The City of Orlando has officially been served notice in the lawsuit filed against the recent sale of land needed for the new Major League Soccer stadium in Parramore. City Clerk Celeste Brown was served a summons and now has 20 calendar days to file a written response to the complaint being made by several plaintiffs. The case has been filed in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court.
“A phone call will not protect you,” the Notice of Service states. “Your written response, including the case number given above and the names of the parties, must be filed if you want the Court to hear your side of the case. If you do not file your written response on time, you may lose the case, and your wages, money, and property may be taken thereafter without further warning from the Court.”
The lawsuit against the City of Orlando stems from the actions of Mayor Buddy Dyer, who previously used eminent domain to seize portions of the land where the now privately funded stadium intends to be built. The City Council approved a contract with the Orlando City soccer team last week, but the complaint for injunction relief was filed in state court the same day as the vote. The plaintiffs are suing the City of Orlando in violation of FL statute 73.013, which governs covenants of properties taken by eminent domain.
“This is about principle,” said one plaintiff Betty Gelzer, longtime Parramore business owner, Parramore homeowner and President of the Inner City Neighborhood Association. “This is about doing things the right way and making sure our city government is representing the interests of our entire community. Everyone should be held accountable to the law.”
In January 2014, Circuit Judge Patricia Doherty ruled in favor of the City of Orlando in eminent domain cases for land next to the Faith Deliverance Temple church, which Dyer was also attempting to intimidate into selling their land for the stadium. The City was ordered to deposit more than $3 million in escrow after Judge Doherty’s ruling. At the time of the eminent domain seizures, City of Orlando spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser told Law360 in an interview, “The public purpose was confirmed by the court, and the city was awarded the two properties located at 639 West Church St. and 607 West Church St.”
The planned MLS stadium is to be built right on top of the 639 West Church Street property, among other city parcels, even after Dyer shifted the stadium site due to other setbacks. There is no question about the City taking ownership of the land, as Mayor Dyer demolished a warehouse that stood on the land in question to prepare the site for construction and conducted land remediation for the contamination at the site after Judge Doherty’s eminent domain decision.
Mayor Dyer admitted to the Orlando Sentinel last week that the current stadium plan was far beyond just a backup plan. “We’re on plan, well, about ‘M’ in terms of putting a funding program together for the stadium,” Mayor Dyer told the Sentinel.
In his rush to stop the ongoing bleeding caused by his numerous blunders, Dyer forgot the ramifications of his prior use of eminent domain to acquire the stadium site. As many will recall, Faith Deliverance Temple in Parramore stood up to the Mayor and forced the City of Orlando to ultimately drop their eminent domain case against the church.
“This was originally a public venue, but when the Mayor could not get what he wanted, Buddy Dyer denied the rights of the citizens and residents of Parramore and threw out the proper process in order to force this stadium through,” said Lawanna Gelzer, another plaintiff on the complaint for injunction relief. “This entire stadium process has been nothing more than another example of political bullying and corporate welfare at its worst.”
The Parramore location has always been the center of the controversy surrounding the new Orlando MLS stadium. The location is being used as part of Mayor Dyer’s larger gentrification of Orlando’s historic African-American neighborhood. All along, the location has been problematic causing headaches for the team, fans and local area residents. Even the city’s own maps show the planned stadium location clearly divides the Parramore community. The City of Orlando also closed Parramore Avenue, the area’s main thoroughfare, to accommodate the need to shift the location without conducting traffic impact studies or holding public meetings to inform residents.
The Notice of Service is the first sign of movement in the case since the original filing and will now force the City of Orlando’s attorneys to put in writing their side of the case. Assistant City Attorney Roy Payne and his legal assistant Tracy Barnes, along with attorney Lee Lombardy, were all copied on the summons for the City of Orlando with City Clerk Brown and city attorney Amy Iennaco.
“Even though city officials know they are breaking the laws on the books, they don’t seem to care,” Gelzer said. “Their actions caused this and now they must be held accountable like everyone else. “The people want their day in court.”