18 July 2016

Jury hits U. of C. hospital with $53 million malpractice verdict

Original Story: chicagotribune.com

A Cook County jury has awarded $53 million to a 12-year-old Hickory Hills boy and his mother in a 2013 lawsuit filed against the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was born with a serious brain injury. A Chicago medical malpractice lawyer said this will help to pay for the boy's future healthcare.

The jury's award to Lisa and Isaiah Ewing includes $28.8 million for future caretaking expenses, according to a copy of the jury verdict form provided by their lawyers, Geoffrey Fieger of suburban Detroit and Jack Beam of Chicago. Isaiah has severe cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair, and needs his mother to feed and clothe him.

It was the biggest birth injury verdict ever in Cook County, said John Kirkton, editor of Jury Verdict Reporter in Chicago.

Their lawsuit outlined about 20 alleged missteps by doctors and nurses after Ewing arrived about 40 weeks pregnant at the hospital and was experiencing less movement by her baby. The mistakes, the lawsuit alleged, included the failures to carefully monitor mother and baby, perform a timely cesarean section, follow a chain of command, obtain accurate cord blood gases, and be aware of abnormal fetal heart rate patterns that indicated distress to the baby, including hypoxia, or a drop in the supply of oxygen.  "The University of Chicago has been, for the last 12 years, completely unapologetic, and even though the evidence was overwhelming that they caused Isaiah's brain damage, they refused to accept responsibility," Fieger said at the news conference Thursday. Ewing hadn't had any problems during her pregnancy, he added.

Before the case went to the jury, the hospital filed for a mistrial.

Fieger's "closing argument shattered the line between zealous advocacy and improper prejudicial comments, rendering it impossible for defendant to receive a fair trial," the hospital's lawyer said in a court filing. "He also prejudicially argued that the defendant's case was built on a falsehood and proceeded to equate defendant's conduct and testimony of its witnesses with the propaganda techniques notoriously and unmistakably associated with Nazi Germany."

Hospital spokeswoman Lorna Wong said the hospital had "great sympathy" for the family but "strongly" disagrees with the jury's verdict.

"Judge Kirby declined to enter judgment on the verdict, as there are pending motions for mistrial based on assertions of Mr. Fieger's improper conduct," she said, noting that it wouldn't be the first overturned verdict involving Fieger.

She said Isaiah and his mother were treated for infection, which can cause cerebral palsy. "Isaiah was born with normal oxygen blood levels," and the "injury occurred before the care Mr. Fieger criticized."

After the news conference, Fieger said he expected the judge to confirm the verdict. "The jury has spoken," he said. A Chicago Brain Injury Lawyer said this is usually how this procedure occurs.

The jury decided the case in four hours, Fieger said. A list of the damages also includes $7.2 million for future medical expenses. The document was signed by 12 jurors.

Fieger disputed that Isaiah had an infection.

"All of the medical records at the University of Chicago neonatal clinic showed that Isaiah had been suffocated at birth, that he had suffered hypoxia, lack of oxygen, yet the University of Chicago and its lawyers came to court and tried to tell the jury that their own records were false, that their own records were mistaken and that Isaiah really had a phantom infection that infected his brain that they could never have known about," Fieger said during the news conference.

Ewing said at the news conference that she has to bathe Isaiah and help him go to the bathroom. She lives in a two-story town home, so she must carry him up and down the stairs.

She said the verdict will help ensure that Isaiah is taken care of after she dies.

Chemical smell at Lynden storage facility closes street

Original Story: bellinghamherald.com

Fire officials said they could not determine the source of a chemical smell at a chemical storage tank locker that caused minor respiratory symptoms for three people and closed 19th Street for several hours Tuesday, July 12.

Three people were treated for sore throats and chest tightness in the incident at K Mini Storage & Mail, 413 19th St., said Lynden Fire Chief Gary Baar. None of the affected people required further examination, he said, but the street was closed for several hours to allow fire crews access to the building.

Whatcom County’s multi-agency hazardous materials team was summoned as a precaution.

