Florida Man Gets New Shot at His Takings Case

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The Supreme Court has taken up a Florida man’s claims that the St. Johns River Water Management District took his property by placing conditions on a proposed development.
     Coy Koontz Sr. had lobbied unsuccessfully for over 11 years to develop his commercial property. The Florida land-use agency said it shot Koontz down because he refused to comply with a condition requiring him to make improvements to 50 acres of government-owned property located miles away from the project.
     A Florida trial court ruled that the agency’s refusal to issue the permits was invalid and effected a temporary taking of Koontz’s property, and awarded just compensation.
     After the appellate court affirmed, the Florida Supreme Court reversed in November 2011, noting that a landowner can never state a claim for a taking where (1) permit approval is withheld based on a landowner’s objection to an excessive exaction, and (2) the exaction demands dedication of personal property to the public.
     The decision notes a powerful dissent from the state appeals court that asked: “In what parallel legal universe or deep chamber of Wonderland’s rabbit hole could there be a right to just compensation for the taking of property under the Fifth Amendment when no property of any kind was ever taken by the government and none ever given up by the owner?”
     Koontz has owned the property in question since 1972. It lies south of State Road 50, immediately east of the eastern extension of the East-West Expressway in Orange County.
     A portion of the original acreage adjacent to Highway 50 was condemned in 1987, leaving Mr. Koontz with 14.2 acres. Florida Power maintains a 100-foot wide transmission line easement running parallel to and about 300 feet south of Highway 50. All but approximately 1.4 acres of the tract lies within a Riparian Habitat Protection Zone of the Econlockhatchee River Hydrological Basin and is subject to jurisdiction of the St. Johns River Water Management District, according to the court.
     Koontz wants to develop 3.7 acres adjacent to Highway 50, made up of 3.4 acres of wetlands and 0.3 acres of uplands.
     The development requires a management and storage of surface waters permit to dredge the wetlands.
     Koontz agreed to deed his excess property into conservation status but he refused the condition of offsite mitigation, which would require him to either replace culverts 4 1/2 miles southeast of his property, or plug certain drainage canals on other property some 7 miles away. He also refused the alternative condition requiring him to reduce his development to 1 acre.

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