Saturday, September 27, 2008

Florida Keys National Park? Are They Nuts?

As it's lead story, this morning's Florida Keys Keynoter announced that the Monroe County Administrator was planning to tell Florida Governor Christ and the other three "Cabinet" officials that the solution to the Florida Keys' land acquisition mess is to get Congress to designate the Keys a "national park." That, they surmise, would bring $1.2 billion to buy up all the Tier I and II land in these regulation-abused islands.

First, the County's $1.2 billion is off by nearly an order of magnitude. This is spelled out in the Amended Complaint we served yesterday in [Estate of] Lightner v Monroe County and the State of Florida, a Class Action that is pending before Judge Mark Jones in the 16th Judicial Circuit (Monroe County). Our analysis of the State's acquisition costs -- for Tier I properties on Big Pine and No Name Keys only -- revealed that the State acquired 204 such parcels, between January 2006 and July 2008, paying, on average, $40,321 per parcel (they were almost 100% "dry lots"). NOT ONE of these parcels was acquired by Eminent Domain.

Therein lies the problem. In eminent domain proceedings, a landowner has the right to raise the debilitating effect of Condemnation Blight -- which was the reason the West and Richardson plaintiffs in May of this year (2008) were able to recover nearly 10 times what the State was "offering" to purchase their moratorium-affected North Key Largo lands.

In an analysis carried out by real estate appraiser extraordinaire Bob Gallaher for our nearly $50 million in Bert Harris Act claims filed with Monroe County and the Governor's office this past Wednesday, Mr. Gallaher determined the average Fair Market Value (this term-of-art does not allow "sales to government" as evidence of Fair Market Value) of dry lots in the Lower Keys, as of January 2008, was $240,000. That is six times what the State paid for those 204 dry lots in the last 2.5 years. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that the County's $1.2 billion figure could easily become $7.2 billion if the landowners refused to sell "voluntarily." While it's not $700 billion -- as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen is trying to extract from Congress -- $7.2 billion is not chump change. And, I should point out, Congress is going to be so worn out from the Wall Street debacles that it is highly unlikely Monroe County's "leaders" are going to see $1.2 billion, much less $7.2 billion, in this lifetime. QED.

It is time for someone to inform the owners of undeveloped land in the Florida Keys that they should simply refuse to sell -- and should either hold out for an eminent domain suit to be filed, or -- better yet -- just sue the County and State in inverse condemnation.

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