Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fourth DCA Inexplicably Holds that Plat Approval is Not A Development Order

In Graves v. City of Pompano Beach,  the Fourth District Court held that a plat approval was not a “development order” subject to challenge under    § 163.3215.  The opinion, which is inconsistent with other opinions and I believe applies an incorrect rule of statutory interpretation, holds that an application for a plat approval does not meet the definition of a development permit. 

A “development permit” is defined in § 163.3164, to include “. . . any bulding permit, zoning permit, subdivision approval, rezoning, certification, special exception, variance, or any other official action of local governing having the effect of permitting the development of land.”  The court held because a plat does not (in and of itself) authorize “development” as that term is defined in the statute, it is not a development order.

Not only does this opinion misapply the “trailing comma” rule by applying the last modifier to the entire set, but it is also contrary to prior opinions and the clear intent of the statute.  Under this case, the ONLY development permits that would be subject to challenge under 163.3215 would be earth moving permits, final plats (approving utilities, etc),  and building permits. I cannot see how the the attorneys for the developer and the City could argue this interpretation with any clear professional conscience. 

Fourth DCA overturns mining permit as inconsistent with Plan

In 1000 Friends of Fla. v. Palm Beach County et al, the Fourth District adopted a strict interpretation of the term "only" in a plan policy and overturned the circuit court's decision that a mining permit was consistent with the policy.

The policy permits mining in a certain areas "only" for public road building, agricultural and water management purposes.  While the FDOT was the primary intended customer, the development order did not restrict the sale of mined aggregate for the stated uses, but only required annual reporting of sales and customers.  There was deposition and trial testimony that the company could not track the use to which sold aggregate was put.   Based on that, the 4th District held that the permit was inconsistent with the plain language of the policy and also reaffirmed that reviewing courts do not have to give deference to local government interpretations of their plans.

I am sure that this is not the last we'll hear of this matter.  These mines have significant strategic importance because they would produce high-quality aggregate needed for highway construction and the nearest alternative sources (in the Dade County lakes belt) may be shut down on federal permitting issues.  The other major south Florida source is in Lee County - but there the County Commission is waging war on aggregate producers and trying to prevent any new aggregate mines through aggressive comp plan policies and land development regulations.

So, the policy will be rewritten and adopted without the restrictive provisions, we'll have another fight, and if the lack of permitting will affect major road construction, I predict we'll get legislation next year that preempts local comprehensive plans and regulations of strategic aggregate mining operations.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Engrossed verion of HB 7207

Here's a link to the final, engrossed version of the Growth Managment Act bill that will go to the Governor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More bills on their way to the Governor

Ok, no analysis here, but I've identified a number of bills of interest (well, maybe) to land use practitioners that passed both houses and are on their way to the governor.  I've tried to provide links to the PDF versions of the enrolled bills; they are from the Senate site (even for the House bills), which is a little easier to use.

In no particular order:

My favorite -- Bill that reenacts the burden/standard of proof in impact fee cases from the 2009 legislation.

Bill that clarifies (probably expands) the scope of the Ag exemption for stormwater management and wetland permitting.  I think this is an outgrowth of the Duda Ranch case from last year.

Bill that limits building official's authority to require inspections of residential structures when a permit is requested for other structures on the same site.   There MUST be a horror story behind this one.

Bill addressing affordable housing agencies, trust funds AND GMA requirements in 163.3177.   The planning aspects seem benign; I can't tell about the rest.

Bill addressing substantive and procedural issues with the Florida Building Code.    This includes some things that look complicated with respect to the adoption of national codes and standards.

The "Vacation Rentals" Bill.   The preemption only applies to new regulations and frankly I don't know if the langauge actually prevents a local government from requiring vacation rentals to be in commercial zone districts.

Inside this Bill that requires e-filing by state attorneys and public defenders is a new requirement for attorneys to file all petitions and pleading with DOAH electronically

I'm sure that there are other fun bills that I've missed - let me know your favorites.

Best
Robert

Monday, May 09, 2011

Ah, DCA, we hardly knew ye

Here's a  link to the bill that will transfer DCA's community planning functions (among others) to the "Department of Economic Opportunity."    The Florida Building Commission goes to DPBR.  Emergency Management (and the scary powers of FEMA, etc.) go to the Office of the Governor.   There is a "transition period" until October 1 to accomplish the mass transfer of functions (and, presumably, to spend all the supposedly saved tax funds on new business cards and letterhead).

