Wednesday, January 25, 2012

St. Augustine Record: City to oppose eminent domain -- Resident: FSDB is committing 'neighborhood homicide'

Posted: January 23, 2012 - 11:15pm

Resident: FSDB is committing ‘neighborhood homicide’

A simmering, decade-long zoning dispute between the city and The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind reached a low boil Monday night as residents of the historic Nelmar Terrace neighborhood strongly protested a proposed compromise agreement hammered out with the school.

Nelmar resident Melinda Rakoncy told the City Commission that if the school’s attempts to achieve eminent domain power succeed, “that is war on the city of St. Augustine. It would strip the city forever of its ability to control its own growth.”

Rakoncay explained that, with that power, FSDB could force the purchase of any piece of land in the city.

House bill 1037, filed by state Rep. Bill Proctor, R,St. Augustine, would not only give the school eminent domain power but make the school’s zoning violations permanent after July 1.

Senate Bill 1348 was filed as a companion bill to Proctor’s. Both would delete the present requirement that FSDB cooperate with local authorities in the restoration of school facilities.

On a motion by Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman, the commission voted 5-0 to approve a resolution opposing that legislation.

Proctor — who is term limited — did not attend Monday, but has said he wants FSDB to have eminent domain power before he leaves office.

Rakoncay said, “He’s not representing his district or the city. He’s representing the school.”

St. Augustine activist Ed Slavin said Proctor has had a “close and intimate relationship” with FSDB as a board member and chairman of the board for years.

“This as a conflict of interest for him,” Slavin said. “Let him be here under oath and not hiding in Tallahassee.”

Former Nelmar neighborhood Lisa Lloyd said she loved the school and its mission, but added that its administrators have “used children’s disabilities to hide their misbehavior. If you let those (zoning) violations go, why would anyone else in the city follow the law? It’s frightening. Taking people’s homes away form them is completely reprehensible.”

FSDB officials have said several times that they have no plans to use eminent domain. They just want to be protected from gouging when they want to purchase a piece of land, they said.

But it’s doubtful whether any member of the City Commission or any Nelmar Terrace resident believes that.

Multiple residents said they were “disappointed” at the terms of a mediated agreement worked out between the city and FSDB giving the school permanent control over a city alleyway. For that parcel, the public would get access to two strips of land — one along Nelmar Avenue and the other along the Intracoastal, though they would not have access to the water.

City Attorney Ron Brown laid out the city’s choices:

■ If the mediation proposal is rejected, things stay as they are until new proposals can be worked out. If the eminent domain bills pass, however, the city has no recourse and the school has no incentive to negotiate.

■ If the mediation proposal is approved, the city at least gets something. So if the eminent domain bills pass, the mediation provisions remain in effect.

The major issues include the usage and fencing of the Collins House on Nelmar, the future use of the vacant eastern half of the Genoply Tract, the possession and use of an alley between Milton and Nelmar streets that has been public since 1912, and of course, eminent domain.

Brown said the mediation proposals are “the best we think we can do at this time. (If the bills pass), the Legislature will have the effect of legalizing what the school has done on that property.”

One of the primary concerns the neighborhood has with the Collins House is reducing its eight-foot institutional security fence to six feet, he said.

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline, who as one of the mediators spent 16 grueling hours working on the agreement, said she wasn’t happy with the result.

“But it’s here. We can modify it,” she said, adding that she was not able to recommend the agreement. “I wanted to close this wound that has been festering for so many years. This was the best we could do.”

Alfred Street resident Jessica Misterly said she was disappointed with the proposal, which she felt was “skewed toward FSDB. The city gets little or nothing.”

Nelmar resident Jeanette Booth said FSDB is not governed by publicly elected officials and said she opposed the bills.

“We want to be good neighbors, but we want (FSDB) to follow the laws,” Booth said.

James Register, of 15 Genoply St., the only resident on that street that hadn’t sold to FSDB, said the school offered him $80,000 for his house, then $125,000 and then $140,000.

“I’ve lived here since 1967,” he said. “(After eminent domain takes my house) what are you going to do with me? I’m waiting for someone to knock on my door and say, ‘Mr. Register, congratulations! You’re now part of the FSDB campus’”

James Carr called the school “an 800-pound gorilla, above the law, above reproach. They can do what they want.”


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expand the campus outside of the congested city ,, nelmar
By yathink | 01/24/12 - 07:32 am

terrace residents have a right to enjoy their property without being harassed by f.s.d.b. and it's eminent domain ideas... proctor should butt out and cease using his relationship with the school to enable them to STEAL property... buses can transport the kids between campuses,, if managed properly, they won't have to bus them at all !!!>>>yathink

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Ed Slavin = yathink
By Jazyddrums | 01/24/12 - 07:41 am

Ed Slavin = yathink

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By Ravendriver | 01/24/12 - 09:13 am

you should be ashamed of yourself. Follow the $$$$.

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local control?
By peanut | 01/24/12 - 06:31 pm

If Proctor had his way, Flagler College would have eminent domain. Under his leadership, the college would buy property, tear down historic houses and then build a fake historical building. The college has a master plan but somehow the city is never given access to their plans. They are produced piecemeal so that no one can examine the whole plan. This is also his plan for D&B. He doesn't care that he is destroying one of the nicest areas of this city.. Due to the water all around, our neighborhoods are small and expanding the school is destroying the quality of life there. The campus used to be a safe place for neighbors to ride bicycles and fish. a.. that has already been destroyed. The abuse on the campus was not from visitors, it was from employees.

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