Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Landowners' Condemnation Blight Judgments Affirmed

Today, Florida's Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgments in Florida DEP v. West, et al, awarding nearly ten times the State's "good-faith" deposits when it condemned two North Key Largo properties in 2004. The trial (and chief) judge, Luis Garcia, should be pleased with his decision to require the jury to consider the "highest and best use" of these properties as of February 8, 1982 -- the last day they were "buildable" -- but valued in the 2004 real estate market.

Judge Garcia found, on the testimony of two former County Commissioners from the early 1980's, and from the voluminous paper trail, that Monroe County was made an "offer it couldn't refuse" in 1982, and again in 1986, and so on until the present day. Former Governor Bob Graham got his conservation land back in '82 ... but these landowners have yet to be paid, in 2009. Though the State DEP could seek "discretionary review" from the Florida Supreme Court, the odds of getting such a review are slim, and the State is running up interest to the tune of $1,468 per day. As of this date, the State's appeal has added $556,247 to the Landowners' compensation (at 11%/year, they should appeal forever).

All in all, this was a good day for those Florida Keys' landowners who have rebuffed the governments' 10-cents-on-the-dollar offers for all these years. For more details, see the West-Freeman section of my website.

(Edited 10/22/2009 to include interest information.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It Could Be a Busy 4th Quarter

After three weeks away from the pressure of brief-writing -- not to mention the stress of moving our pending regulatory taking and due process lawsuits -- it is a bit easier to cope. I did spend some of that downtime (at least an hour) thinking about what can be done to bring the Keys' land use regulations in line with those of a civilized society. Like the South of France. Not likely, that.

That raises a question: what civilized society would we like to emulate? California? There's a basket case, where affordable housing exactions are killing potential housing projects, and the state budget is a joke. How about Miami, Naples, or Fort Lauderdale? They have too much of everything, and the high vacancy rates to go with it.

Has anyone else noticed that Florida local governments (including the Keys) spent taxpayers' money like drunken sailors in the 2001-06 run-up? And now they're stuck with overpaid administrators and pension obligations that they will never be able to meet. OK, there's a goal.

First, fire half the County staff, starting with those who draw the largest paychecks. I challenge anyone to explain why we need a County Administrator when we have a County Commission that consists of five geniuses, all of whom are former (or future, because they are so smart) Nobel Prize winners. We could also do away with the County Attorney position, as all five Commissioners are more versed in the law than any attorney could possibly be. And the entire planning department could be let go, as there is nothing left to plan.

In the Keys, the City of Marathon cannot give away its building permits. The "village" of Islamorada was (correctly, I might add) deemed "charm-less" by United States District Judge James Lawrence King, and it is being sued by its former mayor, and a bunch of other people, over its sewer impact fees. Key West is, well, Key West. Monroe County may well be the only county in Florida where the population decreased over the 2000-2010 decade. Trust me, we will not get a merit badge for that statistic.

So ... are things good in the Keys? No. We have had several years of over-building, in large part because the State and County superseded the market, so every person who could, built a house. We now have a queue as long as my arm, of people who definitely do NOT want to build here. (The reason people wanted to build here was that "it was difficult.") We have had an artificial market here for 17 years, and it finally folded. Do we have a problem? Yes.

Do we need to change the regulatory climate in the Keys? Yes.