Disney’s Reedy Creek deal violated state law, attorneys for DeSantis board say

LAKE BUENA VISTA –With their lawyers saying the deal violated state law, members of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Disney World oversight board are moving toward revoking agreements they say the theme park giant quietly pushed through to thwart their authority.

Board members decided Wednesday to ask staff for a resolution they would consider on April 26 voiding the agreements that preserved Disney’s control over development in Central Florida ahead of a state takeover. That action could set off a legal dispute and open another front in DeSantis’ battle with Disney that’s generating national headlines.

The board’s new lawyers said the previous Disney-friendly Reedy Creek board failed to properly notify affected property owners by mail of the development agreement, a requirement spelled out in Florida statutes. Although the agreements were publicly advertised and approved in public meetings, no record was found of those notices being mailed, they said.

“The bottom line is Disney engaged in a caper worthy of Scrooge McDuck to try to evade Florida law,” said David H. Thompson, a lawyer with the Cooper & Kirk law firm.

As a result, the agreements are “null and void,” he said.

In a previous unsigned statement, Disney company officials said the agreements were approved in open and public meetings in accordance with Florida law. Disney company officials did not respond to questions about the mail notice requirement.

At issue is a development agreement and restrictive covenants approved on Feb. 8 by the Reedy Creek Improvement District’s Board of Supervisors ahead of a state takeover. State lawmakers voted to put DeSantis in charge of appointing the five members of Reedy Creek’s board, replacing an arrangement that essentially allowed Disney to hand-pick the board and self-govern its theme parks and resorts.

The development agreement preserved Disney’s control over growth and planning, according to the new board’s legal analysis. A separate declaration of restrictive covenants spelled out that Disney must review aesthetic changes to the district’s buildings, among other stipulations.

DeSantis, widely seen as a 2024 GOP presidential contender, vowed to get the agreements voided, which he says run contrary to his desire to end Disney’s control over the Reedy Creek district.

To bolster the state’s case, state legislators are moving to amend state law to stipulate that the development agreement can be voided by the new board, which is known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

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Voiding the development agreement could put the state on shaky legal ground because it would impair a contract, said Jacob Schumer, a Central Florida attorney specializing in local government law.

But if Reedy Creek didn’t properly provide notice of the changes to affected property owners, it could bolster the new board’s case, he said in an email.

“Significant case law out there basically says that if statutory notice requirements aren’t followed, then the government action is void from the outset,” he said.

The primary property owners affected by the agreement are Disney and its affiliates, which own almost all of the land in the district.

Under the previous arrangement, Disney controlled the Reedy Creek district because landowners elected board members. That gave Disney vast influence on who sat on the board overseeing government services for Disney World.

This is a developing story and will be updated.