Local homeowners near FSDB fear ’eminent domain’

By Marissa Marinan| gargoyle@flagler.edu

Living just north of the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, Gina Burrell has a feeling of insecurity for what will happen to her home if the school is granted eminent domain power.

“I have been living in our house for 18 years, my husband built our house and I am almost 80 years old and I don’t want to have to move,” Burrell said. “I mean if they decided they wanted my piece of property I would have to go, so it gives you that feeling of insecurity and it’s not right.”

The House Bill 1037 is supported by state representative William Proctor and powerful legislative leaders Now Senate Bill 1348 is going through sub-committees to be passed.

The city of St. Augustine and Florida School for the Deaf and Blind have been in mediation proceedings for several months over several code violation issues. One issue is a zoning violation of the Collin House, which is being used as a dormitory for the school. The Collin House is a historic home that is in a zoning area for single family residents only.

The issue began back in 2003-2004 when the school purchased most of Alfred Street and Genoply Street and removed all the homes but one.

James Register did not sell his home to the school at that time. “I’m waiting for someone to knock on my door and say, ‘Mr. Register, congratulations! You’re now part of the FSDB campus,'” Register said in a report filed by the St. Augustine Record.

City Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline broke the house bill into three parts. One part allows the school to have eminent domain power that can be used anywhere in the state of Florida. The school would no longer have to check with the city ordinance requirements when wanting to take property from unwilling sellers. Another part would allow the “Florida legislature wave a magic wand over all the outstanding code violations that the school has and make them go away,” Sikes-Kline said.

The neighboring areas of Nelmar Terrance and Fullerwood are national registered historic districts and the neighbors’ wonder what will happen to their old Florida homes if the school is granted eminent domain.

“It’s very unsettling, there is a lot of fear for the resident’s that their homes could be taken. I feel bad for them, I sympathize for them,” Sikes-Kline said.

Residents have made two trips to Tallahassee to protest the passing of the bills with a goal to have all of St. Augustine exempt from eminent domain. The city is taking measures to fight by hiring a lobbyist in Tallahassee.

“We will fight every step of the way for those bills,” Sikes-Kline said.

Monday, Feb. 27 residents got some encouraging relief when the school and city commission made a compromise.

The city is protected from eminent domain for 10 years, but the city still wants to fight for permanent protection. An emergency meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 29.

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