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Cape backs away from eminent domain condemnation, chooses alternate site

By Staff | May 16, 2017

After nearly three and a half years of controversy, the city of Cape Coral has regrouped on a force sale “taking” of acreage to construct an irrigation storage tank and pumping facility off Pine Island Road.

City Council voted 6-2 to acquire an alternate property, bank owned and one parcel over from the preferred five-acre site long in dispute.

Jeff Bunch, whose family staved off an eminent domain condemnation, said this battle is far from over, however.

“We’ll see what happens in the future. The land use out there is being compromised. When they put the tanks there, they’re cutting me off from the rest of the assemblage,” said Jeff Bunch. “This is only round one.”

The facility is needed to provide additional irrigation storage capacity and address flow and pressure issues in conjunction with the North 2 Utilities Expansion Project, officials said.

The second-choice parcel, owned by Florida Properties III LLC, is about 125 acres on Commerce Park Place, north of Pine Island Road and west of Chiquita Boulevard, which the city found desirable. The city will purchase five acres at an asking price of $321,600.

The asking price for the Bunch property was $302,000, but litigation costs were expected to drive the costs much higher, causing city staff to recommend the site next door.

The new issue shaping up to be round two is that now the tank will not be to the back of the property, which would preserve the assemblage.

The city said that would be too expensive.

Bunch said that’s penny wise and pound foolish.

“You’re talking about the largest assemblage in Cape Coral for commercial zoning. Why would you mess with that over $400,000, when you consider what would be earned with a site like that?” Bunch said.

Ginny Bunch said it will also cause a personal impact.

“We’re just very frustrated because this has changed the dynamic of our property. It curtains us into a corner and we don’t have access to the 120 acres. This puts us in a closet,” she said.

Councilmember Jim Burch did not like the resolution, saying the city needed to do the right thing, which it didn’t.

“I will not support this. It doesn’t help the city and I don’t support the process. We need to fix it,” Burch said. “The Bunches have tried to get this out of their hair and we need to make them whole and be as transparent as we can.”

Most others agreed that the process regarding eminent domain need to be looked at more closely but voted for the resolution because of the need and as a way to possibly move on. Burch and Councilmember Richard Leon voted against it.

The battle started in 2014, when the city told the Bunch family it wanted the property to build the storage tanks. The city offered $330,000. Bunch contends the property is worth much more, since businesses such as Walmart are expected to be built nearby.

The city tried to take the land by eminent domain last year, but the Bunch family fought back.