I-95 Overland Bridge: Glorious Bethlehem Temple (Duval County, FL)
Glorious Bethlehem Temple is a church with over a fifty year history that is woven into the fabric of the neighborhood which surrounds its location. The church is one of five Jacksonville area churches belonging to the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. Of the five churches, Glorious Bethlehem Temple is the oldest of the congregations and has oversight responsibilities over the other sister churches. It is the only one of the five churches located south of the City of Jacksonville, east of the St. Johns River, and still proximate to downtown. Today, Glorious Bethlehem Temple presently has approximately 85 communing members with approximately 130 total congregants in regular attendance on Sunday mornings.
Nevertheless, from approximately 2010 to 2016, FDOT engaged in a large-scale public acquisition and highway infrastructure improvement project known as the I-95 Overland Bridge Replacement Project. Initially, FDOT sought to acquire the church’s 50-year old sanctuary building and four lots located at 2210 Wister Avenue for the construction of a stormwater pond, which FDOT referred to as Pond E in Basin 6.
FDOT sought to acquire not only the church’s property, but also 26 residential homes in the neighborhood situated between I-95 and Phillips Highway, just north of Douglas Anderson High School. FDOT began its negotiations with Glorious Bethlehem by offering the appraised value of the depreciated 50-year old sanctuary building estimated at $391,070; the church was not willing to accept less than the cost of relocating the church and constructing a new church sanctuary building of approximately the same size estimated at $650,000.
FDOT sought to force the church to accepting a lesser amount of “full compensation” by informing the church that, if not negotiating to a lower amount, FDOT would resize its stormwater pond and abandon the taking, leaving the church where it was, but demolishing all of the adjacent residential homes in the neighborhood. The church did not stand down. In fact, FDOT abandoned the direct condemnation lawsuit it had filed against the church by filing a Voluntary Dismissal prior to the hearing on order of taking. FDOT proceed to demolish all 26 of the surrounding homes in the neighborhood. FDOT then began its construction activities on all of the adjacent properties surrounding the church.
Brigham Property Rights Law Firm filed a lawsuit styled State of Florida, Department of Transportation FDOT v. Glorious Bethlehem Temple, In Trust for Florida State Council, Inc. 29th Episcopal District, Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. et al., Case No. 2012-CA-012858 (Fla. 4th Judicial Circuit Court, Duval Co.) on behalf of Glorious Bethlehem Temple. The suit alleged that FDOT had engaged in “oppressive precondemnation conduct” and that, because of this, the court should enter declaratory relief finding that FDOT should have to proceed with the taking. Following almost 2 years of litigation, the church prevailed and the parties settled the case on the condition that FDOT would proceed to take the church’s property and pay “full compensation” in the amount of $680,000.00 in order for Glorious Bethlehem Temple to relocate and construct a new church sanctuary building. The settlement was ratified in a Stipulated Final Judgment and Order of Taking, in January 2016.