Supreme Court helps landowners to develop their property

A new decision from the U.S. Supreme Court will strengthen the hands of many landowners who are battling with local authorities over development of their property, by making it harder for municipalities to demand financial concessions in return for land-use approvals.

The case involved Coy Koontz, who owned 15 acres of land near Orlando, Florida. Much of the property was wetlands, and as a result, in order to develop it, Coontz had to negotiate with the local water management district.

Coontz proposed to develop 3.7 acres along one side, and in return he would agree never to develop the remainder. But the district wasn’t satisfied. In addition to limiting Coontz to 3.7 acres, it also wanted him to pay to make improvements on some other, unrelated wetlands that the district owned several miles away.

1925-JM-Fall-General-Practice-newsletterPe-300x237Instead of giving in, Coontz took the case to court. And the Supreme Court sided with Coontz.

In the past, the court has ruled that if a municipality wants a landowner to give up real estate in return for a building permit, it has to show that the demand is related to the proposed land use and roughly proportional to the effect of the development.

For instance, if someone is creating a housing development, he or she might have to dedicate some land for municipal services that will be required by the new community.

However, in a case where a California family wanted to tear down their beachfront bungalow and build a larger home, and the local government insisted that in return they had to give the public access to their private beach, the Supreme Court said that was going too far.

In Coontz’s case, the court said the rules about proportionality apply not just when a local government wants real estate, but also when it demands money.

As a result, if the water district’s demand that Coontz pay for improvements to nearby land wasn’t related to Coontz’s own plans and wasn’t proportional to the effect of his plans, then the district had to drop the request and simply approve Coontz’s project.