Monday, November 30, 2009

Confiscatory Land Use Regulations are Unconstitutional in Florida: It is Time For the Kill

To the best of our knowledge, no local government in Florida -- other than Monroe County and its municipalities -- has ever been able to maintain confiscatory land development ("zoning") regulations. In 1984, the Florida Supreme Court held, in Dade County v. National Bulk Carriers, 450 So. 2d 213, 216 (Fla. 1984) that "if a zoning ordinance is confiscatory, the relief available is a judicial determination that the ordinance is unenforceable and must be stricken."

Government lawyers are wont to say that National Bulk Carriers was overruled, sub silentio, by the Supreme Court in First English Evangelical Church v. Los Angeles County, 482 U.S. 304 (1987), but that does not seem to be the case. In Joint Ventures v. FDOT, 563 So. 2d 162 (Fla 1990), a post-First English Florida Supreme Court held unconstitutional a statute that allowed the FDOT to "freeze" all development, for up to five years, and for a second five years if it wished, by recording a "reservation map" in the county records.

The 1990 supreme court invalidated Florida's "reservation map" statute, on Due Process grounds, after comparing its effect to the "condemnation blight" case of Bd. of Commissioners v. Tallahassee Bank, 1o8 So. 2d 74, 86 (Fla 1st DCA 1958), writ quashed, 116 So. 2d 762 (Fla 1959), stating "We perceive no valid distinction between "freezing" property in this fashion and deliberately attempting to depress land values in anticipation of eminent domain proceedings. Such action has been consistently prohibited."

In Joint Ventures, the supreme court sealed the fate of the Florida Keys' "Beneficial Use Determination" ("BUD") ordinances, when responding to FDOT's argument that "the property owner can always sue in inverse condemnation," as follows.
DOT contends that Joint Ventures' right to seek compensation through inverse condemnation cures the statute's failure to expressly provide for compensation. We disagree. ... [T]hat remedy is not equivalent to a property owner's remedy under the doctrine of eminent domain. Inverse condemnation affords the affected property owner an after-the-fact remedy, when there has already been a "taking" by regulation, and it is not a substitute for eminent domain protection facilitated by chapters 73 and 74 [Fla. Stat.]

The property owner who must resort to inverse condemnation is not on equal footing with an owner whose land is "taken" through formal condemnation proceedings. The former has the burden of seeking compensation, must initiate the inverse condemnation suit, and must finance the costs of litigation without the procedural protections afforded the condemnee.
In Joint Ventures (1990), as in National Bulk Carriers (1984), the Florida Supreme Court held the "reservation map" statute unconstitutional on Due Process grounds.

Fast forward to today. If it were not for the Keys' governments' "beneficial use" ordinances, many of these local land use regulations would have been declared unconstitutional 23 years ago. But let's take a look at those ordinances in the context of National Bulk Carriers and Joint Ventures -- the law in Florida.
  • Not one of the Keys' BUD ordinances provides for the acquisition of a landowner's property by the exercise of eminent domain, if the property has been rendered unbuildable by the local government's zoning regulations. A first-year law student could see this is a Due Process violation that renders the underlying confiscatory regulations unconstitutional.
  • Monroe County recently raised the "application fee" for a Beneficial Use Determination to almost $5,000. This is reminiscent of the $2 "poll tax" cases of the '60's. Is it remotely possible that a local government can assess the owners of land within its boundaries a "poll tax" of $5,000? If the government cannot assess a $2 fee for the right to vote, it cannot assess a $5,000 fee for the right to Just Compensation. Or any fee, for that matter.
There is a solution to this madness, and we are about to undertake it. We will soon file an action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, on behalf of several non-resident owners of Florida Keys property -- under the Federal court's "diversity jurisdiction" -- against the local governments and certain Florida state officials, to invalidate major portions of the Florida Keys' local government comprehensive plans and land development regulations, on Due Process grounds and Florida law.

Postscript: This situation reminds me of Pogo, who would say "we have met the enemy, and it is us." The reason the Florida Keys is up to its neck in "just compensation" liabilities is the classic tyranny of the majority problem. The people who own developed property in the Keys, and vote there, simply do not want anyone else to build anything within their driving radius. These cluckheads, who elect like-minded cluckheads to the County Commission and municipal Councils, have not yet figured out that they will be paying the bills for this fiasco for decades to come.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Has the Tide Turned?

Since 1986, the Florida Keys' confiscatory land use regulations have been imposed only on owners of undeveloped land. Two-thirds of those landowners reside outside the Florida Keys. They have no right to vote on the "got-miners" choices for the County Commission. Since the got-miners' "rate-of-growth" ordinance was imposed on the Keys in 1992, vacant landowners have been selling their property to the government at rock-bottom prices that rarely reached 15% of Fair Market Value.

In 1996, Andy Tobin and I sent Voice of Reason newsletters to just over 10,000 owners of undeveloped Keys' properties. Today there are only 4,000 such owners. The Keys' rate-of-growth ordinances have limited development to under 250 building permits/year since 1992 -- or less than 3,750 dwelling units in 17 years. This suggests about 2,250 parcels have been sold to government at unfair prices.

Now that the Florida DEP v. West, et al., decision has been released by the 3d District Court of Appeal, perhaps the remaining 4,000 owners of undeveloped Keys' land will realize that the State has been acquiring Keys' property -- for 17 years -- for about 10% of Fair Market Value. The 3d District Court of Appeal will issue its "mandate" on the West decision in two days (November 5th), and we assume the State is not dumb enough to lose another half-million dollars in interest on a high-risk petition for "discretionary review" by the Florida Supreme Court (only 11% are accepted for "review;" substantially fewer actually result in a reversal).

[This post replaces an earlier post.]