City successfully defends Wendler’s Bert Harris Act lawsuit

St. Johns County Circuit Judge Howard Maltz has reached his decision in the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act lawsuit filed against the City of St Augustine after the Planning and Zoning Board, Historic Architectural Review Board, and city commission all denied Donna Wendler, her husband Scott, and Wendler Properties, the right to demolish decrepit, aging buildings on their King Street property.

Historic City News received a copy of the order of summary judgement in favor of the defendant, City of St Augustine, this morning from St Johns County Clerk of Court Hunter Conrad.

“We respectfully disagree with the honorable Judge Maltz’s decision,” Donna Wendler told local reporters in a statement released this afternoon. “We are planning to appeal to the 5th District Court of Appeal.”

The City has been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to Susan Erdelyi, Esq. and Alison H. Sausaman, Esq with the Marks Gray law firm in Jacksonville to defend them over the past year. The facts that gave rise to the dispute, however, go back to 2007.

Wendler is represented by the Brigham Property Rights Law Firm, attorneys Andrew Prince Brigham, Esq. and Kerry C. Collins, Esq., also in Jacksonville.

The City successfully asserted that the Court should enter summary judgment in the City’s favor because the pleadings, depositions and other record evidence establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact.

  • Erdelyi and Sausaman argued that the Wendlers failed to satisfy the Harris Act’s pre-lawsuit notice requirements because they say the Appraisal does not constitute a “bona fide, valid appraisal”. The City says the Appraisal supporting Wendler’s claim does not accurately demonstrating the loss in fair market value to their property, as required by Fla. Stat. § 70.001(4)(a).
  • Further, they say Wendlers’ claims regarding relocation of the structures on the Properties, or the building of an alternative, cluster-style hotel, are meritless because those claims were never brought before the City and thus were not the subject of any governmental action.

In support of its Motion, the City relied on the Deal Appraisal, the deposition of the appraiser, Shannon Ross Deal, and the initial applications for Certificates of Demolition submitted to HARB by the Wendlers.

Judge Maltz found the Appraisal was insufficient because it included the 129 Oviedo Street vacant lot, improperly included Wendler’s business expenses, and the Highest and Best Use Analysis is not supported. Maltz also found that there was no reason to analyze the relocation of buildings arguments because the Appraisal defects were fatal.

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