Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Breaking the Back of Unconstitutional Rate-of-Development Ordinances in the Florida Keys

Enacted in 1992 as a "hurricane evacuation infrastructure deficiency" moratorium -- that would expire in 2002 -- every local government in the Florida Keys now has a permanent Rate-of-Development (ROD) ordinance. And those same governments have stalled, and openly opposed, the infrastructure improvements that were going to be completed by 2002. Of course, the got-miners oppose any and all infrastructure improvements, and the local governments gladly appease them. The hurricane evacuation rationale has morphed into a sewer infrastructure deficiency, a save-the-trees program, and an endangered species program, protecting endangered rats, snakes, Playboy bunny, and midget Virginia white-tailed deer (imported in the 1800's as food).

At some point these ROD ordinances must be unconstitutional as violative of Substantive Due Process. Recently, in Zuckerman v. Town of Hadley, 813 N.E. 2d 843 (Mass. 2004), the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that a ROD ordinance -- in effect for 15 years -- was no longer constitutional. Just imagine -- the Town of Hadley had done nothing to cure the "infrastructure deficiency" its ROD ordinance was supposed to alleviate. But it sure reduced development and the got-miners were quite happy.

Sound familiar? Of course. It happens all over the United States, in areas thought to be desirable by the people who live there, as well as those who would like to live there -- and can buy land there but cannot get a building permit. Once someone manages to own their piece of paradise, their highest priority becomes preventing anyone else from doing so.

For an excellent analysis of the problem, see William A. Fischel's "The Homevoter Hypothesis: How Home Values Influence Local Government Taxation, School Finance, and Land Use Policies," Harvard Univ. Press (2001). The author is an economics professor at Dartmouth College, who previously published "Regulatory Takings: Law, Economics, and Politics," Harvard Univ. Press (1995).

Last year we filed two lawsuits challenging Florida Keys' ROD ordinances. The first one, Lightner et al. vs. Monroe County & the State of Florida, involves over 1,200 parcels of land on Big Pine and No Name Keys. The other, Evanoffs vs. the Village of Islamorada, targets that town's ROD ordinances. In the latter, the Circuit Court has agreed that the Complaint states a cause of action, and has asked the parties to schedule a trial at the earliest available opportunity. It would appear that we are on the right track.

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