I can't even bring myself to comment.   Everybody pray that we don't get a major hurricane this year.

Major amendments to the Growth Management Act

Wow.   Major amendments to the Growth Management Act were apparently adopted by the Legislature on Friday, at the tail end of the session.    It's over 300 pages, so analysis will have to wait.

Here's a link to the bill, (HB 7207).
Behind the scenes, there was major confusion on Thursday.   The House had adopted a version of the bill two weeks ago (HB 7129).  It was in a Senate Committee, along with a complete amendment from Bennett that (apparently) represented the consensus of what should pass.  However, Bennett's own bill was also waiting for action by the entire body, with a separate set of amendments that were similar but not the same.   On Thursday, the Senate took up Bennett's bill, passed the amendments and approved the amended bill.  Someone then realized that the Senate had in effect passed the wrong bill. 

On Friday, a conference committed report on a different bill was brought forward which had all of the agreed on language (that was also sitting in the Senate committee as the amendment to HB 7129).  The House passed, it, and then the Senate passed it as well. 

Given the other fights between the House and Senate on Friday, this demonstrates a significant amount of consensus.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Irony - Legislature Passes Unnecessary "Savings Bill"

On April 27, the Governor signed Chapter 2011-14, effective immediately.  That bill was almost entirely directed at saving the 2009 amendments to the GMA, which had been invalidated for imposing a mandate to amend plans on local governments.  Here's a link to the Chapter law.     On May 2d, the 1st DCA overturned the circuit court decision invalidating the 2009 Legislation -  here's the link.    The court's ruling was based on its determination that the Plaintiffs named the wrong defendants and failed to name the correct defendant - the state land planning agency.   Irony, indeed.

I believe that any issues from the 2009 legislation not dealt with in the "savings bill" have been addressed in the later growth management act amendments.

Legislation 1 - Bert Harris Act amendments

Some (relatively) minor amendments to the Bert Harris were passed.  Clarifies the definition (structurally) of an "existing use," shortens the time for the government to provide the "ripeness"/settlement alternatives and clarifies language about that provision, clarifies the waiver of soveriegn immunity and - most importantly- mostly undoes the Hall's River case holdings on the "application" of a statute, rule or ordinance. 

Attached is  a link to the bill text that went through the House and Senate and was enrolled by the House.  I believe that the Senate's final version was the House's version and the bill will go to the Governor.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

1st DCA - ALJ/Admin Comm'n Misapplied Law and Evidence in Finidng Small Scall Amendment "Not In Compliance"

In Katherine's Bay, LLC v. Fagan and Citrus County, the 1st DCA overturned the Administration Commission Final Order, adopting a Recommended Order issued by a DOAH ALJ, that found a small-scale plan amendment permitting an RV park to be "not in compliance."

The Court found that the ALJ violated the applicable rules of statutory interpretation (that the specific governs over the general) by finding that the amendment violated a general coastal/environmental policy when a more specific policy addressed the location of RV parks.   Again, we see the 1st DCA limiting the strict scrutiny language of Machado, which states the over broad position that every development order must comply strictly with each and every provision of the comprehensive plan. 

The Court also found that the ALJ make a determination that the amendment was not "compatible" without competent substantial evidence.   This is another important aspect of the case:  the Court rejected the ALJ's acceptance of the lay opinion of the challengers that a mobile home park would have adverse impacts on the area including light pollution, traffic, and negative impact on housing values.   The Court is, in effect, setting forth fairly stringent requirements for evidence regarding compatibility that requires expert testimony on most aspects commonly used to claim that uses are not compatible.  The Court specifically rejected any analysis that the RV use was "inherently" incompatible with  existing residential uses simply because it was different and more intense.

Important reading for future cases.

1st DCA - "Reasonableness" Must Be Used When Interpreting Plan Provisions

In Arbor Properties et al v Lake Jackson Protection Alliance et al, the 1st DCA overturned the trial court's determination that a PUD approval vioated certain watershed policies of the Leon County Plan.

This was a classic problem of "strict scrutiny" rules under Machado v. Musgrove creating an absurd result.  The Leon County Plan Conservation Element includes special provisions that apply to developments in the Lake Jackson watershed, including on that required the land development regulations to have special designations for the watershed that would effectively preclude residential development.  However, one of the Future Land Use policies indicates that the designation requirements are not intended to apply in "closed sub-basins" -  basins that don't discharge water into the Lake, even though they are within the general Lake Jackson drainage basin.

