Sometimes it's true what they say: You can't fight City Hall. Not unless you have deep pockets to defend yourself in the event of legal action. Last week, Rethink the Princeton, a grass-roots nonprofit organization that formed in late 2014 to fight an apartment complex planned for a sliver of land in College Park, voluntarily dismissed its court case against the project after it says the city and the developer threatened to pursue them for legal fees should they fail in court.
Rethink the Princeton opposed the complex because they said it was not in keeping with the neighborhood's needs or character. It didn't offer any new mixed-use spaces, they pointed out, instead relying on an existing CVS on Princeton Street to claim that the project incorporated street-level retail space in its design. The organization also felt that the project, which aims to create a 206-unit "walkable condo-style community for young professionals and empty nesters," was simply too big for the already congested area.
Last year, after the city approved plans from Pollack Shores (the Atlanta-based developer that also built Steelhouse in downtown Orlando) for the complex, Rethink the Princeton filed suit, claiming among other things that the project was inconsistent with the neighborhood's comprehensive plan. In September, a judge dismissed part of the group's suit, and last week Rethink the Princeton announced that it had been "forced to end" its legal appeal because the city and developer threatened to seek legal fees from the citizens' group if it didn't drop the case.
"[Court] motions state that if Rethink the Princeton does not drop its legal appeal within 21 days, both the city and Pollack Shores will come after the organization and three College Park residents named in the appeal for legal fees and damages," the organization wrote in a letter released on Nov. 12. "However unlikely it is that their 'frivolous lawsuit' claim would be successful in court, significant resources would have to be diverted to protect all residents involved from this threat. According to our attorney, the legal and financial risk must be taken seriously, potentially costing hundreds of thousands of dollars."
On Nov. 10, court records show Rethink the Princeton dismissed its case, with all parties agreeing to shoulder their own legal fees. Rethink the Princeton also waived the right to refile the case. It did not, however, waive the right to speak about it in public, which is what its members have been doing ever since. The group has been vocal in the media, and it held a rally on Nov. 13 at the corner of Princeton Street and Ann Arbor Avenue to protest the city's actions. The city, however, is content with how things played out.
"The City of Orlando is pleased with the outcome of the litigation and that it supports the work of our residents who spent several months developing the Edgewater Task Force Vision Plan," says city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser. "The Orlando City Council approved this project based on that vision and the developer's changes to the project that ensured it complied with that vision and addressed community concerns."