Sunbeam Hopes Judge Will Rule Its Way In Land Dispute Next To Channel 7 Studio
Eric Ostroff | December 10, 2013
Edmund Ansin will be hoping for a special Christmas gift this season, the acquisition by foreclosure of a property next to his Fox television station that he could not get control of in 11 years of litigation.
On Dec. 20, the owner of Sunbeam Realty Co. Inc. will ask Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Peter Lopez to grant a motion for summary judgment in his favor on a much coveted property in North Bay Village.
Seven months after the owner of Miami’s WSVN-TV lost a decade-long real estate court fight, he allegedly schemed with the lender of his adversary to manufacture a default on the property he coveted.
Ansin has a net worth of $1.35 billion and owns Sunbeam Television Corp. and Sunbeam Realty Co. Inc. His Fox TV affiliate was a neighbor to a Clear Channel Metroplex Inc. radio station, WIOD-AM, for years. In 2002, Ansin filed a lawsuit against Clear Channel for trying to sell its part of the manmade peninsula they shared in North Bay Village.
The Fox news staff relied on its neighbor’s land for parking under an irrevocable easement.
Sunbeam Television prevailed at trial but lost on appeal. In 2008, Sunbeam amended its complaint and took Clear Channel to trial again.
In the second round, Clear Channel was a defendant through a lease for operating its radio tower. The radio station staff had long since moved, and the new owner, Isle of Dreams LLC, or IOD, was a defendant with plans for new commercial development.
As before, Sunbeam was determined to stop any development. Ansin saw his neighbor’s land as free parking but didn’t try to buy it when Clear Channel was initially looking to sell in 2002.
Sunbeam lost again in 2011. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey ruled, “Sunbeam cannot commandeer the entire key for parking.”
She set a limit on parking slots for the WSVN staff and stripped Sunbeam of its control over access to the property through a guardhouse. Sunbeam lost its appeal Nov. 6.
Even as Sunbeam Television was preparing for the second trial in 2011, Isle of Dreams’ attorney Peter Russin alleges Ansin was plotting “Sunbeam III,” the nickname given to a third chapter in the parking war that appears destined to span a generation.
Russin, a partner at Meland Russin & Budwick in Miami, explained Sunbeam Television sought discovery regarding IOD loans and its lenders during the Sunbeam II litigation.
Bailey didn’t allow that discovery, but Russin maintains the requests were part of a scheme between Sunbeam Television and its alter ego, Sunbeam Realty.
During 2012, IOD—owned by Miami commercial developer Scott Greenwald—repeatedly inquired with its lender, Banif Finance Corp., about the status of its loan reserves for payment of interest and taxes.
Banif deliberately ignored IOD’s requests “in the hopes that Isle’s lack of information about the reserves’ status would lead to a default,” IOD’s counterclaim alleges.
It came as a shock to Greenwald when he received an acceleration letter in July 2012 from Sunbeam Realty, which had become the owner of his mortgage, Russin said.
“Sunbeam Television, along with its sister company, Sunbeam Realty, hatched a scheme whereby Sunbeam Realty would approach Banif and inform Banif that it was interested in purchasing the loan, but only if Isle was in default,” IOD alleged in the counterclaim.
Tempted by a lump sum payoff on a $4.8 million loan, Banif sold it under those terms, Russin claimed.
Josh Lerner, the Sunbeam attorney and partner at Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell in Miami, was asked about the foreclosure and IOD’s counterclaims.
He said only, “The loan was in default for failure to pay taxes and other amounts due when Sunbeam bought it. Sunbeam is seeking to enforce the loan documents as would any other lender or note purchaser in a similar circumstance.”
Greenwald’s situation, however, resembles nothing like a residential mortgage default where a homeowner fails to keep up with monthly payments. The land had no appreciable revenue stream. The former radio station building is of limited use. Greenwald’s arrangement with Banif involved the creation of an interest reserve. The lender advances the interest payments until a development is approved, Russin said.
“Once the construction financing is obtained, the original lender gets paid off,” Russin said. “Greenwald was under the impression Banif would advance payments for interest and taxes as it had for 48 months straight before that.”
Through IOD’s counterclaim, the developer alleges Sunbeam Realty breached the contract and committed civil conspiracy.
Sunbeam Realty’s actions are contrary to the interests of a lender in the normal lender-borrower relationship, and by taking the mortgage Sunbeam stands in the shoes of Banif, Russin maintained. A lender approves of the development plans of the borrower, and that was the case before Sunbeam took over.
However, Sunbeam Television successfully obstructed a proposed 2002 condominium project, Russin said. Subsequently, Sunbeam, through public meetings, news reports or litigation, helped defeat plans for a mixed-use retail project, then an adult entertainment project.
“Most recently, there has been a new condo project that they sought to object to,” Russin said.
“Under the mortgage, the lender can allow any change of the property. The lender, now Sunbeam Realty, cannot unreasonably withhold its approval of a change in use,” IOD’s counterclaim states.
On Nov. 21, Sunbeam Television filed a motion for rehearing in the long-running easement contract fight. That keeps an additional cloud on the property, making it impossible for Greenwald to proceed with development.
Judge Lopez has the foreclosure case. On July 12, he denied Sunbeam Realty’s motion to dismiss IOD’s counterclaims.
Since the foreclosure lawsuit was filed, Sunbeam Realty got the court to order IOD to make monthly interest payments.
“IOD has made every single monthly interest payment,” Russin said. “It’s never been about IOD’s ability to make the payments. They were set up. This default was created.”
Adolfo Pesquera can be reached at (954) 468-2616.