City again rejects altered settlement offer over prior site for homeless center

Published: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 at 11:47 a.m.

The Gainesville City Commission has again rejected an altered settlement offer to end a business park owner’s lawsuits over the city’s prior selected site for a long-planned homeless shelter and assistance center.

That property is near an industrial stretch of Northwest 53rd Avenue. The city now plans to locate the facility miles away at the former Gainesville Correctional Institution off Northeast 39th Avenue.

On Thursday, commissioners reaffirmed a prior decision to accept the original settlement offer — one that plaintiff Ropen Nalbandian now says he has rescinded — in a 5-2 vote. Mayor Ed Braddy and Commissioner Todd Chase were in dissent.

In the settlement agreement now under dispute, Nalbandian offered to donate the city a parcel known as the Gain property on the 5900 block of Waldo Road — a site once considered for the homeless center — on the condition that the city not initiate any land-use or zoning change to locate a homeless center within a mile radius of Nalbandian’s property on Northwest 53rd Avenue.

At the June 6 meeting, after the City Commission had changed direction and planned to locate the shelter and center at the shuttered prison, Nalbandian’s attorney said the city had violated the terms of the original settlement agreement and the offer to donate the Gain property was withdrawn.

At that time, Nalbandian’s attorney, Karl Sanders, said the city’s violation came in January in an initial vote on a proposed update of the Comprehensive Plan that, among other things, allowed any uses on a property with an industrial land-use designation and planned development zoning designation.

Those are the land-use and zoning categories of the property near Northwest 53rd that the city had eyed for the homeless shelter.

His altered settlement offer was a $25,000 donation to the city.

City officials, including City Attorney Nicolle Shalley and City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins, countered that the Comprehensive Plan update was a general policy decision that applied citywide and not a land-use or zoning change for a specific property.

On Thursday, commissioners considered and rejected a newly revised settlement offer that included a $75,000 payment to the city to go toward the operation of the homeless center at the shuttered prison site. If the city’s deal to acquire that property from the state fell through, Nalbandian would then donate the Gain property and get his $75,000 back.

In rejecting the offer, Commissioner Susan Bottcher said she felt Nalbandian was trying to rescind his original offer of a property donation now that things were working in his favor and all signs were that the shelter would not be built near his property off Northwest 53rd.

Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said it would set a bad precedent if the city capitulated and now allowed the settlement offer to change.

Chase and Braddy, on the other hand, said the city should take the opportunity to end the protracted litigation. Chase did suggest working to negotiate a deal that included a larger payment to the city.

As for the shuttered Gainesville Correctional Institution site, commissioners unanimously voted to authorize staff to finalize the purchase of the first phase of the property at their June 6 meeting. That sale has not yet gone through, according to Clerk of Courts records.

The city is in the process of soliciting proposals from nonprofit agencies interested in operating the homeless shelter and assistance center.

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