5/14/2006

City appeals ruling in condemnation: Henry (County CA) Daily Herald, 4/10/06

By Michael Davis

The city of Stockbridge [Georgia] is taking its high-profile condemnation of a local flower shop to a higher court.

The City Council voted Monday to appeal a judge’s order throwing out its attempt to force the sale of Mark and Regina Meeks’ Stockbridge Florist and Gifts. The vote is the second affirmation in as many weeks by the council of its attempt to take the property for the city’s downtown redevelopment project.

The council voted unanimously to ask the Georgia Court of Appeals to overrule Henry County Superior Court Judge Arch McGarity’s dismissal on April 3, which came a week after the council moved to continue with the case.

City leaders say the couple has been unreasonable in negotiating for the property, but the Meekses claim the city only offered a fraction of what a private developer was willing to pay.

“I don’t have the right to vote,” said Mayor R.G. “Rudy” Kelley, who asked the council last week to back down. “I have the right to recommend and they chose to go the other way.”

Stockbridge plans to include the flower shop in its current redevelopment project, which includes a new city hall and parking deck, as well as land that will be turned over to private developers for shops and residences.

The Meekses say they were offered a spot in the redevelopment project for a condo and a new shop, but the city has said the deal, made by a hired envoy, was unauthorized.

In a September condemnation hearing, a special master awarded the Meekses $421,500 in buy-out and relocation expenses. The couple’s attorney argued they had a deal with a private drug store developer for nearly $750,000 before an ordinance change limiting the size of pharmacies in the city soured it.

The case has caught the attention of state lawmakers, who in light of last June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming the taking of several homes in Connecticut to boost the town’s tax base, passed laws this year somewhat restricting local government’s seizure power.

But the new rules, which were signed into law last week, don’t apply in the Meekses’ case, which was already in the courts.

The Meekses’ attorney, Scott Jacobson, asked the city to reconsider its appeal Monday.

“We don’t consider [the vote] to be final so we’d like to continue with that request,” he said.

He argued the city already has plenty of property in its so-called downtown redevelopment district to complete its project.

“With the current property demolition and grading, it appears the city has amassed a significant site ... ” he said.

But because litigation has begun, the courts will have to decide the outcome according to City Councilman Steve Moon.

“We’ve started a project and we’ve started a process and we feel like (it’s a valid project),” he said.

The city, which has fought legal battles with several property owners in the redevelopment district over takings, has tried to be reasonable from Moon’s perspective.

“I understand why people would be up in arms about eminent domain and that’s why we went to each of the property owners and asked them to buy in,” he said. “For right now, our plan, we’re staying true to it.”


Henry Daily Herald: http://www.henryherald.com