Lawyer Seeks Mediation For Water Service Suit

HAINES CITY – Friday, February 9, 2007 | A lawyer for the developer suing Haines City, Davenport and Polk County over the water service problems to the stalled Snell Creek Manor subdivision project has asked all three groups to enter into mediation discussions immediately.

Lawyer M. Lance Holden, with the firm of Sharit, Bunn & Chilton who is representing Snell Creek Property LLC, sent a letter to Haines City attorney Tom Cloud on Wednesday asking Haines City to participate.

“The attorneys for Polk County and Davenport are in agreement with my suggestion of mediation at this stage and, thus I assume your client, Haines City, is willing to participate in mediation as well. I am hopeful that if everyone can sit down and concentrate on the matters necessary for resolution, then this litigation can be quickly concluded,” Holden wrote in his letter.

Holden also said in the letter that mediation would save the parties tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer fees and that his client is losing money on the development every day.

At issue is the Snell Creek Manor off Snell Creek and Power Line roads, which was getting water from Davenport, but Haines City claims the development is in its utility service area.

The developer of the land, which is in unincorporated Polk County, has a letter from the county saying it is in Davenport’s utility service area.

Haines City officials said it has been in its service area since 1999.

Holden said he thinks the matter could be wrapped up if all the parties just discussed ways to solve the problem of supplying water to the development.

“Accordingly, this case will be much easier to solve at this stage,” Holden said.

Cloud said Haines City would participate in mediation talks.

“Normally, mediation is required in any case like this,” Cloud said Thursday. “Why would we say no?”

This will not be the first time Haines City and Davenport have been through mediation together. The two cities went through several sessions during the 2003-04 annexation and utility service area battle that was eventually settled in a court-approved mediation agreement.

Davenport City Manager Ryan Taylor said the city is agreeable to mediation.

“At this time we don’t have any objection to it,” Taylor said.

Andrea Smith, a lawyer with Peterson & Myers firm in Lakeland, who will be representing Polk County in the case, did not return a reporter’s phone call Thursday.

In the lawsuit, Snell Creek Property LLC is seeking a judgment that would allow Davenport to provide water to the development and stop Haines City from interfering in that service.

The developer also wants Polk County to issue the necessary permits for the development of the subdivision to continue.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, Davenport City Council members hired a Miami law firm to help represent them in the case, and officials have said they plan to aggressively defend the city’s position.

At the Haines City City Commission meeting last week, Cloud also vowed to defend the city’s utility service area.

Davenport council members will meet in a special closed door attorney-client meeting at 7 tonight to discuss strategy with their lawyers.