NORTH PORT — The possible legal separation of Wellen Park and North Port is headed for Round 3.
The issue is about a disgruntled faction of Wellen Park homeowners wishing to secede, or deannex, their community from North Port. It’s a move countered by a union of Wellen Park investors and builders trying to stop it.
Those developers had filed civil suits starting in September that sought a temporary stop or injunction to the deannexation movement. That five-count action filed by Wellen Park LLP outlined harm it had caused builders and potential legal costs fighting West Villagers for Responsible Government, which is a political committee behind the push to leave North Port.
A Sarasota County circuit judge in January cited the West Villagers’ right to proceed under Florida constitutional rules dating to the 1860s. Wellen Park developers had since requested a permanent injunction blocking West Villagers for Responsible Government, also asking North Port to end a deannexation feasibility study and to grant Wellen Park its legal fees.
That study is due in May. City commissioners would review its findings and decide the next steps.
Lawyers for the West Villagers filed a counter-motion for dismissal on Wednesday. In claims listed in the 19-page filing, rationales for denying the permanent injunction were laid out, said Luke Lirot, Clearwater attorney for the West Villagers association.
The heart of the issue, he said, was allowing his clients’ their “fundamental rights” to a legal remedy, arguing that punishing them with preemptive lawsuits is akin to suing another driver before an accident occurs.
Wellen Park’s investors and builders, he added, “can’t stop that process” of civil rights, “regardless.”
John Meisel, president of the West Villagers for Responsible Government, said the group was started in 2019 after significant property tax hikes in North Port.
Just how many Wellen Parkers are involved or wish for deannexation, however, wasn’t clear. But the West Villagers group filed enough petitions last summer and again in October to force the feasibility study. North Port is paying $75,000 for a Miami firm to report the toll on deannexation.
Wellen Park attorney David Smolker and Thompson said it was policy to not comment on pending litigation without client authorization.
Lirot in his court filings argued that such litigation “obfuscates the extremely simple premise of this case,” or “more or less what is specifically provided in the Florida statutes.”
Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll in an earlier denial of a temporary injunction argued that doing so would “halt this legislatively required process midstream,” and would not have served the public interest.
Courts and, ultimately, Wellen Park’s registered voters, may have the final say, however. A hearing date again before Judge Carroll hadn’t been set.