One Great Big Oops
Opus South are developers of Water's Edge One, the 250 foot condominium tower on Clearwater's downtown bay front. Opus purchased land from Calvary Baptist Church in 2005, obtained approval for their development agreement and necessary permits from the City of Clearwater. Then they built the tower which dwarfs everything else in downtown Clearwater.
In early 2007, Opus South started to protest the Property Appraiser's estimate of the value of the bay front property and discovered that the Property Appraiser's description of the land was different from their own. It seems that the Property Appraiser's records show that a strip, 23.61 feet wide and 174.82 feet long, on the west of the Water's Edge property actually belongs to the City of Clearwater.
Records show that, in 1959, the Clearwater City Commission voted to vacate the disputed strip of land to the Baptist Church, then, two weeks later, voted to take back the land. It is not clear what happened after that. Although no part of the actual building of the church was on the disputed land, when a new sanctuary was built, in 1983, the air-conditioning for it, plus a walkway and stair to the building were placed on the land.
Attorneys for the city and the developer argued before retired Judge James Case as arbitrator, on Tuesday.
The developers' case was built on their contention that the record was not clear; that they had received permits and approvals from the city with no contest of their use of the land; and that they had paid for a title search which did not show any problems. They further emphasized that Opus South has already invested $72 million dollars in the project, and has 105 units pre-sold. They claimed that it would cost the company $100,000,000 to tear down the tower and rebuild it without the disputed land.
City attorneys pointed out that the Baptist Church had described the property without the disputed strip when they applied for a mortgage in 1979. They also argued that air-conditioning and a playground on the disputed property did not prove the church's ownership.
Judge Case will consider the evidence and the arguments and provide his decision and both parties have agreed to abide by it.
If arbritrator rules that, in effect, the developer owns the property, then Opus South has agreed to pay the city the appraised price of $450,000 for it.
If the decision is in favor of the city, the sale of the property must go to referendum due to a charter requirement which was not in place in 1959. Because downtown bay front lands are protected by referendum, the people must vote to sell it. If they vote against the sale, the tower will have to be destroyed and rebuilt inside the limits recorded in the deed at the Property Appraiser's office.
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