“We searched every storage unit,” Baar said. “One unit seemed a little bit suspicious, but it happened to be nothing serious.”

Baar was among the first firefighters at the scene and described the odor as akin to bleach or insecticide. He and other firefighters immediately donned their protective clothing, face masks and air packs, he said.

Haz-mat team members wore full protective “moon suits” to conduct their search. Some 30 firefighters and others worked at the scene. They were going to search chemical holding tanks for leaks.

Crews from Lynden Fire Department and North Whatcom Fire and Rescue responded to reports of a strange chemical smell at 12:35 p.m. Tuesday, said Lynden Fire Assistant Chief Robert Spinner.

Firefighters could not determine what caused the smell after an initial inspection, Spinner said, and detectors did not alert them to any dangerous materials. Officials didn’t evacuate besides the building itself, but 19th Street between Main and Front streets remain closed until the investigation was complete about 7 p.m.., Spinner said.Firefighters and haz-mat crews staged their vehicles across the street at Farmers Equipment Co. and the street was closed so crews could move back and forth freely, Baar said.

Project-by-project, developers help Tampa find its urban roots

Original Story: 83degressmedia.com

Urban renewal is a now-familiar headline across the United States. After half a century of looking to suburbs, Americans are returning to downtowns en masse, swapping white picket fences for Brooklyn brownstones. Contact a Tampa custom home builder today.

How is this broader narrative of urban transformation playing out in Tampa, a city that largely grew up around the automobile and suburban single family home? One way to understand the change happening locally is to look at “infill” development, a real estate and urban planning term that refers to building and investment in areas that are already developed.

83 Degrees asked three local developers working in the infill space to reflect on a few of the key trends, challenges and opportunities shaping their work today. With custom homes in Tampa everyone should be able to get what they are looking for.

Here’s who they are and a glimpse at what they’re up to:

Ken Stoltenberg directs Mercury Advisors, a two-man outfit currently developing the Channel Club, a 22-story, 323-unit apartment tower with an $80 million-plus price tag in downtown Tampa. Stoltenberg also developed Grand Central at Kennedy, a $145 million mixed-use condo project at the heart of the up-and-coming Channel District.

Scott Shimberg leads Hyde Park Builders, which has designed, built and sold over $250 million in local real estate since 1987. He is a custom home builder Tampa.He’s currently working on the first three single-family homes on a 70-homesite project in East Tampa. Shimberg hopes to price the 3-bed, 2-bath homes near 22nd street at a price attractive to working families. He also has a portfolio of midcentury single-family homes in South Tampa that he’s rehabbing for the rental market, among other projects.

Steve Armstrong, Vice President at Comvest Builders, is building two new infill homes in West Tampa this year, which he hopes to market as an affordable alternative to a South Tampa clientele. Comvest’s ten-person team also has a number of custom home and commercial building and renovation projects underway across the Tampa region.

All agree that infill is a relatively flexible term that finds definition in a wide variety of developments that can be seen across Tampa, at once taking the form of midrise rental apartments popping up in Westshore, new mixed-use towers rising in downtown, posh raise-and-rebuild projects happening lot-by-lot across South Tampa, and single-family workforce homes being built in ex-industrial East Tampa.

Finding the local sweet spots between housing demand and supply

Although each of these developers works in different corners of the market, they collectively point to two demographic variables driving demand for development in Tampa’s urban heart: city-minded Millennials and downsizing Baby Boomers.

“Being close to town and amenities is ever more important,” says Armstrong of the Tampa market, pointing to Seminole Heights and South Tampa.

Stoltenberg agrees. He says that although his clientele includes a fair number of Millennials, it’s the “Baby Boomers who are done raising kids in the suburbs and want to be down here (Downtown Tampa) where they can get to things easier and get to amenities” like concert venues, museums, restaurants and nightlife.

Shimberg reasons that while Boomers were focused on raising their kids in Carrollwood and Brandon, now that they’ve found empty nests they can start to “think about themselves.” Long drives across the Crosstown and yard work become less and less appealing when Tampa’s old neighborhoods can now offer “the ability to have every aspect of your lifestyle within that core area, your restaurants, your cool little shops and bars.” Tampa custom homes gives each type of family what they need.

