Florist wins round in court. (Eminent Domain)


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Desertdog
April 5, 2006, 11:16 PM
Florist wins round in court. Stockbridge may fight ruling
http://www.ajc.com/news/content/metro/clayton/stories/0405metdomain.html

By ERIC STIRGUS
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Optimism was in full bloom Tuesday morning at Stockbridge Florist & Gifts.

In a case that has garnered national attention, a Henry County judge ruled late Monday that the city of Stockbridge cannot use eminent domain laws to buy the shop and use the property for a downtown revitalization project.


Johnny Crawford/AJC

Regina Meeks opened Stockbridge Florist & Gift in 1983 in a wood frame house. She and husband Mark appealed a special master's finding that valued it at $325,000.

Co-owner Regina Meeks was the one feeling revitalized Tuesday as she stood among the elegantly arranged roses, Easter egg baskets and Beanie Babies and fielded congratulatory telephone calls from strangers in Detroit, Dayton, Ohio, and Tennessee.

"The old saying [is] 'You can't fight City Hall,' " Meeks said Tuesday afternoon. "I guess you can."

Henry Superior Court Judge Arch McGarity's two-page decision said Stockbridge did not show the shop would be used for public purposes. The city has 30 days to appeal and may decide what to do at a meeting Monday, said City Manager Ted Strickland.

The dispute has brought standing room audiences to the typically placid City Hall and prompted state lawmakers to jump into the fray. On Tuesday, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a revised eminent domain law that could help landowners in future eminent domain disputes, but not the Meekses.

Named after a professor who educated children in the area before the Civil War, Stockbridge is a city attempting to remake itself. Its population nearly has doubled since 2000, to 19,212 residents.

On the west side is Eagle's Landing, a country club community that will soon host the only annual Ladies Professional Golf Association tournament in Georgia.

On the east side of town are mom and pop stores like the flower shop Regina Meeks opened in 1983 in a wood frame house on North Henry Boulevard, one of the city's busiest roads. City Hall is two blocks from the flower shop.

City leaders look at the east side and envision 22 acres with a new City Hall, homes and shops. Last year, the city sent condemnation notices to property owners. Most worked out deals to sell their land.

Others, like Regina and Mark Meeks, thought the city's offer was too low. The Meekses accused the city of negotiating in bad faith. The city said the Meekses were misrepresenting the facts. A special master ruled the shop was worth $325,000. The couple appealed.

In recent days, the florist shop's prospects for survival seemed to be wilting, especially after the city reaffirmed its condemnation plans about a week ago. Bulldozers had cleared out much of the land surrounding the florist shop. The Meekses' shop was literally surrounded.

Then came Monday's decision.

"We feel vindicated," Mark Meeks said. "The judge made a courageous decision. It's a victory for property rights in Georgia."

Both sides describe the dispute as a soap opera with several twists and turns. How it will end, neither side will predict.

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