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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2019
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Temple Terrace could be headed for lawsuit with downtown developer

TEMPLE TERRACE — Three years after breaking ground on the city’s decade-long vision for a new downtown, city leaders are trying to severe ties with the only developer so far to promise to give residents a much-sought-after town center.

The city’s aim to dissolve its relationship with development group, Vlass Temple Terrace LLC, is facing hurdles, City Manager Gerald Seeber told the Temple Terrace City Council this week.

Both sides have had good discussions at two meetings since June, where they negotiated in private, he said. They also have been working hard to dissolve the relationship without a lawsuit, but remain at odds on how best to accomplish it.

“Right now both parties are pretty far apart on those expectations,” Seeber said.

Without an agreement, the possibility of a lawsuit is likely, City Attorney Mark Connolly said.

“If, in fact, we don’t reach a resolution with the Vlass group, there is a good chance litigation will be filed shortly after Aug. 21,” Connolly told the council members.

The town center project began with tremendous fanfare. Michael Vlass of Atlanta and his partners took the lead to fulfill the city’s dream to create a pedestrian-friendly, “new urbanism”-style town center.

The company broke ground on July 2, 2010. They completed phase I, with the support of Sweetbay supermarket, in exceptional time.

City leaders and the developer of the $150 million downtown district project have had trouble seeing eye-to-eye since early 2012 when Vlass proposed building an apartment complex on site.

Some residents and council members at the time said they opposed the idea because it was not what was promised in the developer’s conceptual plan, or the master development agreement, signed by the city.

They wanted a town center with ground-level shops topped with single-family dwellings. The developer said financing to build condominiums was non-existent.

The town center project at the southeast corner of Bullard Parkway and North 56th Street has been at a standstill since March 2012, when the council denied the developer’s request to make changes to the original project agreement signed by the developer.

Since then, city staffers and members of the Vlass team have struggled to agree on zoning and land-development matters, and clash on topics as specific as first-floor ceiling heights and parking.

Council members also pushed for phase 2 construction to begin, which included an arts center.

In April, their differences came to a head.

David Smith, an attorney representing developer Vlass Temple Terrace, suggested it might be time for the parties to part ways because of their inability to reconcile differences regarding the project.

In May City Council members directed Connolly to draft a default notice to Vlass, reminding the developer of its obligations to satisfy provisions of an agreement reached with the city in 2010 for the projects.

A few days later Smith mailed a notice of default to the city on behalf of Vlass, claiming the city had breached its obligation under the master developer’s agreement.

Seeber, Connolly and Mayor Frank Chillura are members of the city’s negotiating team. In private discussions with Vlass, both sides signed confidentiality pacts not to speak publicly about the negotiations.

On Tuesday Connolly told council members that Vlass might be working on a proposal to submit to them directly.

Chillura assured the council members no backroom deals or secrets were discussed with Vlass officials.

“Ultimately, any decisions that are made will come before you,” the mayor said, referring to City Council. “Our goal is to have a successful project.”

The council has yet to discuss a plan to save the project, if the relationship with Vlass is severed.

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