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Nonprofit faces questions over planned Fort Lauderdale building

The remaining owners of units in a small townhome development in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida, are worried about their future after a nonprofit group has snapped up more than half of the properties in the community.

A Los Angeles-based organization, which provides HIV/AIDS medical care worldwide, is proposing to build a low-income housing tower. But it has spent $4.32 million to purchase the neighboring townhomes, which the Florida Bulldog described as "acquisitions that appear aimed at squelching opposition to the nonprofit's plans for the area."

The foundation's regional head told the publication that while his agency's focus started with HIV and AIDS, it has expanded to address another public health issue: homelessness.

So far, the organization has spent $4.32 million to purchase nine of the 17 townhomes in the complex. The five-member homeowners association now has three members that don't live in the area, including the nonprofit's regional bureau chief.

One area resident told the Florida Bulldog that owners have been pressured to sell.

"We're hoping that they say, listen, we have nothing nefarious that we want to do to you, but their actions say something totally different, so we're scared," the resident said.

The regional director said there is no need to worry.

"Every single person came to us and said, ‘I would like to sell,'" he said.

He said the nonprofit intends to use some of the units as rental properties and others to house visiting employees. Plus, he said, the agency was told by the city to please the neighbors who object to the 15-story tower for low-income residents. In this case, that's being accomplished by buying them out.

"If folks don't want to live next to us, we don't want to force ourselves upon them," he said. "We were urged by the city to provide ... a solution."

Fort Lauderdale's mayor, Dean Trantalis, told the publication the buyout approach wasn't recommended by the city.

The low-income development is still making its way through the approval process and has been rejected by zoning officials. The regional director said his group is appealing and also intends to sue the city for discrimination against low-income people and those with AIDS.

This case will be interesting to watch. Property owners have legal rights, as do developers whose projects are adapted to fit local zoning laws.

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