Opponents challenged and convinced the trial judge that because the FLU policy did not specify that it was intended to create an exclusion to the specific Conservation Element  policy (it was simply included a a sub-policy below the general policy), it didn't have that legal effect.

The 1st DCA ruled that the entire set of policies had to be read together and that in that light, the only reasonable interpretation was that the FLU policy was intended to create an exception to the Conservation Element policy, and was consistent with its intent.  Supporting this analysis, the Court said:

The Florida Legislature has established that in reviewing consistency, a court may consider the "reasonableness of the comprehensive plan, or element or elements thereof, relating to the issue justiciably raised or the appropriateness and completeness of the comprehensive plan, or element or elements thereof, in relation to the governmental action or development regulation under consideration." § 163.3194(4)(a), Fla. Stat.
Here, the trial court’s order incorrectly reviewed the development order and the Plan by neglecting to consider the “reasonableness of the comprehensive plan, or element or elements thereof.” By reviewing the applicable provisions of the Plan as a whole, the most reasonable and holistic interpretation, based on both the text and the synthesis of the document, we have no doubt that the development order is consistent with the Plan. This is necessarily so, because when read in pari materia, it is clear that the Plan and its elements provide that within certain Zones that actually discharge rainwater runoff into Lake Jackson, Leon County has established much more stringent development limitations for one primary purpose: to protect Lake Jackson from polluted rainwater runoff


It is hard to underestimate the importance of this decision to landowners/developers.   For years, neighbors and local government attorneys have used the "each and every element" language in Machado to argue that development orders must be consistent with unreasonable, atomic analyses of particular plan provisions - which can easily be taken out of context.  Every land use lawyer in Florida knows the result:  every complex plan in the state has provisions that can be used to defeat ANY development order at any time through an unreasoning application of the consistency doctrine and vague and subjective plan provisions.   This opinion is a strong stake in the ground that "strict scrutiny" must be balanced by a reasonable application and result.

The Court went on to reject an argument that this interpretation would create other "absurd" results in applying the Plan - citing not only the speculative nature of those claims, but also stating that the "absurdity" doctrine in statutory construction should be applied restrively. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back in Blog

Hi all -

After a long (too long) hiatus, I'm back blogging. I'm pretty much caught up through 2009 plus 3d DCA cases (some pretty important) for 2010. I'll work on getting some of the more important land use cases from other Districts up in the next few weeks.

Thanks to everyone who encouraged (well, in some cases practically threatened) me to get the blog going again.

Robert

AMAZING 3d DCA Upholds Circuit Order Requiring Approval of Plan Amendment and Zoning

In the frankly astounding case of Village of Pinecrest v. GREC Pinecrest, the 3d DCA upheld a lower court decision that reversed the Village's denial of a plan amendment, rezoning and site plan approval. The amendment and development orders would have permitted an 18 unit housing project.

In discovery, the Village admitted that the Plan Amendment - and the project - were consistent with the comprehensive plan. Apparently the project required a future land use map amendment that brought the map into consistency with other policies, and the project was totally consistent with the other policies an map.

The Village, in effect, claimed that it had complete legislative discretion to deny the FLUM amendment and therefore the development orders even if they were otherwise consistent with the Plan. The circuit court disagreed and the 3d DCA upheld the circuit court.

This is a MUST READ. The facts may end up unique, but the case is the first case that establishes a critical proposition: that local governments may be obligated to adopt amendments and development orders that are consistent with their Plans.

Milan Investment Group v. City of Miami/Downtown Development Authority

In Milan v. City of Miami et al, the 3d DCA held that a challenge to the establishment of the City's Downtown Development Authority was precluded by an earlier decision, but that challenges to the annual millage rate set for the authority were not governed or precluded by the earlier action.

This case will be interesting to follow when the challenges to the millage are adjudicated and then appealed.

Monroe County v. Cisneros

In Monroe County v. Cisneros the 3d DCA reversed a writ of mandamus regarding code enforcement matters while the same issues were pending appeal.

Like the earlier Dade County and Sunny Isles cases, what we find here is that the circuit courts need more presribed methods for granting stays of local administrative orders that are pending appeal. In code enforcement cases - which are subject to appeal rather than certiorari - there actually is a process under the Fla. Rules of Appellate Procedure, but they are very confusing. If a certiorari action is filed, there is no statutory or rule authority for a stay.

