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Good deeds get the blame



An apartment owner's lawsuit against the Daily Bread soup kitchen on west Central Boulevard was dismissed this week when the judge granted a motion for summary judgment.

"We're going to appeal it," says the plaintiff, Kevin Gilliam, an accountant who has long argued that city policy unfairly impinges on his business.

The suit is seen as a test case by some Parramore land owners, who for more than a decade have complained that city policies in the mostly African-American, economically depressed area have damaged their property values. In 1996 county tax appraiser Richard Crotty lowered assessments by nearly $15 million on more than 2,000 residential units in the area after Gilliam and real-estate agent Phil Cowherd argued that drugs and crime had affected values more than the appraiser had calculated.

Then Gilliam filed suit in December 1997 claiming the soup kitchen, run by the nonprofit Christian Service Center, constituted a nuisance that prevented him from deriving the value of his property at 111 Glenn Lane, across the street from the soup kitchen.

"Would you live here?" Gilliam asked during a 1997 visit to the property. He pointed to the soup kitchen and to a man sleeping about 150 feet away across the street. "I can't rent this place because of them. I can't sell this place because of them."

According to tax records, Gilliam bought the property with his brother in 1983 for $42,000. At that time the Christian Service Center had been located a few blocks away, and then in 1987 it moved to its current location. Lawyer Scott Gabrielson, who represents the soup kitchen, says by waiting more than 10 years before filing his suit Gilliam forfeited his right to sue at all.

Gilliam's property has been shut down twice for code violations, and the last time, in 1987, he sued the city and won $1 after the city removed a part of the building it said was in violation of codes. Gilliam also has battled with code inspectors over his conversion of the four-bedroom, four-bath, single-family home into a rooming house. He has said the code violations are from damages caused by transients -- some of whom he says are attracted by the soup kitchen.

Gabrielson was intrigued by the reasoning underlying the recent complaint.

"Typically you run into an allegation that we were doing this negligently," Gabrielson says about property-value complaints. "Instead, they didn't focus on that but more on a theory that if you feed the hungry, then you are helping to create a nuisance."

Similar logic was used in 1996, Gabrielson notes, after the family of Christine McGowan sued the Lighthouse Mission in Apopka. The Lighthouse was the address of Elmer Carroll in 1990 when he raped and killed McGowan, a 10-year-old who lived next door. Carroll is now on death row. But McGowan's parents argued unsuccessfully that the social-service agency was partially responsible for the murder because they harbored her killer.

"The judge said, ‘Can't do that,'" says Gabrielson. "From a public-policy standpoint, we want to encourage people" to help the homeless.

Gilliam is not alone in saying that the city's interest in helping the homeless has been at the expense of Parramore's private business people. One of the themes underlying the area's redevelopment efforts is how to integrate social services with other uses -- and how many social-service agencies are too many. Christian Service Center director Robert Stewart gave an affidavit in the case showing how few residential uses are in the area, which is dominated by auto-parts stores and social services agencies, including the Orange County Health Center Complex and the Coalition for the Homeless.

"One of the tests for nuisance is, ‘Is the place in question out of place in the neighborhood?'" says Gabrielson. "Orlando as a community has become more aware of the need for these facilities. ... Siting these things is not easy to do."

Stewart says the soup kitchen has reduced the number of meals it has served the homeless, from a peak in 1993 of 97,000 meals to about 73,000 in 1996. Some time in April, he plans on serving his 2 millionth meal.


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