Pines wants to avoid land suit

South Florida Sun-Sentinel/August 5, 2006
By Joe Kolin

Pembroke pines · Not wanting the bad publicity that comes from challenging a house of worship, city officials are refusing to authorize a condemnation suit against a church.

As part of the $100 million bond issue voters approved last year, Pembroke Pines is preparing to complete two-lane Southwest 196th Avenue between Pembroke Road and Pines Boulevard to relieve traffic in the western area.

But it can't build the road, officials say, without an acre of undeveloped land owned by Iglesia Alianza Cristiana y Misionera de Pembroke Pines Inc. The missionary church, based a couple of miles away in a corporate park at 21011 Johnson St., owns a total of five acres on Southwest 196th Ave., midway between Pines Boulevard and Pembroke Road.

"They don't want to sell the property and we need it," City Manager Charles F. Dodge said.

Shawn Denton, the city's director of public services, said the church's representatives had indicated a willingness to provide the land and doesn't know why they changed their minds. The church's representatives couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday and Friday.

Dodge asked commissioners for the okay to file an eminent domain suit, which would let the city get the land immediately with a jury later deciding later how much to compensate the church.

Instead, commissioners agreed on Wednesday night to continue negotiating and ordered Dodge to report back on Aug. 16.

"Other cities have been embroiled in controversy with church groups, I don't want to do that," said Commissioner Angelo Castillo.

Denton said church officials knew that before anything could be built on the five acres, Broward County would require them to donate the acre to the city for the road. The county commonly requires landowners to donate property if it is needed for infrastructure improvements.

Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish's office currently assesses the five acres at $625,000 and the church's tax bill is $14,100.

Preparation for construction of the road is continuing.

"We're still planning and working as if we've got it," Denton said.

Miramar, Cooper City and especially Hollywood recently have been involved in disputes with houses of worship.

Hollywood recently lost its fight with Chabad Lubavitch, an orthodox Jewish synagogue which was holding worship services in two houses in a residential area. The city in 2003 canceled a special permit that allowed Chabad to operate in the houses. The group filed a federal discrimination lawsuit and last month a federal judge ruled in the Chabad's favor.

Miramar has imposed a temporary citywide ban on new houses of worship because of an economic imbalance, upsetting congregations planning to expand. Cooper City, meanwhile, told the Chabad of Nova's Outreach Center in the Timberlake Plaza that it isn't allowed to operate in a commercial district. The Chabad has elicited help from a lawyer.

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