By Pat Andrews
posted Nov 18, 2013 - 5:19:13pm
Osteen residents fight changes to their community. They successfully fought off annexation by Deltona. They enlisted the county's help in that, and worked with the county to create zoning and development standards for the State Road 415 corridor.
The residents’ goal is protecting Osteen’s rustic charm.
Now, some Osteen residents are crying foul against the County of Volusia over the county's plan to take pieces of residential property to build the East Central Florida Regional Rail Trail along Osteen Maytown Road. To get the property rights, the county is using a little-known provision of the law called the Murphy Act.
President Sheryl Manche of Save Osteen Now said residents will come to the Nov. 21 County Council meeting prepared to compromise with the county, but ready to fight, if needed.
What's the Murphy Act, and how is it affecting Osteen residents?
According to the Florida Bar Association, the Murphy Act, passed in 1937, was designed to help bail Florida and its residents out of the Depression and recover from a real-estate bust that was worse than the recent one that began in 2007, writers Henry M. Brown and Rebecca E. Brown stated.
Murphy deeds returned lands to landowners who had lost property due to tax default. With the property's return came a condition: The deeds reserved 100-foot right-of-way easements for future roadway construction.
Landowners had a two-year window of time to redeem the tax certificates; after that, the state possessed the right of way.
The act returned millions of acres of land to the tax rolls, where it generated revenues for local municipalities. The Legislature declared that any road constructed by the counties or municipalities would become a state road, with the state vested with title to all rights of way involved.
"Numerous statutes were enacted declaring and establishing state roads by centerline descriptions in the various counties," Brown and Brown wrote.
What's all this got to do with the Regional Rail Trail, which is being built on old railroad right-of-way property?
County Engineer Jerry Brinton said the railroad right of way purchased by the state covers most of the property needed to complete the trail along Osteen Maytown Road. Most of the railroad right of way runs alongside the road. However, the old railroad and the right of way used to run behind where some homes now sit.
The county would like to situate the trail on the public or “road” side, instead of across backyards, where property owners like to maintain privacy and perhaps keep some livestock.
"We thought it would be less intrusive," Brinton said.
Also, there are six properties for which the state didn't buy the railroad right of way.
Brinton discovered that a Murphy Act deed goes across all 13 properties along the stretch of Osteen Maytown Road. The plan is to ask the state to release that right of way to the county for the trail.
The Murphy Act originally covered two large tracts that were sold with right-of-way easements that the state retained, he said. Osteen Maytown Road was designated a state road back in 1940 or 1941. The state sold the properties a year later.
Those two properties were later subdivided into the 13 properties. Murphy Act rights of way run 100 feet from the middle of the road into the front yards of those 13 properties. The county wants to run the trail in that right of way.
Simple. The County Council just needed to ask the state for the rights of way.
Except that some of the property owners are up in arms. They came to the Oct. 24 County Council meeting loaded for bear, and angry that they had been given only days’ notice of the county’s plan.
Byron Peavy of 695 Osteen Maytown Road told the County Council he'd just bought the place, which he described as "my dream home … my first home."
A title search and surveys revealed nothing about the Murphy Act, he and his wife, Catherine, said.
Mark Davis at 692 Osteen Maytown Road said "the county found a loophole," and put up a smoke screen to get property.
Larry Davis at 607 Osteen Maytown Road said he's been in Osteen for 60 years.
"I never knew Osteen Road as a state road," Larry Davis said. "Back in the '40s, it was a cow path."
It's now designated a county road.
He accused the county of trying to take land he's been paying taxes on for years.
"I'm requesting that you would deny this motion to the state," he asked the County Council.
Manche, who formed Save Osteen Now to keep Osteen rural as the county contemplated land-use changes last year, backed the residents. She said state Department of Transportation officials couldn't find a record of Osteen Maytown Road being designated a state road back in the 1930s or '40s.
Assistant County Attorney Jamie Seaman said, however, "We don't take this stuff lightly, and we do the research."
Osteen Maytown Road was designated as a state highway, she said, and the maps indicated the designation existed at the time the Murphy Act went into effect.
There was a similar Murphy Act issue along Orange Camp Road, Seaman said. The county got the release from the state, took just what the county needed, and returned the remainder of the property to owners. The same could be done along Osteen Maytown Road. The county will need a strip about 30 feet wide for the trail.
County Chair Jason Davis noted that would “take a big chunk" out of people’s front yards.
Brinton said the county is coming up against a Jan. 1 deadline to get grant money for the trail project, and needs to get the right-of-way request in to the state.
With Council Member Pat Northey absent at the October meeting, the six remaining County Council members split 3-3 and couldn't agree on what to do.
The matter was rescheduled to the Thursday, Nov. 21, meeting, when all seven County Council members should be present.
Brinton told The Beacon he understands the residents' sentiments.
"It's been a surprise to the property owners," he said.
The Murphy Act reservation showed up on deeds through two or three sales, and then the title companies stopped listing it. Nevertheless, the easement remained, Brinton said.
Manche told The Beacon Nov. 12, "We want the trail. We want the trail funded, but we don't need eminent domain used on people's properties."
Osteen residents are meeting with County Council members one at a time to discuss concerns, she said, and residents propose to show at the Nov. 21 hearing how existing right of way can be used to build the trail without using Murphy Act provisions. The hearing is scheduled at 9:20 a.m. in the Frank T. Bruno Jr. County Council Chambers in the County Administration Center at 123 W. Indiana Ave. in DeLand.