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Supreme Court ends term with controversial land use ruling

The Georgia legal community is not alone in being stunned by late-term decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices tackled some high-profile cases, and those decisions will affect many, many people. One decision, though, could have a significant impact on entire communities and at a most inopportune time.

The case is about land use. No, it is not the kind of headline-grabbing topic that will inspire public demonstrations from people on both sides of the issue. But land use laws and regulations tell governments how to manage development, and that has a direct impact on the economic growth, if not the economic stability, of every community. With the country still feeling the effects of the recession, particularly when it comes to real estate, the court's opinion could very well be "ill-timed," to quote one critic.

The facts are fairly straightforward. The plaintiff wanted to develop a 15-acre parcel of land that he and his father had owned for some time. The state (not Georgia) scotched the plans by declaring much of the land to be protected wetlands. The plaintiff modified his proposal: He would put his development on just a quarter of the parcel and give the rest over for conservation.

The local water management authority said that would be fine, but it would only be fine if the plaintiff set funds aside for conservation of land someplace else. The plaintiff refused, and the authority denied his permit application.

So the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the authority, arguing that limiting his property rights in that way constituted a "taking" in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The trial court agreed. We'll explain why -- and we'll talk more about takings -- in our next post.

Sources: Reuters, "U.S. top court backs Florida property owner in land-use case," Jonathan Stempel and Lawrence Hurley, June 25, 2013

SCOTUSblog, "Details: Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District," Tejinder Singh, June 25, 2013

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