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Land price settlement a first step?

By Staff | Mar 22, 2008

Months of haranguing over a new public safety building could move toward a conclusion Monday as the Cape Coral City Council will consider a proposed settlement agreement with VK Corporation over the land the city acquired via quick-take in December 2006.

Earlier this week, council gave its approval to Balfour Beatty to design and solicit bids on a $23 million police headquarters on the site. Settlement could indicate the elected body also has settled on the site where a new facility could be built.

According to a summary document released Wednesday, four separate appraisals judged the VK property as being worth anywhere from $5.65 million to more than $12 million.

Assistant City Attorney Mark Lupe recommended settling for $8.2 million, an amount reached through mediation with the proper owner, plus court costs and attorney fees.

The city already has deposited e about $5.22 million with the court, so the council’s decision is whether to pay the $2.98 million difference.

“When considering the opinions of the expert appraisers, prejudgment interest, the cost of a jury trial and corresponding expenses, this settlement is considered to be within the range of a reasonable settlement,” Lupe said.

Several council members say that they will likely proffer a counter offer but, taking the matter to a jury trial could be disastrous as any portion of a jury award above the court deposit will bear interest of 11 percent per year from December 2006 until the final payment is submitted.

“I think we’re going to settle this thing,” Councilmember Bill Deile said Thursday. “It doesn’t pay for us to go to trial.”

The councilman spoke with Lupe Wednesday afternoon and expressed “cautious optimism” that the two sides could come to an agreement for a lower figure, though he did not disclose that number. On Thursday he said that both sides are “motivated parties” in getting a settlement completed.

Lien amnesty

While the taxpayers across the city may wince at the final VK price tag, homeowners cited for code violations could see some relief if council approves a lien amnesty program that would give property owners the opportunity to resolve their liens for a fraction of what they owe.

Elected officials batted the idea around at a recent workshop meeting after staff pointed out that many residential liens in the Cape have run into the thousands of dollars with homeowners simply refusing to pay. An amnesty program may entice people to both come into compliance and close out the liens.

“It brings us some money instead of no money,” said Deile. “And it gets people on the right side of the program.”

Council originally debated a tiered system that would slash the reduction amount that a property owner would be eligible throughout the amnesty time period, but that may not pass muster Monday as several elected officials argued for one flat rate. 

Property owners must bring their properties into compliance and have it verified by city workers to qualify for amnesty. Those fines and liens must also be assessed prior to June 1, 2007 to be eligible for reduction.