Developers like Stoltenberg were on the “front lines of those trends,” continues Shimberg. “If you look at an area like the Channel District, years later you see tenfold the amount of development. It’s not just residential – it’s retail too. Development feeds on itself.”

Consumer preferences for walkable neighborhoods and amenities like nightlife aren’t the only dynamics driving how and where local redevelopment, however. Not only did the Tampa real estate market absorb some of the biggest shocks from the 2008 global financial crisis, the local real estate market in many ways played a key role in fueling the subprime mortgage meltdown that underpinned it.

For several years, Wall Street lenders and real estate investors balked at the prospect of investing in new construction in inner city Tampa. Large private equity firms like Blackstone picked up “distressed” properties in bulk and helped to create a local real estate owned-to-rental market that attracted investments from builders like Shimberg.

Today, with more confidence in the local market and the broader economy, investors are warming up to multi-family rental housing, including those amenity-rich, upscale rental mixed-use developments that seem to be sprouting up everywhere. Jeff Vinik’s ambitious plans for the Channel District, backed by Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, have played a critical symbolic role in boosting investor confidence in the Tampa market for new construction.

That growing investor interest, coupled with low interest rates, is translating to more construction around town and inspiring more to take the “leap of faith” and move to Tampa’s older neighborhoods.

“People are starting to realize that Tampa is a market they can lay claim to and make an impact in. The more that happens, the more folks that look to live down here,” says Shimberg. The idea of moving back to the city? “It becomes a ‘sure, why not?’”

Both of these observations are consistent with the broader themes reflected in the Emerging Trends in Real Estate report released by the Urban Land Institute earlier this year. That report identified other trends like local food systems, climate change and innovations in transportation as drivers of change in cities across America.

Bringing infill to market

Aside from marrying investors with would-be renters and homeowners, developers juggle a unique set of challenges and opportunities in the infill space. Density -- the concentration of development, usually measured in the number of dwelling units per acre -- makes infill development viable, explains Shimberg.

But with density comes higher construction costs, more logistics and planning codes that don’t always favor city-minded development. Shimberg points to parking minimums in Tampa’s current planning code, which were created during a more car-centric era. “If the code requires two 200 square foot parking spaces for each house, that’s 400 square feet that could go towards living space or a granny flat.” Those requirements can impact project costs and undermine efforts to create a more walkable neighborhood.

Many infill sites are also burdened with pollution from previous land uses, or have infrastructure that wasn’t built or maintained with high-density development in mind. That’s where the City of Tampa enters as a partner for development, helping builders to clean up so-called “brownfield” sites and using mechanisms like tax increment finance, or TIF, to help pay for new public infrastructure.

Both Stoltenberg’s Channel Club project and Shimberg’s East Tampa project are in Community Reinvestment Areas, or CRAs, special areas where the city uses TIF to support private development. Stoltenberg says that the 30-year Channel District CRA facilitates between $3-4 million a year in public infrastructure investment in the neighborhood, including a new sewer and stormwater system.

Unlike other corners of the city, South Tampa doesn’t have a designated CRA. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is currently shopping a citywide stormwater assessment fee proposal to fund fixes for the low-lying area’s growing flooding issues. A combination of increasing development pressures, deferred maintenance and rising seas has put the area’s aging stormwater infrastructure under stress – an infill challenge in some ways unique to coastal Tampa.

“Everyone’s taking the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s homes and knocking them down and putting in newer homes. You see a 1,500-square-foot being replaced by a 3- or 4,000-square-foot home on the same plots with a lot less yard, with minimal outdoor spaces, and lots of living square footage,” says Armstrong about South Tampa.

That development leaves less room for ground absorption and strains infrastructure. Ironically, it may be National Flood Insurance Program requirements, designed to improve community resilience to flooding, that is tipping the balance in favor of rebuilds over renovations. NFIP rules limit the amount of money that can be spent renovating existing homes insured through the program to no more than 50 percent of their market value, explains Armstrong.

