Last week the Supreme Court of the State of Florida has declined “to accept jurisdiction” and denied the appeal of the City of St. Augustine in its attempt to have the case dismissed. The Court went on to say “No motion for rehearing will be entertained by the Court.”
From 1998 to 2006 Donna and Scott Wendler, including their company, Wendler Properties III, purchased eight parcels of property (seven with standing structures) near Flagler College and adjacent to Flagler College owned properties.
In 2007, when it became economically untenable to keep the old structures in repair, the Wendlers created a plan to demolish or relocate the structures and build a boutique hotel modeled after the Henry Flagler era matching the architecture of downtown St. Augustine.
However the city denied their request to demolish or relocate the structures. The City took a position a 2005 amendment to a city ordinance should prevent the Wendlers from demolishing the blighted structures. It should be noted since the development plan began (in 1998), in fact, 161 similar requests (2002-2012) to demolish or re-locate such structures have been approved leaving the Wendlers as the sole owners being denied.
In response, the Wendlers filed a Bert J. Harris lawsuit against the City claiming the City’s amended regulations placed an inordinate burden on the use of their property. The Bert J Harris Act provides a property owner, who feels his property has been inordinately burdened from use by regulations, may file a law suit against a government entity with damages and reasonable costs and attorney fees incurred from the filing date. The case was brought before a local Circuit Court Judge in 2012 and it was dismissed. The Wendlers appealed.
In 2013, after 5 years of legal and bureaucratic entanglements, the 5th District Court of Appeals overturned the Circuit Court ruling agreeing the Wendlers had a legitimate case to be heard. The City appealed that decision to the Florida Supreme Court which found in favor of the Wendlers. The Wendlers were represented by attorney Andrew Brigham and the Coalition for Property Rights.
In response to the decision, Donna Wendler said, “This is a great victory for private property rights and property owners throughout the State of Florida. It’s refreshing to see the judicial system working properly. This latest victory returns our right to finally have our day in court. We hope justice will now prevail. We appreciate the support of CPR and other friends. We ask for everyone’s continued vigilance.”
Property owners in Florida now have legal precedent on which to rely when bringing a Bert J Harris claim against on overreaching government entity.