JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Leaders of a Jacksonville church say a plan by the state to improve drivers' commute left them without a neighborhood.
The Florida Department of Transportation bought homes surrounding the Glorious Bethlehem Temple for the Interstate 95 Overland Bridge project.
The neighborhood surrounding Glorious Bethlehem Temple was once filled with homes but was recently reduced to empty lots, leaving the church centered in the middle of a construction zone.
"Some folks having driven through here and said, 'I didn't know you all were still here. I thought everything was gone,'" said the Rev. Donald Richardson.
The Florida Department of Transportation purchased about 155 properties across the city of Jacksonville, totaling $60 million, for the I-95 Overland Bridge project.
FDOT officials, interested in building a stormwater pond on the property where Richardson's place of prayer still stands, approached him.
The church paid $50,000 for land on a nearby lot to relocate, but ultimately, FDOT engineers decided they didn't need the pastor's property.
Attorney Andrew Brigham now represents the church.
Accusations of oppressive tactics by FDOT are detailed inside a legal complaint filed in Duval County Circuit Court.
FDOT spokesman Mike Goldman stated Monday that negotiations were handled in a professional manner.
Brigham claims the state low-balled Glorious Bethlehem Temple with an offer below fair-market value, and when the church wanted its fair share to relocate, the state walked away.
"The church is left there in the middle of this island of a construction process without their neighborhood," said Brigham. "And now what are they supposed to do?"
In a statement to Action News, Goldman said the state never told the church it had to relocate.
"If we purchased their property, they obviously would have had to relocate," said Goldman. "Again, there were discussions about purchasing the property, but it never reached the contract stage. No agreement was reached, and we were able to figure out a way to build the pond without purchasing the property."
The church is seeking a ruling in the case from a jury trial. It hopes the judicial system will determine FDOT is responsible for paying for relocation costs after the church spent $50,000 on a new property near its current building.
"We've got the property we were going to build on," said Richardson. "We done come this far. All I want FDOT to do is just to step up."
Goldman said the state saved money by deciding to build a pond without purchasing the church.