Florida developer goes bust before completing subdivision, and three women who made down payments on their joint retirement dream are out of luck.
NAPLES, Fla. — It was their American dream.
Three women wanted to retire in the Naples area. They hoped to be neighbors living on the same street in their golden years.
Five years ago, Blanca Chaparro, her sister Gladys Lopez, and a lifelong friend, Ana Isabel Rodriguez-Storer, put money down to each buy homes in the Bristol Pines community.
But their homes were never built, and they’ve lost most of the money they put down as deposits.
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Each has a court judgment against the developer for the money they are owed. But they haven’t been able to collect a penny of it.
“They were promised the return of their money and now they are left holding the bag,” said their Naples attorney, Doug Lewis. “This money is important to my clients. This was part of their retirement.”
Rodriguez-Storer, 60, said their lives have been changed completely, their dreams dashed. She lost more than $22,000.
“We thought by this time we would have the houses. It ended up being an insomnia Americana, not the American dream,” she said.
Her friends, Lopez and Chaparro, are heartbroken that their retirement plans have crumbled.
“All the plans we had were lost,” said Chaparro, 67, in Spanish.
She’s the only one of the three who lives in the Naples area now. She works part time at a local Publix and lives with her daughter.
Rodriguez-Storer and Lopez live in New York and aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to move to Naples because they’ve lost so much money.
After the housing boom went bust in Southwest Florida, the developer of Bristol Pines, Waterways Joint Venture IV, ran into financial trouble, then defaulted on more than $30 million in loans for several residential projects, including Bristol Pines. Last year, Wells Fargo Bank foreclosed on the mortgages, which it took over after a merger with Wachovia Bank.
Richard Davenport, the CEO of Waterways and a principal in the company, declined to comment on the legal cases.
He said that while his company still exists on paper, it has no employees, bank accounts or assets, so it’s out of business.
He said he held on as long as he could, but the downturn lasted too long for his company to survive.
The second phase of Bristol Pines where the three women hoped to live was never built, though the land was prepared and ready for it.
“The market shifted very markedly,” Davenport said. “So we decided not to go ahead at that time.”
The developer’s bank accounts have been taken over by a court-appointed receiver and the still-vacant lots that Lopez, Chaparro and Rodriguez-Storer chose for their homes were headed to a public sale on Sept. 21, along with other property tied to the multimillion-dollar foreclosure case in Collier County.
Bristol Pines is about half built with about 160 homes.
After the foreclosure auction, the three women fear they’ll have no chance of getting their money back.
“Their deposits were not protected,” said Lewis, their attorney. “Their deposits were not segregated into a protected account and now that money is gone.”
In 2008, when their homes still weren’t built, Lopez, Chaparro and Rodriguez-Storer terminated their contracts and the developer agreed in writing to give them back their deposits in four equal monthly payments. They each got back less than $6,000.
Chaparro is owed $12,000, while Lopez, who lives in Queens, N.Y., is owed $24,392 and Rodriguez-Storer, who lives in the Bronx, is owed $22,792.
The three women grew up in Bogotá, Colombia.
To come up with her deposit, Lopez, who has lived in New York for more than 20 years, took out a loan for $32,500 from Fifth Third Bank in Naples. She paid about $440 monthly, including $240 for interest, for about three years. She paid off that loan in 2008.
Rodriguez-Storer, a schoolteacher, borrowed money against her life-insurance policy to come up with her deposit.
“I still owe a few thousand,” she said, noting that the money isn’t easily replaced.
“It’s hard for rich people to lose,” Rodriguez-Storer said. “Can you imagine for us poor?”
It’s not clear how many others canceled their contracts and lost their deposits with Waterways, but there have been other lawsuits by buyers demanding their money back and other judgments.
Others with judgments haven’t been paid.
“We have not seen anything as of yet,” said Andrew Reiss, a Naples attorney representing several other buyers with judgments against Waterways.
One of the buyers he represented, RJT Holdings of New Jersey, won a judgment of $31,190, plus interest. Another buyer, Audrey J. Roozen from Wisconsin, got a judgment for $25,290, plus interest.
Neither of the buyers signed termination agreements with the developer like the three women did, but they fought to get out of their contracts after the developer failed to build their homes within two years as promised, said Reiss, with the Cheffy Passidomo law firm.
Lewis, with Roetzel & Andress law firm, attempted to seize money from the developer’s bank accounts, through a legal tactic known as garnishment, to get the money owed to Lopez, Chaparro and Rodriguez-Storer. But that wasn’t possible after the receiver took over the accounts, he said.
Lewis isn’t giving up.
“We are exploring our options,” he said.