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Disney, Florida Settle Lawsuit Over Special District Fight

Disney has reached a settlement with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, ending a legal battle over a special tax district that the House of Mouse effectively controlled for over five decades that was taken over by the state last year.

The settlement will see the two parties drop all lawsuits filed against each other and negotiate a new development agreement related to the 40-mile area that includes its Orlando theme parks.

The legal battle was sparked after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill last year which allowed him to take control of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District with his own handpicked board. The move, which renamed it to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, followed a public feud between Disney and the state over the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, which limits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Disney proceeded to sue DeSantis for violating its First Amendment rights by retaliating against the company for contesting the law. A day prior to the legislation, it also crafted a last-minute deal that would allow it to retain its development powers, prompting the CFTOD to sue in court, arguing it wasn’t given proper notice to contest it. In January, Disney’s lawsuit was dismissed by a judge, which the company appealed.

Under Wednesday’s settlement, Disney will not challenge the CFTOD’s determination that the 2023 comprehensive plan and amendments to the district’s land development regulations are “null and void,” leaving the 2020 comprehensive plan as the operative plan.

“The District shall resolve to begin immediately to review, evaluate, and amend the 2020 Comprehensive Plan pursuant to its statutory obligations and shall consult with Disney and any other appropriate parties during the process,” the settlement states.

Disney will also seek permission from a federal appeals court to pause its effort to revive the dismissed retaliation lawsuit against DeSantis “pending negotiations among other matters of a new development agreement between Disney and the District.”

“We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle said in a statement. “This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the State.”

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