Much of South Tampa is in the NFIP-designated floodplain, and about 40 percent of all NFIP policies cover Florida flood risk. The heavily indebted program is currently facing significant pressure for reform. Recent tweaks to the program have had major impacts on the affordability of flood insurance in areas like South Tampa, in some ways shaping who can afford to renovate or rebuild their homes, Armstrong adds.

A new report from the global real estate consulting firm CoreLogic -- released just in time for the start of the 2016 Atlantic Hurricane Season -- ranked Tampa the third most at-risk city in America for hurricane-fueled storm surge. The Tampa area’s exposure: nearly half a million homes with a replacement value of over $80 billion.

Taking the longer view

A slew of other reports have also identified Tampa as one of the world’s most at risk when it comes to the related, longer-term impacts of sea level rise making the need for a Tampa custom home builder with experience even that more important. Earlier this year, 83 Degrees published a 7-part series on climate change adaptation efforts underway across Tampa and the broader region, including how the real estate and property insurance industries are evolving to cope with changing climate risks. 

Despite these current and emergent challenges, Stoltenberg says he isn’t too worried -- at least not yet. “Two or three feet of sea level rise wouldn’t do anything to our building so long as the public infrastructure around us worked,” he says. “It’s not the newer buildings” that are at risk to flooding and other environmental risks, he says, but “it’s newer buildings in areas with old infrastructure.”

Collectively, this group says their investors -- on Wall Street and Main Street alike -- aren’t screening for climate change risks, at least not yet.

Steve Armstrong hopes to help weave sustainability into more local development. He’s a certifying agent for the Florida Green Building Council and he’s on the board of the Sustany Foundation, which promotes sustainability in the Tampa Bay area. One day, he hopes to build a personal home that can serve as a net zero, low impact showcase for climate-smart local living.

Shimberg, whose father moved to Florida in the 1950s to develop Town ‘n’ Country, is also hopeful that the local development community will evolve to help the city meet the challenges posed by climate change.

While Tampa is “discovering itself,’’ Shimberg says, “the development community is open to ideas as to what might be the right solution. They want to be part of the conversation.”

Even with these big picture issues in view, be it regional transportation and congestion woes, sprawl and growth management, or sea level rise and climate change, Tampa’s inner city construction boom continues. Cranes perch over downtown streets. The Tampa Riverwalk thrives and Curtis Hixon Park overflows during weekend concerts and festivals. Cafes and bars open on to street corners once quiet. And, piece-by-piece, project-by-project, Cigar City rediscovers its urban roots.

17 July 2016

Sneak Peek: Developer debuts custom luxe home tour in Cypress amid oil slump

Original Story: bizjournals.com

Caldwell Cos. opened its first gated custom home section in the Towne Lake master-planned community back in 2012 — when oil prices were high and Houston’s luxury home market was booming. Custom home builder Tampa

The Houston developer typically sells about 15 to 20 homes a year in Water’s Edge at Towne Lake. The exclusive Cypress neighborhood boasts mansions costing between $750,000 to $2 million on half-acre or larger waterfront lots with private boat docks.

When oil prices plunged a year ago, Houston’s luxury home market started to cool. Water’s Edge is on track to sell about 14 homes this year, slightly less than during the boom years.

Caldwell Communities has turned to a tried-and-true method to boost sales of million-dollar homes in Towne Lake. The developer is launching its first custom home showcase in Water’s Edge. Click through the slideshow to take a tour of the homes.

Five of the seven custom homebuilders who are building in Water’s Edge at Towne Lake will participate in the inaugural custom home showcase, which begins this weekend. Bavaria Builders, Braziel Building Group, Brickland Homes, Drees Custom Homes and Frontier Custom Builders are expected to welcome hundreds of prospective homebuyers and curious viewers into their speculative inventory homes between July 16 to 24.

Home tours are often used to lure homebuyers to consider purchasing a new home, but can also show off new trends in custom homebuilding. The five custom homebuilders in the Towne Lake showcase tour will feature their plush bathrooms and master closets, massive kitchens with double islands, unique architectural features like domes and barrel ceilings and high-end amenities like smart home systems.

