ORLANDO – Just when it seemed the dust had settled over Orlando’s decision to use the eminent domain process to acquire land on which to build a Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium, local activists Lawanna and Betty Gelzer allege in a lawsuit that the city violated Florida law by selling the land to private developers.
Under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it was originally unacceptable for one individual to take the property of another, but a government could do so if the acquisition is beneficial to the public and compensation is just.
Kelo vs. City of New London, a 1998 landmark eminent domain case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, loosened the strict definition of “public use.”
“The Kelo case revolved around the idea of a broad economic and community redevelopment plan applied to a blighted area,” attorney Stumpy Harris told the Florida Record. “It doesn’t strictly apply in all instances.”
Does the Orlando soccer stadium count as an entire economic redevelopment plan, and is Parramore a blighted area? Opinions vary on the former. As far as the latter, a 2015 article in the Orlando Sentinel referred to the locale as “Orlando’s most chronically depressed neighborhood.”
In 2014, the city was on the verge of acquiring a MLS franchise but needed a place to construct a stadium. Via eminent domain, it acquired two parcels of land on which to build, but ran into a roadblock trying to take the Faith Deliverance Temple, which stands between them. City officials finally gave up getting the church and shifted the location of the proposed $155 million stadium.
But stadium funding ran into a problem in the Florida legislature. The owners of the new franchise asked if it would be OK to privately finance a stadium, which they would own and operate.
The city said yes, and two years later they stood ready to seal the deal allowing private construction of the stadium. Except the Gelzers’ decided to forcefully, and in the most legal terms possible, remind Orlando that state law forbade resale of an eminent domain property to private developers for 10 years.
But the Gelzers’ might run into stormy seas, especially in regard to Betty’s claim that stadium construction has financially affected some of her properties.
“Without regard to the specifics of this case, in general, there is no legal remedy for individuals or businesses located in close proximity to an eminent-domained property but who have had no property taken,” Harris said.
The attorney went on to say that, “Perhaps the most important sentence in the entire Kelo decision was when they wrote local land use issues should be left to locals.”
The question remains whether or not the resolution of the current issue will stay local or is destined for higher courts.