By Ludmilla Lelis
As the city's [Daytona Beach's] effort to condemn three Boardwalk properties began in court Monday, a pair of witnesses described the conditions that first led the Main Street district to be declared "blighted" in 1981.
Runaways trying to survive on the streets. Pedophiles hunting for victims. Flophouses boarding 20 people in one place. Sewage backing up to a city street.
"It was a pretty ratty area," said Jerry Langston, a retired Daytona Beach planner who testified Monday in court.
Langston later testified that redevelopment, city projects and code enforcement have improved things since then. Still, attorneys for Daytona Beach say the very conditions that made the area "blighted" 23 years ago are enough reason to let the city condemn the Boardwalk businesses today.
On Monday, Circuit Judge John W. Watson III opened a trial that will be key to the city's redevelopment plans in the core beachside tourist area. Daytona Beach wants a new $115 million Boardwalk, with a pair of condominium-hotel towers, restaurants and retail space and is in court to force the owners to sell, using the city's power of eminent domain.
However, the business owners question whether the 1981 blight designation should apply today, and whether it's right for the city to condemn their private holdings, only to give that land over to a private developer. The holdouts are Capt. Darrell's Oyster Bar and Restaurant, Midway Fun Center and a go-kart track.
The trial before Watson is expected to last three days and will determine whether the condemnation is legal. If the judge allows the takeover, a jury will later decide how much the Boardwalk business owners will be compensated.
Carlsberg Management Co., or one of its sister corporations, owns most of the parcels needed for the redevelopment project. A similar eminent-domain case ended in a settlement, in which siblings Dino Paspalakis and Lisa Psaros agreed to sell their family's Boardwalk businesses for $2.6 million.
According to the settlement agreement, which the judge refused to keep out of the trial testimony and discussion, Paspalakis and Psaros have the option of buying Capt. Darrell's for $750,000 if the developer succeeds in acquiring it. The siblings would get the restaurant as a building shell only and could not use it as a fast-food restaurant. If that deal does not work, they have the second option of buying retail space at the new Boardwalk.
Monday's trial testimony focused on the city's findings of blight in the entire Main Street redevelopment area in 1981. Langston and retired Daytona Beach utilities manager Dennis Colby testified that the area then was run-down, with outdated water and sewer systems, crime and deteriorating buildings.
Those problems prompted the blight study and Daytona Beach's effort to revitalize the beachside. A new Boardwalk could be "a key linchpin" to further revitalizing the area, Langston said.
Since then, the district has a new mall and condominium-hotel towers at the Ocean Walk, updated water and sewer lines, an expanded Hilton, a water park and parking garage and new streetscaping. And the city hasn't redone the blight study since then, according to testimony.
Under cross-examination, Langston admitted that the blight has been reduced. "I think it has substantially improved," he testified. "It does not appear we have the problems that we did back in the '70s and '80s."
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