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By Sonji Jacobs, The Miami Herald
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Aug. 23, 2003 - Broward County should not have to reimburse developer R. Donahue Peebles for about $4 million in expenses tied to the ill-fated deal to build a minority-owned convention hotel in Fort Lauderdale, a Broward Circuit judge ruled Thursday.

The decision by Broward Circuit Judge Ilona M. Holmes is the latest entry in a five-year ledger of animosity between the black developer and Broward County. The county currently has no plans to build a luxury hotel near the convention center.

The deal with Peebles finally fell apart in July 2001 after Peebles' partner, Wyndham International, backed out. When the county refused to pay Peebles several million dollars in development expenses, he took the dispute to court.

"The effect of the ruling is that the county has no obligation to pay for any of the development expenses of the hotel project," Deputy County Attorney Noel Pfeffer said.

Peebles and his attorney contended that the county, during a December 2000, commission meeting, agreed to reimburse Peebles if the deal fell through. They said that the county's written minutes, a letter signed by Deputy County Attorney Pfeffer, and other correspondence confirm the commission's decision to reimburse him.

"From a public policy perspective, the judge is saying that when members of the public want to understand what the County Commission has done, they can't rely on the written minutes," Peebles said.

Attorneys for the county argued that no motion was made, voted on or passed that would have obligated Broward County to pay Peebles. They also argued that Pfeffer's letter and other correspondence are irrelevant because they are not binding on the commission.

Both The Herald and The Sun-Sentinel reported on Dec. 6, 2000, that the County Commission had agreed to reimburse Peebles for whatever funds he had spent on the project up to that that point.

The relationship between Peebles and the County Commission became contentious early in the negotiating process; each accused the other of breaking promises and missing deadlines.

Peebles said he and his lawyers will file an appeal after they receive Judge Holmes' written order.

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