So - again - what we need is legislation providing more effective judicial relief in cases involving local administrative actions -- perhaps the legislature could make quasi-judicial orders of a local administrative body subject to appeal pursuant to 120.68.

Dade County v. Wilson

In Dade County v. Wilson the 3d DCA reversed a temporary injunction issued to bar enforcement of a code enforcement order to cut off electricity to a building for safety violations. The District Court found that Wilson should have exhausted his administrative remedies and did not.

This is another case where the lower court granted an "improper" form of relief to prevent a perceived abuse of the administrative process. What this shows (to me) is that the forms of judicial review currently available are insufficient to provide justice to citizens, and that the circuit courts will (sometimes) risk the sting of later reversal to provide relief where they believe justice requires it. More reason to provide more effective judicial review and supervision in the first instance.

Sunny Isles v. Temple B'Nai Zion

In Sunny Isles v. Temple B'Nai Zion the 3d DCA quashed a writ of mandamus that had been ordered against the city to prevent it from enforcing a historic site designation pending futher proceedings against the designation. The 3d DCA found that the circuit court had, de facto, entered a temporary injunction that did not meet the requirements of Fla. R. Civ. P 9.130 and quashed the writ.

Practice note -- sometimes, the form of the pleading matters. Of course, the Temple got the delay it wanted (or at least most of it), but it could have left itself open to sanctions -as might future attorneys who try to use mandamus in lieu of injunction under similar circumstances.

3d DCA - Limits on the Use of Estoppel or Laches against Gov't in Code Enforcement

In Monroe County v. Carter the 3d DCA quashed the circuit court's quashal of a code enforcement order. The circuit court found that that the County was barred by laches or estoppel from enforcing the code against a ground floor (below flood elevation) rental unit in Ms. Carter's house. The 3d DCA disagreed and distinguished the earlier Castro decision becuase the unit here had never been permitted.

3d DCA - Circuit Courts Must Issue Opinions when Quashing

In Dade County v. Tolbert the 3d DCA reversed the circuit court quashal of the denial of a "plat rezoning" because the opinion did not state the basis for reversing the BOCC. The 3d held that this amounted to a "per curium reversal" and departed from the essential requirements of law.

3d DCA - More on Takings and Statute of Limitations in Monroe County BUD cases

In Beyer v. Monroe County, the 3d DCA reversed a trial court determination that the plaintiff's takings case was barred by the statute of limitations. This is another case where the existence and use of the "beneficial use determination" process available in Monroe County establishes the date that a takings case accrues, as opposed to the date of adoption. Required reading for anyone looking at filing takings claims, as are the other recent 3d DCA opinions coming from Monroe County, because they illustrate the interaction of ripeness, administrative remedies and "as applied" vs. facial takings claims.

5th DCA Mangles the "As Applied" Requirement of the Bert J. Harris Act and Confuses Reasonably Foreseeable, Reasonable Investment Backed Expectations

Citrus County v. Hall's River Development, 8 So. 3d 413 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009)

In 2002 the Citrus County Commission approved a rezoning and development plan, which neighbors then challenged as inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. A plan designation adopted in 1997 limited development density around lakes to 1 unit per 20 acres, but (and the 5th DCA ignores this critical component of the trial court's analysis) also had a provision allowing the County Commission to approve higher densities and uses consistent with the existing zoning/land use designation. This property had a "generic" zone district and an existing RV/camp park. Based on this combination of existing uses and density, the planning staff and eventually the county commissioners thought the property was vested for density and qualified for the exception in the comprehensive plan.

The rezoning was challenged under § 163.3215 as contrary to the low density land use designation, and the circuit court in that case sided with the neighbors, holding that the plan didn't allow the rezoning or use. Based on this new 2002 court interpretation of the effect of the 1997 comprehensive plan amendment, the developer sued under the Bert Harris Act and won at the trial court level. However, the 5th DCA, not liking the outcome, went searching for reasons to overturn the circuit court decision. In the process, the 5th DCA avoided key facts and misinterpreted the Act.

Under the Act, a landowner may seek compensation when a specific action of a governmental entity inordinately burdens either a vested right or an “existing use” of property. One of the definitions of an "existing use" is a "reasonably foreseeable, non-speculative land use that is suitable for the real property, compatible with adjacent land uses, and that has raised the fair market value of the property . . . " (a "reasonably foreseeable use"). One of the definitions of an inordinate burden is that a property owner is permanently unable to realize "reasonable investment backed expectations" in the vested right or existing use.

