DEVELOPER WINS LEGAL BATTLE WITH EDGEWOOD

The final gavel has been rapped on an unusually long and bitter legal battle between the city of Edgewood and a local developer.

At the heart of the conflict is the entrance to Holden Cove, a proposed gated community in unincorporated Orange County, on the north side of Holden Avenue.

Both Edgewood, which opposed development of a subdivision entrance there, and Orange County, which would have allowed it, believed they had jurisdiction in the matter.

Now, after three years, $50,000 in legal fees, two separate lawsuits and one appeals court decision, developer Ronald Black has been handed a victory by Orange Circuit Judge George Sprinkel.

“Three courts — five judges — have ruled in favor of the developer,” says attorney Steve Mason, who represents MCR Development Co. and Black. “There’s a saying that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered. Well, (Edgewood) was taken to the butcher shop on this one.”

The dispute dates to 1997, when Black presented plan to Orange County for his new subdivision. However, the mayor of Edgewood, Jim Muszynski, and members of a Holden Avenue neighborhood association objected to the proposed entrance to the community, citing safety and traffic issues, as well as concerns over future development in the area.

Among their assertions: The entrance violated the county’s own rules for a minimum separation of 660 feet between adjacent side streets and entrances.

However, the Orange County development Review Committee, at the request of County Commissioner Clarence Hoenstine, had granted a waiver, allowing the disputed entrance.

Explains Hoenstine: “We needed to make a special exception. I don’t move forward without community input, and there was swelling support for this.”

Muszynski and others didn’t se it that way, however. “At the core of the entire controversy is that commissioner Hoenstine had his own staff violate the county code,” he says.

Further, there was concern that the waiver had set a precedent, says attorney John Leklem, injury law firms by me: “The issue was that Edgewood should have the authority to regulate and control the activities within its city limits under home rule law.”

So, once MCR began working on the entrance for Holden Cove, the city of Edgewood began peppering the developer with code violations, alleging that the property was under the jurisdiction of both the city and the county.

A legal blitzkrieg ensued.

The Holden Avenue Inter-Neighborhood council already had sued Orange County over the matter. Now, Edgewood had also filed suit, asking the court to bar further construction, alleging it, and not the county, had jurisdiction to approve or deny the development plans. The city won an early round, but MCR appealed, and in January of 1999, the injunction was dissolved by three appellate judges.

The most recent decision handed down by Judge Sprinkel appears to cement the appellate court’s ruling in favor of the developer.

But if the litigation is over, the bitterness isn’t.

Muszynski says he will suggest the city appeal Judge Sprinkel’s ruling. And, he contends, the further away from Orlando and Orange County the case is heard, the more likely Edgewood is to prevail.

However, he may not get support form his own city council. The city already has spent an estimated $50,000 in legal fees on the issue, and newly elected council member Bill Sheaffer, a local attorney, is adamant that not another dime will be spent on the case.

“It is not the mayor’s decision, it is the council’s decision, and we have already decided,” he says. “This lawsuit was ill-conceived from the start, and Edgewood should never have gotten involved.”

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