Local News

Mediation continues between city, building's owners

AVON PARK -An Aug. 2 mediation session failed to settle the legal matter between the owners of a downtown building and the City of Avon Park, but the attorney representing the property owners said that mediation is ongoing. For more than a year, Fernando and Yudith Fernandez have sought city permits to operate a boarding house on the second floor of their two-story building at 1 W. Main St. After months of discussion and review of the appropriate parking requirements, it was determined that, according to city code, the building did not meet parking requirements. Miami lawyer John De Leon, who is representing the Fernandezes, said Thursday that mediation is continuing between the city and his clients. By court order, all communications in mediation are confidential.
"We have not reached a conclusion in the case yet; the case is still proceeding," he said. Meanwhile, an attorney for the city has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint the Fernandezes filed under their corporate name Fern & Fern. In a court complaint filed May 13 in the 10th Judicial Circuit in Highlands County, John De Leon outlined the Fernandezes' efforts and cost to open a boarding home in their building. They spent more than $46,000 on a fire sprinkler system and $30,000 on a fire alarm system for the building, according to the complaint. The expenditures were made to comply with city requests so they could attain a certificate of occupancy. Fern & Fern seeks a court injunction to order the city to issue the licenses, permits and other documents required to allow them to open and operate their business, according to the court complaint. After the Aug. 2 arbitration session, City Services Director Maria Sutherland would not comment on whether an agreement was reached, and deferred comment on the matter to attorney George Belohlavek, who is with the Apopka law firm Roper and Roper. Belohlavek said: "Mediation is confidential and this is an ongoing litigation, and as attorneys for the City of Avon Park we can't release any information. It's all private and confidential." Along with the city, City Manager Julian Deleon and City Clerk Cheryl Tietjen are named as defendants in the lawsuit. Attorney Donovan Roper, representing the city, Deleon and Tietjen, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on Aug. 1. The motion states the Fernandezes were denied a business tax license for failure to satisfy the "hotels and motels" code requirement of one parking space per unit. The Fernandezes believe their property is exempt from the parking requirement, the motion states. The city has determined that the exemption in the city code applies to "retail and commercial businesses" and not to residential-type business including hotels, motels or boarding houses. mvalero@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5826