Here, the 5th DCA determined that the suit was filed too late under the Act, which requires the property owner to provide a notice of claim to the government entity involved within 1 year of the application of a new statute, regulation or ordinance that inordinately burdens real property. A "specific action of a government entity" is a defined term that specifically includes action on a permit or application, i.e., the application of a statute, regulation or ordinance to the particular property at issue. Within the Act there are various internal references to the application - rather than adoption - of statutes, regulations or ordinances, which clearly establish that a property owner must make some kind of application and have it acted upon or suffer some form of enforcement action, before filing a claim. This was also the interpretation of all of the commentators who wrote about the Act. So, if the prior property owner had made a claim in 1998 against the adoption of the plan amendment, the County's correct defense would have been that it was premature until an actual application had been made and denied, giving the County a chance to determine whether other provisions of the plan allowed relief from the objective density limits in the designation.

The 5th DCA paid no attention to all of this evidence that specific action on an application or permit was the trigger for a government action that creates liability, and determined that the mere adoption of some ordinances - or plan policies - can be the “specific action of a government entity” that triggers the 1 year requirement. The 5th DCA opined that where a comprehensive plan or other regulation includes a clear and objective standard (like height or density), the mere adoption of the ordinance "applies" that ordinance to property and triggers the one year challenge period. The 5th DCA found that the plan designation had that kind of objective limit - completely ignoring the plan provision that authorized the County Commission to allow additional uses and densities - a provision whose effect could not be determined until an actual application was made.

The 5th DCA then used its interpretation of the plan provision to hold that the use permitted by the overturned rezoning could not have been a "reasonably foreseeable, non-speculative land use." Even though the planning department thought the rezoning and use/density were permitted under the plan (and existing zoning), even though the County Commission thought it was consistent with the plan, and even though it took a "consistency challenge" by neighbors to determine that the development was not consistent with the comprehensive plan, the 5th DCA determined that the developer had no right or ability to rely on the interpretations of those professionals before proceeding, and that a development that is (later determined to be) inconsistent with the plan cannot be "reasonably foreseeable."

The 5th DCA also applied this distorted view of the facts to the Circuit Court's determination that the property had been inordinately burdened, holding that the owner could not have had "reasonable investment backed expectations" because he closed on the property after the adoption of the plan amendment that (the Court reasoned) prohibited the development. This interpretation ignores U.S. Supreme Court and Florida appeals court precedent (Pallazzolo v. Rhode Island and Vatalaro v. DEP) that hold that the purchase of property subject to a regulation does not prevent one from having "reasonable investment backed expectations" in a regulated use where the application of the statute or regulation would affect a taking.

The Court found that the developer could not have relied on the County staff representations of the comprehensive plan because they were (later found to be) legally incorrect, and that this precluded the landowner from having either an "existing use" (in the form of a reasonably foreseeable use) or an "inordinate burden" (because there was no reasonable expectation). This is a misinterpretation of the Act. While under Florida law "vested rights" against the application of a regulation are not created by a legally incorrect statement by a government official ("yeah, I think you can fill that wetland"), the District Court mistakenly ties this doctrine to whether a landowner has a "reasonably foreseeable use" or "reasonable investment backed expectations."

The 5th DCA’s holdings fly in the face of the legislative intent that the Act provide a remedy for property owners harmed by the application of statutes, regulations and ordinances adopted after 1995. However, if, as occurred here, the adoption of a new, post-1995 law precludes a landowner from having a "reasonable investment backed expectation" then the only people with a cause of action are those who had already had established vested rights at the time the new law was adopted. The District Court's analysis incorrectly makes "reasonable investment backed expectations" and "reasonably foreseeable uses" under the Act dependant on the landowner's ability to establish the existence of a vested right. This is demonstrably wrong: the first part of the cause of action separately protects BOTH vested rights and "existing uses," but the 5th DCA’s formulation requires a property owner to have a "vested right" in order to have both a right that would be inordinately burdened and a reasonably foreseeable use. The District Court's combination of incomplete treatment of the relevant plan provisions and errors in analysis have the effect of writing protection for "reasonably foreseeable uses" out of the Act, a result that is inconsistent with both the intent and the language of the Act.