Broward may end effort to seize church in Fort Lauderdale for recovery center: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 11/22/06

By Brittany Wallman

Broward County [FL] will consider dropping a two-year effort to force the sale of a church in southwest Fort Lauderdale to make room for a drug and alcohol treatment center.

Commissioner John Rodstrom told his colleagues Tuesday he decided to try to halt the lawsuit after learning a few days ago the county was using government condemnation powers against a religious institution.

County commissioners voted unanimously to hold a private session Dec. 5 to discuss ending the eminent domain lawsuit and to ask the judge hearing the case to put it on hold in the meantime. The county wanted the church's property at 330 SW 27th St. to build a new Broward Addiction Recovery Center for people with drug and alcohol problems.

If the county used eminent domain, it would have to pay for the property, which is appraised at $1.6 million. The county also would be responsible for the church's legal fees.

When county commissioners voted in 2004 to condemn the land, the church was a tenant on the property. The congregation is a rare church of Gypsies, or Roma. Gypsies are a nomadic people thought to have originated in India, now dispersed around the globe.

Rodstrom said the public no longer supports the use of eminent domain in a case like this against a nonprofit. He noted the Nov. 7 voter approval of a constitutional ban on government use of eminent domain for private development, unless it's approved by three-fifths of the state House and Senate. This case doesn't fit that description because it doesn't involve private development.

But Rodstrom said he thinks the public wouldn't support using it to trade one nonprofit for another. Rodstrom said he learned details of the case when he read about it last week in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "As district commissioner, it was never divulged to me at any time...that we were doing eminent domain against a religious institution," he said.

Rodstrom said the county could build its drug and alcohol treatment center on land it already owns on the same block by making the building taller.

Pastor Dan Tennis, who leads the Christian Romany Church, said he was encouraged by the news. His attorney, Brian Patchen, could not be reached for comment.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel: http://www.sun-sentinel.com