“Custom homebuilders don’t have finished model homes like this,” said Jennifer Symons, vice president of marketing at Caldwell Cos. “This is a great opportunity for them to show off what they can do.”

Towne Lake is a 2,400-acre master-planned community boasting a 300-acre man-made lake in Cypress, northwest of Houston. Residents of Towne Lake can boat, fish and water-ski on one of the largest man-made lakes in Texas. Homes range in price from the $200,000s to more than $1 million.

Developer Caldwell Cos. has opened several new amenities within Towne Lake, including a new Kroger grocery store, sandy beach and waterpark and The Boardwalk at Towne Lake mixed-use development, which has attracted several new retailers and restaurants to Cypress. Residents can ride their motorboats to work, eat and play at The Boardwalk.

05 July 2016

Builders urge caution as Congress reauthorizes flood insurance program

Original Story: westplainsdailyquill.net

Extreme flood insurance rate hikes and inaccurate floodplain maps drive up the cost of homeownership and threaten small businesses, the nation’s home builders told Congress today.
Randy Noel, Second Vice Chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and a home builder from LaPlace, La., told the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship that NAHB has long supported practical, common-sense changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). If you are looking for a Tampa custom home builder then try to build in an area that is not classified in a floodplain.
“However, as Congress works to reauthorize the NFIP program by the September 2017 deadline, it must guard against the exorbitant rate hikes and faulty floodplain delineations that have plagued the program in the past,” Noel said.
In 2012, with the NFIP facing insolvency, Congress enacted the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act to ensure the program’s fiscal soundness. Unintended consequences from the legislation caused significant problems for home owners and prospective home buyers by triggering an immediate shift to full-risk rates phased in over four years.
“Home builders live and work in their communities. We see the effects of flood insurance rate increases in our personal and professional lives,” Noel added. “One Louisiana buyer bought a home only to realize the flood insurance rates had increased from $400 annually to the full-risk rate of over $13,000.
“And a neighborhood near my home in St. Charles Parish was fully devalued because of flood insurance rate increases. FEMA wouldn’t certify the levee protecting the community because it wasn’t maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After Biggert-Waters was enacted, home owners in that neighborhood were paying between $12,000 and $17,000 annually for flood insurance.
“The community mailed FEMA their house keys and told FEMA to keep them because the homes were worthless,” Noel added.
Flood insurance rate increases also have a direct impact on home builders. The rates make it much more difficult for owners of older properties to sell their homes and “move up” to a newly constructed home that is more resilient and built to higher construction standards. This puts local builders’ businesses in jeopardy and also constrains the local economy, he said.
Noel thanked the committee for acting quickly to remedy the problems caused by the Biggert-Waters legislation and said that NAHB estimates that nationwide there was an additional $755 million in new construction and $361 million in remodeling in 2014 because those issues had been solved.
Kevin Robles, a home builder from Tampa Bay, Fla., told the committee that housing prices in Florida are still 22 percent below normal due to the Great Recession.
“Any negative change to the market, such as flood insurance rate increases, could have long-term unintended consequences to Florida’s economy,” Robles said.
“I am a small business owner and at least a quarter of my customer base is active or retired military. I am constantly reminded of the need to keep housing prices affordable. In Florida, for every $1,000 increase in home prices, more than 8,000 households are priced out of the market,” he said.
Robles added that in Florida where there are large Special Hazard Flood Areas, it is extremely difficult to avoid building in or near a floodplain, so inaccurate floodplain maps are very problematic for builders. It can take months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to change the flood maps or elevate a property.  This can affect many custom homes in Tampa.
“There have been reported cases of FEMA neglecting to factor in privately funded flood control structures, or drawing in rivers or streams where none exist,” he said “Home owners are being incorrectly mapped into floodplains and forced to purchase unneeded flood insurance. It typically takes years for these mistakes to be fixed, often requiring a lengthy and costly process for the community, builder and home owner.”