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Local church says they were duped by eminent domain claim

1:44 AM, Nov 22, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- You can hear the traffic flying by the Glorious Bethlehem Temple off Emerson, but Pastor Don says that never bothered anyone.

"They love being here, they talk about it, and we just carry the word to everybody else," said Don Richardson. 

He's been attending the small church since 1978, and Pastor since 2009.

Almost as soon as he took over the Florida Department of Transportation told him he would have to move.

They were taking over the area using eminent domain to build a retention pond to expand I-95.

After hosting a year of meetings in the church for FDOT, they began tearing down houses in the neighborhood.

"We had one over here in front of us, one over here on that side, three on this side," Richardson said. 

"This church is an anchor to this neighborhood," said Attorney Andrew Brigham.

Brigham says after they tore down the homes surrounding the church, FDOT decided moving the congregation would be too expensive, so they backed out.

"In 20 years of eminent domain practice, this is one of the most oppressive acts of conduct that I have seen," Brigham said.

The problem is, the church already spent $50-thousand dollars on a new piece of property because they thought they had to move.

"Get ready because one way or another it was going to happen," said Richardson.

FDOT Spokesman Michael Goldman told First Coast News they never had a contract with the church, and found a cheaper way to build the retention pond without using the church's property.

But now Pastor Don says they're stuck with a piece of property they can't afford, and a neighborhood that's been torn down.

"When I'm trying to speak to their spirit, encourage their spirit, I'm trying to encourage myself," said Richardson.

So who is responsible for the church?

It's a tricky legal question.

The church is asking the FDOT to pay them for the property so they can move... and the FDOT says they don't need the property, and they're not paying up.

A judge will likely hear the case in January.

First Coast News

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