While the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind is in mediation with the City of St Augustine, neither the school’s public spokesperson nor its President, Danny Hutto, will be commenting to the media on a proposed bill introduced by retiring Representative Bill Proctor that may give the school the power of “eminent domain”.
Every state school has the power of eminent domain, except for Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. That seems to suit some Nelmar Terrace and Fullerwood neighbors just fine — especially those who have been complaining that the school does not following city codes when it does campus construction.
St Augustine Mayor Joe Boles says that because it is a state school, it does not have to abide by city codes. Boles is an attorney by trade, but another attorney, one who sits on the City Commission with Boles, Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman, is not so sure.
During Monday night’s St Augustine City Commission meeting, Freeman asked the commission, unsuccessfully, to endorse a formal resolution that could be forwarded to the legislature in opposition to the Proctor bill.
“We’d like for them to cooperate and be respectful of our codes as it impacts the adjacent neighborhood,” Boles said in a televised report today. “We still are going to want the school to comply with our codes and ordinances; just so they’ll be good partners and good neighbors.”
At issue is ongoing unrest in the residential neighborhoods that surround the campus — a school that when originally built, was only one block wide and consisted of only five or six buildings. As the school grew, it acquired one adjoining home after the other; combining the lots to provide additional dormitory space, classrooms, recreational and maintenance facilities, as well as a campus police department and a specialty health clinic.
The now sprawling campus dwarfs the five original dormitory-classrooms and administration building that line the picturesque circle on San Marco Avenue.
When the school renovated and repurposed a Nelmar Avenue building that was once a private residence, and, in the process, cordoned off the property with a high commercial grade fence, the neighbors in the architecturally recognized and historically significant subdivision said, “enough”.
City taxpayers put pressure on Mark Knight and building officials at the City to enforce the same codified ordinances against the school that are enforced against them as individual property owners. Knight told the commission that there are still unresolved code violation issues between the City and the school that go back as far as a year.
Some of the Fullerwood-Nelmar residents say that Proctor, who has served on the Board of the school, is providing the school with a legislative end game that will make moot the complaints of the neighbors and quash the city’s code violation complaints at the same time. Proctor has publically denied that allegation.
Former St Augustine Mayor George Gardner, who, with his wife Sally, lives in the Fullerwood neighborhood, counts himself among the skeptics. Gardner says that he and his neighbors could lose their homes years from now at the school’s whim; should the legislature approve the bill.
“We are not talking about the University of Florida,” Gardner said. “We’re talking about a school that is hemmed in by a city — a small city which is also a national treasure.”
Vice Mayor Freeman questions why eminent domain would be necessary for a school whose enrollment is on the decline.
Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News staff photographer