Road-widening project on U.S. 1 forces decision
By Frank Oliveri, FLORIDA TODAY
MELBOURNE – A state agency will help Brevard County’s only abortion clinic find a new home when it is forced to relocate next summer to make way for a road-widening project along U.S. 1.
Department of Transportation officials said $8.8 million was allocated recently to acquire rights of way between Aurora and Post roads in Melbourne for widening U.S. 1 from four lanes to six.
An additional $3.4 million will be spent for acquiring rights of way in 1998-99, followed by construction costs in 1999-2000 of about $10 million.
The Aware Woman Center for Choice is at Dixie Way and U.S. 1, which means the project would effectively cut the property in half.
“I’ve known about this for a long time,” said Patricia Baird-Windle, co-owner and chief executive officer of the 20-year-old clinic.
“The state has approached us three or four times. They said they understood that we have special concerns. We have serious security and safety concerns at any new property we decide to buy.”
The clinic could move anywhere zoned for medical office buildings. There are no zoning laws in Brevard specifically restricting locations for abortion clinics.
While the state is well within its rights to condemn rights of way for such projects, DOT Officials will help Aware Woman relocate. Baird-Windle said she and her husband, Ted, have hired an eminent domain attorney in Jacksonville to handle the relocation with DOT.
“When I was a child, we lived on 22 acres of land,” she said. “The highway system decided to take almost half our land for a (highway interchange). My daddy hired an eminent domain attorney, so I grew up with right of eminent domain issues.”
DOT will cover the costs of relocating the abortion clinic, state transportation officials said, though the amount the state will pay will be negotiated between Baird-Windle and the DOT.
Negotiations with property owners will begin next summer, said Steve Holman, spokesman for the DOT in Tallahassee. The process could take some time, with some 70 percent of the parcel settlements being handled out of court, he said.
“Some cases go to court,” he said. “You can be dealing with parcels as small as a welcome mat, so it could take some time.”
Construction could begin sometime in 2000 and take two years to complete, Holman said.
The move puts Aware Woman in a bind, because pro-life activists make it difficult for abortion clinics to find offices in Brevard.
We will do everything within the power and influence that God gives us to stop her,” said pro-life activist Meredith Raney, spokesman for Christians for Life in Melbourne. “In the end, it won’t be me that stops her, it will be God.”
In the past, abortion clinics have had difficulty locating in Brevard. When an abortion clinic attempted to move into Melbourne earlier this year, a campaign waged by pro-life activists successfully helped prevent the proposed clinic from opening.
Though a lease already had been signed, managers of the Osler Medical Center building reneged, saying the owner of the proposed clinic misrepresented his practice. A lawsuit filed by the clinic owner still is winding its way through the courts.
“It is clear that we have serious concerns about the various kinds of damage that can be done to us by the hard-core cadre of anti-abortion extremists in Brevard County,” Baird-Windle said.
“When the state of Florida asks a carpet company or standard medical practice to move, it is a relatively straightforward process. When they ask Aware Woman to move, it is extremely complex, and the dangers at every juncture must be considered.”
Aware Woman has been the target of numerous protests and demonstrations. Employees and clients often are openly questioned and challenged by protesters.
Furthermore, violence against clinics and employees across the country and veiled death threats force clinic owners to be extremely cautious.
Regardless of the challenges, however, Aware Woman is in Brevard to stay, Baird-Windle said.
“Aware Woman will continue to be a presence in Brevard County,” she said. “It has been here for 20 years and will be here for 20 more. It’s my home. I’ve lived in Brevard longer than I’ve lived anywhere.”
Background Information: Item number 5110430 of the FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION ADOPTED FIVE YEAR WORK PROGRAM, FISCAL YEARS 1997/1998 THROUGH 2001/2002, BREVARD COUNTY, JULY 1997 is for widening US 1 from 4 to 6 lanes between Aurora and Post roads in Melbourne, FL, a distance of 2.789 miles. There is $8,819,000 allocated for acquiring right-of-way in FY 97/98, $3,438,000 for acquiring right-of-way in FY 98/99, and $10,607,000 for construction in FY 99/00. The state Fiscal Year (FY) begins on July 1 each year.