Fairway Oaks residents took their long-running protest Thursday to the steps of the Duval County Courthouse where they chanted for “economic justice” and called attention to a suit that contends the city and HabiJax failed to tell them their neighborhood was built in 2000 on the site of a former city landfill.
One of the protest signs had a photo of former President Jimmy Carter, who lent a helping hand in the building blitz of 85 homes for Fairway Oaks, with the question, “Did HabiJax and the city tell you this is a dump?”
The city and HabiJax, which is the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, are seeking dismissal of the lawsuit on grounds that it fails to build a factual case for its claims and was filed years after the statute of limitations expired for such litigation.
The protest outside the courthouse had some urgency because Circuit Court Karen Cole had scheduled a hearing for Thursday afternoon on the motions asking her to toss the suit.
“Hopefully, the judge will not dismiss the case,” said Nathaniel Borden, president of the Fairway Oaks Homeowners Association. “It’s been a real long time coming and we’re hoping this is the start of justice that’s due to us.”
As it turned out, the hearing Thursday afternoon in Cole’s courtroom was a staid affair compared to the sign-carrying protest.
Jack Krumbein, an attorney representing the residents, told Cole he wanted to file an amended lawsuit within 10 days for adding more claims.
Cole said the prospect of an amended lawsuit meant the city and HabiJax needed a chance to review it for their dismissal motions before she could make any rulings on whether the suit should proceed.
When Fairway Oaks was constructed in 2000 in northwest Jacksonville, it brought hordes of volunteers to the site as part of a 17-day, 101-home Habitat for Humanity build. In addition to Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, the build brought former Housing Secretary Jack Kemp and Habitat founders Millard and Linda Fuller.
Cole disclosed during the court hearing that she was among the volunteers who helped with the home-building, saying she worked on the siding of homes. None of the attorneys objected to Cole continuing as the judge over the case.
Residents who moved into Fairway Oaks contend the flurry of activity took place on ground that wasn’t suitable for homes. The suit says the location used to be the former Castellano Dump, which the city created in 1959. That then became the site of the Golf Brook Terrace Apartment in 1971. After the city sold the apartment complex to HabiJax, part of the complex was demolished to make way for Fairway Oaks and its 85 homes.
The lawsuit contends that residents have suffered health problems and their homes have foundation issues because of Fairway Oaks’ location on the former dump site.
“We want the place closed down because it’s not livable,” said Shirley Dempsey, carrying a sign saying “HabiJax let my people go.”
The suit seek class-action status on behalf of the residents.