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Investors in Ruskin's Little Harbor sue to get deposits back

The Resort & Club at Little Harbor is sparsely developed. Seventeen lawsuits have been filed against developer Bahia Sun through a Fort Myers law firm to try to recoup deposits, like $93,000 put down on a $935,000, three-bedroom, three-bath unit.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times

The Resort & Club at Little Harbor is sparsely developed. Seventeen lawsuits have been filed against developer Bahia Sun through a Fort Myers law firm to try to recoup deposits, like $93,000 put down on a $935,000, three-bedroom, three-bath unit.

RUSKIN — The Resort & Club at Little Harbor isn't what some investors were expecting.

They made deposits on condominiums years ago after they were told that the bayside development would include a golf course, a water park and a yacht club. That never happened.

After two years of waiting for the homes they purchased to be completed, some wanted out.

But several who bought into Little Harbor say that developer Bahia Sun has refused to return their deposits, even though their contracts stated that the condos had to be completed in two years.

Seventeen lawsuits have been filed against Bahia Sun through the Fort Myers law firm Becker and Poliacoff.

These are some of the complaints, according to attorney Jason Himschoot:

• Investors were led to believe, through mockups and graphic designs, that there would be amenities, such as a golf course, that were never built.

• The investors didn't get their deposits back even though the units weren't completed in the two years required by their contracts. Instead, Bahia Sun offered them a termination fee if the investors gave the company more time. But Bahia Sun never signed the termination agreement or paid investors the fee.

• The investors weren't told when they paid the deposit that they were buying units in a Community Development District, which could result in extra taxes for community projects like roads.

"We just think the developers were not up front with these folks," Himschoot said. "They just want their money back."

Several calls to Bahia Sun and its affiliate, EarthMark, were not returned.

But court documents filed in response to the lawsuits offer another perspective.

They state that Bahia Sun was never beholden to the termination agreement, which would have given the investors their deposits back, along with a termination fee, because the company never signed it. Also, the contract stated that the company wouldn't sign it until a replacement buyer had been found.

Himschoot says his clients were promised their deposits and termination fee within a year even if a buyer wasn't found. But Bahia Sun's reply states that the contract trumps any previous discussions.

Also, Bahia Sun attorney Christian Petersen writes that the developer is not required to complete amenities included in drawings because the purchase agreement the investors signed states that the investor won't rely on representations other than those in the purchase agreement.

Wayne Taylor and Tom Dalton, both of Fort Myers, decided to buy condos in Little Harbor in 2004. They lived in an EarthMark development called Heron's Glen, and they were happy with it. The plans for Little Harbor looked good, too.

Taylor, 64, was drawn in by the plans for a yacht club and a water park. Dalton, 71, was excited about the golf course.

So Taylor put down $81,240 on a $662,400, two-bedroom, two-bath condo. Dalton put down $93,000 for a $935,000, three-bedroom, three-bath unit on the top floor of the Harborside condo complex.

The clock started ticking.

As the two-year mark approached, it was apparent the condos weren't going to be completed in time, they said. They wanted their deposits back.

They were contacted by the sales director, Dalton said. The plan: The developer could put the units back on the market and as soon as they sold, the investors would get their deposits back, plus a termination fee. If a year passed and they hadn't sold, the investors would still get the money, they said.

Dalton was promised $198,000 and Taylor $129,000 in addition to their deposits, they said.

"Tom and I decided that we best drive up to Little Harbor and sit face to face with this sales director to understand what he was telling us because it sounded too good to be true," Taylor said.

After the meeting, they decided to move forward. They signed an agreement to extend Bahia Sun's required completion date, as well as a termination agreement that spelled out what they'd get in return.

The problem is, they say, Bahia Sun never signed the termination agreement.

After a year passed, the units still hadn't sold and Bahia Sun didn't hand over any money. Another year passed. Nothing.

They say they just want their deposits and termination fee.

"We want our money back," Dalton said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Investors in Ruskin's Little Harbor sue to get deposits back 03/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2009 3:30am]
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