A small win for property rights
Some news out of Broward County
The city of Hollywood cannot take a family's downtown property and give it to a private developer, a judge ruled Thursday, ending a two-year legal battle and potentially jeopardizing a $100 million condominium complex.Some people can't be bought Mr. Abele. Most of them aren't in politics. Pay those legal bills or expect to be sued yourself.
Broward Circuit Court Judge Ronald J. Rothschild's ruling in favor of the Mach family, which has owned the 2,900-square-foot building on Harrison Street for decades, came as a blow to Mayor Mara Giulianti and city commissioners. They wanted to use eminent domain to replace the Mach structure with a 19-story condo and retail tower as part of downtown revitalization plans.
The ruling also means developer Charles "Chip" Abele will have to either renegotiate with the Machs or come up with a new design plan for his condos. He said he has already offered the Mach family $1.2 million for the property, which is valued at $800,000.
"This just shows that a lot of people unified can stand up to a bully, to a government that they don't think is doing the right thing," said David Mach, whose late father bought the building after immigrating from Hungary and died during the negotiation process with the city.
Mach said he and his mother have no intention of selling their building, which houses a beauty salon and other business at the corner of Harrison Street and 19th Avenue.
The Mach case has dragged on for two years and become a cause for property-rights advocates, particularly in light of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Kelo vs. New London, that said cities can take property from individuals and sell it to private entities.
Judge Rothschild's ruling was very narrow and followed a three-day trial in April and May. He said testimony showed the city and Abele didn't need the building to complete the project, a must for eminent domain. And he said the city's argument that taking the property would help save some portions of the historic Great Southern Hotel had no legal basis or precedent.
As part of an agreement Abele reached with the city two years ago, commissioners agreed to use eminent domain powers on his behalf if he preserved part of the hotel. The final plans would have saved some of the façade but gutted the hotel's interior.
Rothschild also found that neither Abele nor the city did anything improper during the eminent domain process, but said they did not have legally sufficient grounds to win in court.
Abele, who has already spent millions on building plans and assembling the surrounding parcels, said he's not sure what happens next. He'll likely ask the city to appeal the ruling, which they must under terms of the development agreement he reached with commissioners two years ago.
Abele will pay the costs.
Abele said he hopes to resume negotiations with the Machs. "I do know that if we build around his place, that 2,900-square-foot building isn't going to be worth anything near what we're offering."
This was a small win but the battle for property rights still rages. The crooks in Hollywood have been stopped, but just for now. Abele and the city of Hollywood will be back. Will the luckless people caught in their way be as fortunate as the Mach family?
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