Efforts to serve the owners of a defunct Fruitland Park restaurant with a lawsuit filed by the city have proven so far to be futile.
Fruitland Park City Attorney Anita Geraci-Carver filed the suit recently against the owners of Burke’s BBQ, located at 311 County Road 466A just outside the walls of The Villages. The action was delayed by Hurricane Dorian and once the papers are served, T.D. Burke and his family will have 20 days to respond.
But Geraci-Carver said Thursday night that process servers haven’t been able to locate Burke when they’ve attempted to serve him. She said she had received the name of an attorney he may have hired and she was going to try to contact that lawyer on Friday to move the suit forward.
Fruitland Park commissioners made the decision to sue the Burkes because they failed to follow through with a commitment to hook up to the city’s water and sewer system, install a fire hydrant and pay a significant amount of money in impact fees.
The now-closed restaurant’s owners had agreed on April 12, 2012 that they would have a six-month window to take care of that commitment once sewer and water hookups became available to them. Last year, the city sent Burke two letters giving him until Oct. 6 to follow through on the issue. City Manager Gary La Venia said Burke then paid him a visit and “raised holy hell.”
In March, the city made the decision to put the Burke family on notice that it was planning to move forward with some kind of action if the issues weren’t taken care of by June 19. When nothing was done by that date, Commissioner Patrick DeGrave led the charge to file suit against the Burke family.
“You signed an agreement, honor the agreement,” he said. “I think that’s the message the city has to send any property owner. You come in and make a deal with us, expect to live up to the deal.”
DeGrave also pointed out that Burke had had months to come speak with the commission.
“If there was a hardship, he could have pled the case and brought that forth,” he said. “But there’s been no communication, so let’s do our best to enforce the agreement.”
On July 25, the restaurant announced on its Facebook page that it would be closing. It followed up with posts on July 29 announcing a going-out-of-business sale scheduled for the following day. The public and other restaurant owners were invited to attend and purchase supplies and equipment that was still inside the building.
But that action didn’t deter commissioners and they agreed to charge ahead with the lawsuit. They also reported hearing rumors that Burke was attempting to sell his property, but Geraci-Carver reiterated that any new owner would be required to resolve the issues with the city, which will likely cost them about $110,000.