A lawsuit brought by 11 Port St. Joe residents to stop progress on a renovation of the city’s 10th Street Ball Park unfolded into another chapter last week.
The county filed a request with the Circuit Court for an “enlargement of time” in which to answer an amended complaint from the plaintiffs.
A hearing on motions to dismiss, the second scheduled and which Judge Dustin Stephenson was to hear June 13, has been rescheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET July 8, according to the docket with the Clerk of Courts Office.
The city of Port St. Joe filed an answer to the amended complaint, its attorneys’ motion to dismiss contending the 11 residents lack standing to challenge a development agreement that does not exist.
The city is also demanding plaintiffs pay attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit was filed by residents who are all owners of property adjacent to the existing ball park, seeks a temporary and permanent injunction to stop proposed plans for the ball park complex.
The suit was filed by attorney Michael Dickey of the firm Barron & Redding, who is representing Christy McElroy, Robert Branch, Cindy Branch, Fred Morris, Clare Morris, Art Rogers, Elaine Rogers, Stephen J. Hiller, Daniel J. Doty, Joyce M. Doty and John Fadio.
The original complaint was filed in November, the city and county responded with motions to dismiss in late March and the following month plaintiffs filed an amended complaint.
The amended complaint is focused on Florida law pertaining to local government agreements as well as issues of common law nuisance.
The city’s attorney, Kayla Platt Rady, argued in a written motion that the amended complaint remains deficient and that the plaintiffs lack standing to protest county and city actions thus far and the lawsuit is premature.
Interlocal agreements which ultimately resulted in the adoption of a park plan by city officials are not a development agreement; there is no development agreement in place to challenge, Rady wrote in her motion to dismiss.
Further, she argued that the park plan was dependent on available funding and plaintiff’s misrepresented that the project was “imminent.”
“If a development agreement is filed then Plaintiffs can evaluate challenges … until then, Plaintiff’s claims fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” Rady wrote in conclusion to her motion.
Further, allegations pertaining to common law nuisance, traffic, noise, etc., are premature and speculative, Rady argued, and the plaintiffs, in effect, were arguing against the “idea” of the expanded ball park without demonstrating any harm.
“Stated another way, instead of seeking to enjoin a specific development agreement, (plaintiffs) are seeking to enjoin the idea of reconstructing Tenth Street Park,” she wrote.
The city is taking the additional step of seeking reimbursement of attorney’s fees based on the argument that the plaintiffs and their attorney should have known that the complaint lacked support in law.
The plaintiffs have been the most outspoken critics of the park project and the lawsuit hashed out several arguments that have been made before city and county officials since February 2018.
The lawsuit and answering motions from the city and county detail the history of a county/city effort, spanning more than a decade, to create a “sports complex,” originally along Field of Dreams Ave. on land donated for that purpose by the St. Joe Company.
The lawsuit requested a judge’s finding that the expansion of 10th Street Park, “in a residential neighborhood” … “several blocks from U.S. 98” … is not a proper expenditure of bed tax dollars under Florida statute.
Further, the plaintiffs challenged whether the project fit within comprehensive plans and land development regulations.
The lawsuit has pushed to the project to a rear burner; the county has taken some of the dollars set aside for Tenth Street, fifth-penny bed tax revenue, to purchase St. Joseph Bay Golf Club.