Thursday, January 31, 2008

West-Richardson Condemnation Trial to Feature Condemnation Blight Defense

We are gearing up for a May 2008 trial in the North Key Largo condemnation blight case, State of Florida v. West, et al. We originally responded to the State's condemnation complaint with an inverse condemnation counterclaim, alleging the State and County had created a "condemnation blight" situation on North Key Largo in 1982. After the State exercised a quick-take in 2004, it gave up the right to "walk away" from the condemnation if it didn't like the price. We moved for a pre-trial order on condemnation blight, which was granted in April 2007. (Click on the link above to view the Order and a chronology of the case.)

On January 18, 2008, in a 3-hour hearing, the State tried to convert our condemnation blight claim -- which requires valuing the property as of the 2004 quick-take date (when title passed to the State), but valuing it as if the 1982 regulations were still in place and the blight never existed -- into a de-facto taking claim. In a de-facto taking, where the owner is actually ousted from the property, the property is valued as of the date of the ouster. In this case, that would have been February 9, 1982. Then interest is added on for the 28-year "delay" in payment. The Court rejected that argument. The appraisers will calculate Fair Market Value as of the "date of taking" in 2004, and as if the regulatory environment was the same as it was on February 8, 1982. They will also assume that the possibilities of rezoning will be as it was in 1982, not as it was in 2004.

This is a significant case for the owners of undeveloped property in the Florida Keys. Although the North Key Largo blight is very easy to prove, and the State's heavy hand easy to demonstrate, there is a blight in existence throughout the Keys. Landowners need to know that they can demand much higher prices for their unbuildable land than the paltry sums the State and County are offering.