Now they come to me for accurate information about the Stirrup House.

Even the immediate neighbours of the E.W.F. Stirrup House are slowly coming to the realization they were hoodwinked 8 years ago. The developer of the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums promised to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House. No one recalls anyone ever mentioning a Bed and Breakfast at the time. Yet, with the help of Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, Aries Development (aka Gino Falsetto) was able to get a change of zoning for the Stirrup House to Commercial from Residential. This only happened within the last year. That couldn't have been what was proposed 8 years ago, could it? If so, why did it take so long?

What about the inside of the house? 

I've now been lucky enough to get INSIDE the E.W.F. Stirrup House on 2 separate occasions. The first time was August 17, 2012 and just last Friday, February 22, 2013. In the post Unpacking Coconut Grove ► Part Four ► Open Houses and Broken Laws, I documented how (allegedly) illegal demolition work was being done inside the Stirrup House without benefit of a building permit.

The inside of the house on Friday proved that Falsetto learned nothing from my earlier post. He continued to have (allegedly) illegal demolition work done inside the house without having a proper building permit issued by the City of Miami. There was a bathroom on the second floor in August. It has since disappeared. It's just another example of Gino Falsetto getting away with something in plain sight.

BEFORE - August 17, 2012:

No one is claiming it was an attractive bathroom
and, to be fair, it would have had to come out anyway.

AFTER - February 22, 2013:

And, poof, it's gone. No building permits were harmed, or issued, during the making of this documentary.

Not obtaining a building permit is just more proof that Gino Falsetto feels the rules are for other people, not himself. I have already documented how he left a string of bankruptcies behind in Ottawa, Ontario. Stiffing the Canadian taxpayers may very well have been how he was able to financially insinuate himself in the Miami real estate market as a player. That takes big money.

However, Gino Falsetto seems to have a pattern of turning his bankruptcies into his own financial gain. Furthermore, not all his schemes seem to be 100% legal. Two posts by an anonymous blogger, if true, appear to show that Gino Falsetto made out like a bandit -- both literally and figuratively -- on another one of his foreclosures:
Gino Falsetto (1) developed the Grove Garden Residences condominium in Miami’s Coconut Grove.

With his eyes on the financially strapped, closed Coconut Grove Playhouse for acquisition and development into a commercial complex, he aimed for the two vacant lots behind the theater. These two lots totaling 10,620 square feet, zoned single-family residential are located at 3227 and 3247 Charles Avenue in Coconut Grove.

The deal sounds wonderful. The sellers of the two lots took title to two Grove Garden Residences condo units which financial whiz Gino valued at $500,000 each — that’s one million dollars for two overgrown lots that generate no income, not even legitimate parking fees.

Gino Falsetto (2) is now the proud owner of real estate abutting the Coconut Grove Playhouse and promptly secures a $700,000 mortgage loan. After all, the two lots overgrown with weeds are worth a million smackers. Right?

What about the bank? They want to get their money back, don’t they? But Gino Falsetto didn’t repay and the bank initiated foreclosure proceeding just 21 months after they had filled Gino’s pockets with $700,000.

Gino Falsetto didn’t put up a fight and didn’t deliver an offer to make good on his loan obligation. Why should he? Gino's no fool. The judge handed down a final judgment of $720,546.28; and the two empty lots were picked up by Pierre Heafey (3) for $200,100 in the foreclosure auction.

Just nine months later, Pierre Heafey sold the property to Gino Falsetto (4) with a quitclaim deed for $215,800. Please note, it's now a different company that owns the property. Is it to fool the creditor, the bank that handed Gino $700,000 and got back $200,100? Does the IRS not tax such windfall profits? Perhaps they don't know what's happening here.
That reads like a real estate scam to me, but what do I know? I am new to the world of high finance where all these sleazebags do business. Maybe there's a legitimate way for Gino Falsetto to default on a property, yet still wind up owning it. But I doubt it.

Remember: This is the man that has effective control over the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the two vacant lots across the street, the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the Taurus Bar, Calamari's, the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums and, quite possibly, Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. In fact, Gino Falsetto has managed to gain control of every property surrounding the Stirrup House, except for the Regions Bank on the corner and it wouldn't surprise me to learn he's got an offer to buy that as well.

But what about the rest of the inside of the house already?

Most of the changes inside the Stirrup House seemed superficial to this reporter. However, a subsequent interview with a developer disabused me of that notion. The whole reason there is a requirement for a building permit is to ensure that all demolition, not to mention renovation, conforms to Miami's historic preservation laws. IRONY ALERT II: What's been done inside the E.W.F. Stirrup House so far might not only contravene City of Miami by-laws, but also go against the standards established by very people gathering this Wednesday at the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation meeting, of which Gino Falsetto is listed as an "historic asset." You can't make this stuff up, people.

Meanwhile, all the junk cluttering the rooms seen in my previous post has been removed. Except for various doors, and a very small pile of construction materials (which might even get used if there is ever any construction), every bit of crap that had called the E.W.F. Stirrup House home has been removed. That's progress of a sort, I guess. But it's not a lot to show for 8 years of stewardship.

Read Part One of this two part series: The E.W.F. Stirrup House ► Before and After

All my posts on the E.W.F. Stirrup House can be found at Unpacking Coconut Grove ► A Compendium.

What follows is a small gallery of pics, all taken on February 22nd. They can be compared at your leisure to those taken last August. How much history has been destroyed is anybody's guess.