CRESTVIEW — The City Council on Monday voted not to pursue a settlement for a downtown alley’s ownership. However, family members who claim the property say a nearly yearlong battle doesn’t end there.
The alley in dispute, behind Florida A&M University’s Pharmacy School, serves Main Street businesses in buildings once owned by the late Purl G. Adams. His daughter-in-law, Barbara, and his grandson, Purl Adams III, claim the alley is part of their property.
“I’m not gonna stop just at their decision,” Purl Adams III said, referring to the city council action. “I’m not saying we’re going to court. I’m saying that there’s other avenues to pursue.”
The city had proposed paying $55,000 to Barbara Adams to ensure the city’s access and official ownership of the alley. Council members changed course after reviewing a Nov. 18 1942 warranty deed during a five-minute recess. Purl G. Adams, his wife Edna and W.R. Taylor deeded the alley to the city for $10 and a promise that the property would remain a public alley. For council members, that was enough evidence to stop the settlement.
"I'm holding an official document on file with the city clerk's office ... it says this city owns that property," Council President Robyn Helt said during Monday’s meeting.
"Based on what I am holding in my hand, I say fight it. If we lose, we lose,” Councilman Shannon Hayes said.
Councilman Thomas Gordon also voted down the settlement. Council members Mickey Rytman and Joe Blocker dissented.
Purl Adams said he didn’t hear about the council’s action and didn’t know city leaders planned to discuss the alley dispute until the afternoon after it happened. After learning a June 21 executive session on the matter was canceled, Fort Walton Beach-based attorney Jill Crew, representing Barbara Adams, emailed city attorney Jerry Miller requesting the next date that the council would mull the matter.
Crew did not receive an answer to the email, Purl said.
The News Bulletin reached out to Miller, who offered no comment. The city’s June 24 meeting agenda, released at least four days beforehand, included the alley item.
“I am very disappointed in the city of Crestview’s actions,” Purl Adams said in a statement. “I would like to believe that, just maybe, the past and present council members do not or did not know the story concerning the alleyway, or the behind-the-scenes happenings, or just possibly everyone has been kept in the dark about the situation.”
The full story, he said, includes the 1942 provision that the “strip of land shall be, remain and forever used as an alley of, for and in the said town for the free use and benefit to the public and said town, as other alleys are so used.”
The city didn’t use the alley for its intended purpose, so the deed was abandoned under state law, Crew contends.
Then there’s the Adamses’ 1944 deed that includes the alley, which “trumps the 1942 deed,” Purl Adams said.
Then there’s the mortgage that Barbara Adams took out on the property in 1996, and an estimated 70 years of property taxes the family has paid on the alley, as county records show.
Additionally, city engineer Fred Cook referred to the property in an Aug. 2, 2011 memo concerning FAMU’s water service.
“The area along the east (northeast) side of the building is not a publicly owned alley — it is private property,” he said.
Helt and Hayes did not return Thursday afternoon phone calls inquiring about the matter. Gordon offered no comment due to potential litigation. City clerk Betsy Roy did the same.
In past newspaper reports, Miller has said the city knows about such claims "and will heartily defend the city's title.”
Meanwhile, the battle has cost the Adamses an estimated $30,000 in legal fees and has taken its toll on his 75-year-old mother, Purl said.
“When all this first started, all my mom asked for from the architect and FAMU was the payoff for her mortgage so she could deed the alleyway to whoever and make all of this go away. The mortgage was around $25,000,” he said. “The city decided to file a suit, causing mental stress on my mother, an elderly widow ... not to mention the added stress of having to retain an attorney...
“I really think that the council should take control, use some common sense, and let’s resolve this issue once and for all. It has been simple all along.”
Tom McLaughlin and Matthew Brown contributed to this report.