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Eminent domain: Property owner cries foul over forced sale

By Staff | Jun 17, 2016

An eminent domain claim by the City of Cape Coral against their five-acre property just off Pine Island Road west of Chiquita Boulevard has the Jeff Bunch family fighting mad.

When the city called two years ago to see if they were willing to sell, Bunch says he told them “No, not an any price” and gave little thought about it after that.

“They called us a couple of times in 2015, each lasting less than two minutes, and I told them it was not for sale,” said Jeff Bunch.

He said they were never told in the beginning that the city wanted the land for the Utilities Expansion Project for two above-ground storage tanks to service the Southwest 6-7 and North 2 project areas.

Fast forward to April 27, 2016, when a certified document came in the mail with the eminent domain claim with an offer to purchase that the Bunches consider “lowball.”

“They never offered to trade us for property the city owns in the Pine Island commercial corridor,” Bunch said.

Bunch owns Acorn Tree Service and uses the commercially zoned property to conduct his business daily. Bunch says the city sent appraisers, surveyors and land clearing estimators onto his property without their permission or knowledge.

The Bunches have hired an attorney to represent them in legal action and city staff and City Council do not comment or respond to questions on a matter pending legal action.

The Bunches have appeared at the last three City Council meetings, giving the same speeches each time begging for answers and a resolution.

Bunch says there are a number of properties for sale near his five-acre parcel he believes would be suitable for the storage tanks.

Their comments to council include a copy of a document from a city meeting on the eminent domain on which a handwritten note says, “John (Szerlag) says wait until after the election.”

Szerlag did responde to that statement at Monday’s council meeting, saying, “It was one month before the city election and I wanted to wait until the new council members were in place before making any decisions affecting the UEP.”

The Bunches claim the way the city “secretly” has gone about the eminent domain process violates State Statute, which states in part that “the condemning authority must attempt to negotiate in good faith with the fee owner of the parcel to be acquired, must provide the fee owner with a written offer and, if requested, a copy of the appraisal upon which the offer is based, and must attempt to reach an agreement regarding the amount of compensation to be paid for the parcel.”

“We have yet to receive a valid explanation why our property has been targeted,” Ginny Bunch told council members. “There are multiple properties for sale but possibly higher than the city is willing to pay. We are not interested in your money, we just want to keep our property.”

Jeff Bunch promises to fight the taking of his property through the court system as far as he needs to go.