Local church sues FDOT over property compensation

Church says FDOT reneged on land deal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you travel downtown there's no way you can miss the Overland Bridge project.

The purpose is to improve traffic flow along the Interstate 95 corridor just south of the Fuller Warren Bridge.

The Florida Department of Transportation is widening I-95 but to do so the department had to buy surrounding properties.

One of those properties is a church -- and now that church is suing because officials feel the FDOT isn't giving them what they deserve.

The Glorious Bethlehem Temple has been around for 50 years, but now the congregation is worried about its future. Officials said the FDOT needed their property for the Overland Bridge project and said it would compensate them, but now the church said the FDOT is going back on its word.

"It's an injustice. It's not favorable. It's not fair to the church," said Glorious Bethlehem Temple Pastor Donald Richardson. "You don't put somebody out there and tell them you are going to do this, that and the other, and then once you get them out, all the sudden, your plans change, you don't need us anymore."

Richardson has attended the church since 1978. He said he's shocked with what's happening.

FDOT representatives notified the church it intended to acquire all of the church's property, and the church would be cared for through federal relocation assistance and fully compensated.

But now the FDOT said it doesn't need the property, leaving the church in the middle of a construction zone. That's why the church is taking legal action.

"In this case the DOT, we believe, is using coercive tactics to acquire the property," said Andrew Brigham, the church's attorney.

The FDOT said because it cannot agree on a price to compensate the church for the property, it changed the plans. Originally, it needed the property for a storm water pond. Now it's cutting the pond off before the church.

"I empathize with all who are impacted by this Overland Bridge project and any project that we do," said Ron Tittle with the FDOT. "Some people, it just devastates their area.

"You know we have the due process," Tittle added. "And if people feel that they haven't been treated fairly, then they go through that process and that's where we are right now."

The church and the FDOT are in the middle of litigation. Most recently in court the FDOT filed a dismissal and the judge denied it.

At this point, the church remains, although officials have purchased property elsewhere and hope to be able to build on that.

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