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Judge rules against governor in his attempt to acquire land for mansion project

800px-FLGovMansion2007For the second time this year, a judge has rejected Gov. Rick Scott's attempt to block the purchase of land in downtown Tallahassee that he wants the state to buy so he can build a park around the Governor's Mansion. 

Circuit Judge John Cooper on Tuesday ruled that the offer by the governor and Cabinet to buy out the land from the heirs former Gov. LeRoy Collins was insufficient and did not match the contract already on the table from Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews. 

The ruling effectively allows Andrews to buy the property adjacent to his office, and puts another kink in the governor's plans to build a six-block park around the now-secluded mansion as his legacy in office.  Download Order Granting SJ Against BOT signed 8-12-13 (3) (1)

Under the plans, Scott envisions a Governor's Park that stretches six blocks by three and a half blocks in downtown Tallahassee. The land surrounds the Governor's Mansion and an adjacent site known as The Grove, the ancetral home of territorial Gov. Richard Keith Call and the one-time home of the Collins family.

The state bought the Collins home in 1985 with plans to develop a museum and visitors center but progress has been stalled for decades. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection attempted to keep from the public memos and maps detailing the project but Cooper ordered them released in January. In addition to the Collins estate, the plan would involve the state purchasing about 120 additional lots from other private owners along the proposed park route. 

Andrews signed a contract to buy the land for $580,000 in 2011 after then Secretary of State Kurt Browning signed a letter rejecting the state's right of first refusal to buy the property. Scott then decided he wanted to pursue the project and objected to the sale. The governor and Cabinet, serving as the state Board of Trustees, voted to buy the land in June 2012 for $560,027, in spite of the contract between Andrews and the Collins estate. Andrews filed a lawsuit.

"The Court finds that the BOT (Board of Trustees) offer did not comply with the ROFR (right of first refusal) applying longstanding Florida law,'' Cooper wrote. He noted that the state's offer came after the deadline, was short of Andrews' offer and, because the state's offer would require the Collins estate to pay for asbestos clean-up on the site and Andrews' did not, it imposed an unreasonable financial burden on the Collins estate.

"The differences in price between the BOT and the Andrews Contract outlined above are not trivial, nominal or minimal,'' Cooper wrote. "The BOT attempted to introduce terms into the acquisition, something that is not permitted in the exercise of the ROFR."

Photo: State of Florida