City loses in appeal by Wendler Properties

300-SCOTT-DONNA-WENDLERIn an opinion filed today in the Fifth District Court of Appeal, Historic City News has learned that the City of St Augustine has failed to hang onto a technical argument that led a St Johns County Circuit Court judge to side with them against two local property owners who want demolish seven aging commercial buildings along King Street.

At trial, Circuit Court Judge J. Michael Traynor dismissed the complaint of Donna R. Wendler, Scott Wendler, and Wendler Properties III, Inc. under the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act, seeking damages they say have been suffered because of the city’s refusal to grant the demolition permits.

The outside law firm of Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A., is being paid to represent the city in this case; and, they were able to convince Judge Traynor that the Wendlers waited too long to file their claim. The trial court found the action was untimely and dismissed, with prejudice.

“We reverse,” said today’s ruling.

Between 1998 and 2006, the Wendlers purchased eight parcels in St. Augustine; including seven structures built between 1910 and 1930 located in a National Register of Historic Places District.

The parcels are subject to city ordinance, section 28-89, City of St Augustine Municipal Code, which regulates the demolition or relocation of certain historic structures — the Wendlers say that they were aware of the ordinance at the time they purchased the property.

But, in 2002, the City revised the ordinance by expanding the list of regulated structures to include homes at least 50 years old. The amendment also extended the waiting period for a demolition permit from six months to one year.

In 2005, the City again amended the ordinance, authorizing the City’s Historic Architectural Review Board to deny demolition or relocation requests indefinitely for three types of structures, including those considered “contributing property to a National Register of Historic Places District”.

On December 5, 2007, St Augustine’s Historic Architectural Review Board first applied the twice-amended ordinance to the Wendler property and denied the demolition permits.

Only six months had elapsed, five months between the time of the citation and the first challenge in circuit court on May 23, 2008, and one month between their voluntary dismissal of the petition for writ of certiorari on April 5, 2010, and the presentation of their Harris Act claim to the City on May 11, 2010.

Given the tolling provision found in section 70.001(11), the court found that the Wendlers had timely filed their Harris Act action on July 14, 2011 — well before the four-year period ended.

“Because the Wendlers’ Harris Act claim and action were timely filed, we reverse the final judgment dismissing their suit and remand for further proceedings,” the District Court of Appeal ordered.


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