Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rethink the Princeton drops its legal appeal of College Park apartment complex

Posted By on Tue, Nov 10, 2015 at 5:03 PM

click to enlarge princeton.png

We guess it's true what they say: You can't fight City Hall. At least not unless you have deep pockets to defend yourself in the event of a lawsuit. Today, we got the following letter from Rethink the Princeton, the grassroots nonprofit organization that formed to fight an apartment complex planned for a sliver of land in College Park. Neighbors opposed the complex because they said it was not in keeping with the neighborhood's needs or character. It didn't offer any mixed-use spaces, it was too big, it failed to take into account the impact it would have on adjacent properties. Unlike a lot of community groups, Rethink the Princeton was organized and even managed to pull together enough funding to pay for an attorney and an urban planner to take their case to court. However, the group says, the city and the developer of the project have threatened that they'd sue the little organization if it didn't drop its legal appeal to have the developer scale the project back. We'll have more details as we get them, but for now, here's the letter Rethink the Princeton sent us this evening: 

Last week, members of Rethink the Princeton held an emergency conference call with Ralf Brookes, the attorney hired to represent residents appealing the Orlando City Council's approval of an ill-advised apartment complex known as The Princeton at College Park.

The conference call was spurred on by recent motions by attorneys for the City of Orlando and the proposed developer, Pollack Shores. These motions state that if Rethink the Princeton does not drop its legal appeal within 21 days, both the city and Pollack Shores will come after the organization and three College Park residents named in the appeal for legal fees and damages. However unlikely it is that their “frivolous lawsuit” claim would be successful in court, significant resources would have to be diverted to protect all residents involved from this threat. According to our attorney, the legal and financial risk must be taken seriously, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

From the very beginning, College Park residents have simply asked that the City of Orlando; Pollack Shores; and the owner of the CVS commercial block, Princeton Center LLC, rethink this over-sized development. The project offers virtually no community benefit, no new mixed-use, and could very-well adversely affect the heart of our neighborhood. In September 2014, an unprecedented 60 citizens signed up to express their concerns at two city council meetings. Over 1,400 individuals signed a petition asking that The Princeton be scaled back. When our voices were effectively ignored, Rethink the Princeton officially formed as a Not-for-Profit and appealed the city’s decision to approve the complex. To strengthen our standing, three brave individuals with residences very close to the project agreed to add themselves formally to our legal appeals.

Since filing the appeals last December, concerned members of the College Park community have contributed an incredible $40,000 to Rethink the Princeton’s legal fund, at an average donation of $75. As a volunteer organization, we have spent every last penny in preparing our case. We hired a land-use attorney, paid for transcripts, successfully deflected multiple motions to have our case dismissed, and endured aggressive interrogatories under city and developer attorneys as they attempted to intimidate our members. In March, we hired an urban planner who has worked tirelessly to prepare his report for a trial set to take place next spring.

College Park residents have continued to contribute generously throughout our second round of fundraising, but we must now face the reality that as a group of concerned residents just trying to do the right thing, we cannot endure this latest bullying tactic by the city and developer. In the end, we are teachers, and counselors, and stay-at-home moms. Although it is extremely unlikely a court would see our lawsuit as “frivolous,” we can no longer ask these fellow residents who agreed to join in our appeals to absorb further legal and financial risk. Therefore, we are forced to end our legal appeal.

It is most disappointing that we are not able to bring this case to trial on behalf of the thousands of College Park residents who agree that this project violates every intent of the Edgewater Drive Vision Plan and planned growth for our neighborhood. Our land-use attorney, paid for by residents, will not have the opportunity to present his oral arguments in court; our urban planner, paid for by residents, will not have the chance to formally present his findings at trial, though we look forward to sharing with the community his final report, which expertly supports our arguments.

RTP and thousands of College Park residents stand firm in our assertion that these concerns are far from frivolous. Pollack Shores wants to build a massive, 206-unit apartment complex and 5-story parking garage at our busiest intersections — a traffic nightmare waiting to happen. The “densest” portion of this project should be located on Edgewater Drive but instead is being pushed back into a residential neighborhood. This is not a true mixed-use project as required by the "Community Activity Center" zoning that Pollack Shores and Princeton Center LLC requested and the city approved; on the contrary, we are likely to be stuck with the same, rundown CVS retail strip on Edgewater for many years to come.

The community understands this and has stood behind us all the way, so although we are forced to end our legal fight, we are not ending our assertion that this illogical, misplaced development still deserves no place in the heart of College Park!

If Pollack Shores chooses to move forward with this project, it will forever be a symbol of intimidation and the bullying of a community. It will forever be the building that everyone points to and says, “That’s the one that bent all the rules. Those are the developers who threatened our residents simply because they asked to be heard.” Rethink the Princeton will become “Remember the Princeton,” and our community will never forget that it was there, in that monstrous structure, where city officials turned their backs on their own and sold us out to an out-of-state developer from Atlanta, Georgia.

Whatever happens, College Park residents will always demand that any development guaranteed to have such an impact on our neighborhood receive the full scrutiny it deserves. Together, we will continue to fight passionately for smart growth in our community.

Thank you, to every friend of College Park, and to those who care deeply about protecting the integrity of how we grow.

Rethink the Princeton

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