Gainesville likely to accept settlement in Nalbandian lawsuits


Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 9:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 9:55 a.m.

The Gainesville City Commission moved Thursday in the direction of accepting a reduced settlement offer to end business park owner Ropen Nalbandian's lawsuits challenging the site near Northwest 53rd Avenue that the city previously considered for the planned homeless center.

A vote to make a counter-offer that was somewhat more substantial than the latest reduced offer Nalbandian's representatives brought to the city passed 4-3, with Susan Bottcher, Thomas Hawkins and Lauren Poe in dissent.

The debate included contentious comments between some commissioners and Nalbandian's attorney and testy exchanges among some commissioners.

In the original settlement agreement, Nalbandian, who owns a business park along Northwest 53rd, pledged to donate to the city a parcel known as the Gain property on the 5900 block of Waldo Road if the city did not initiate any land-use or zoning change to locate a homeless center within a mile radius his property.

In June, after the city changed course and was pursuing a plan to locate the center at the shuttered Gainesville Correctional Institution, an attorney for Nalbandian said the city had violated the terms of the original settlement agreement and the offer to donate the Gain property was withdrawn.

Nalbandian's representatives said the city's violation came in January in a vote on a proposed update of the Comprehensive Plan that, among other things, allowed any uses -- including homeless centers -- on a property with an industrial land-use designation and planned development zoning designation. The property the city eyed near Northwest 53rd carried those designations

City Attorney Nicolle Shalley has said that was a general policy decision that applied citywide and not a land-use or zoning change for a specific property and that the city had a “strong” case for a judge to uphold the original settlement agreement.

Prior to Thursday, Nalbandian had made multiple reduced offers that the commission majority rejected.

On Thursday evening, he originally offered $200,000 -- paid out over four years -- to go toward operation of the homeless center or half of the Gain property.

After Mayor Ed Braddy and Commissioner Todd Chase spoke in favor of accepting the offer to make the litigation go away and have money to go toward the center, Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said the city negotiated in “good faith” and he felt there was no way a commissioner could in good conscience allow Nalbandian to “unilaterally back out” of the prior agreement.

Hawkins questioned if Braddy and Chase were motivated by campaign contributions. Supervisor of Elections records show no contribution from Nalbandian to Chase's 2011 campaign and a $250 contribution to Braddy's 2013 campaign, which raised more than $60,800.

Braddy then asked Hawkins if he opposed the settlement because Nalbandian had not made a contribution to his campaign.

Later in the discussion, Chase also offered a response.

“In a million years, I would never suggest you are of the level of integrity or honor it was suggested I was of tonight,” Chase said.

Bottcher, Hawkins and Poe voted to reject Nalbandian's offer. Poe described Nalbandian's latest offer as “low-ball and insulting” given the resources the city had spent fighting the legal challenges to the city's attempt to “do a good thing.”

Nalbandian's attorney, Michael Bajalia, said some commissioners had attempted to brand Nalbandian as a “villain” when he was a “man of his word” and “not a man to be taken advantage of.”

The counter-offer commissioners moved ahead with, which still needs final approval from both sides, would have Nalbandian paying the city a total of $250,000 in five annual installments for the operation of the homeless center. Under it, the city also wants the entire Gain property for the center if the acquisition of the Gainesville Correctional Institution property falls through.

Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls initially wanted $300,000 as a counter offer. After a phone conversation with Nalbandian, Bajalia said $250,000 was an acceptable term.

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