We are continuing our discussion of a U.S. Supreme Court decision about land use laws. The case was not from Georgia, but the ruling will affect how courts handle land use disputes here.
The players are a landowner and the local water management authority. The authority would only allow the landowner to develop part of his property if he funded wetland protection elsewhere. The landowner refused, and the authority denied the permit. He sued, saying that the denial was a violation of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Fifth Amendment protects landowners from "takings" through eminent domain. The government can take private property for public use, but it must pay the property owner "just compensation." When the state or federal government builds a new highway, for example, it can force people from their homes -- the road will benefit the community as a whole -- but the government must also pay the homeowners market value for their property.
This case adds a twist to the law of eminent domain. The water authority did not appropriate the landowner's property, nor was he forced to spend money on property that he didn't own. The trial court, however, said that the water authority had kept him from using his property, which constituted a taking. The state's high court disagreed, pointing out that "nothing was ever taken."
The Supreme Court disagreed. The court has long held that authorities may place conditions on permit approvals. However, there has to be a "nexus" and "rough proportionality" between the condition and the proposed land use. The problem comes when the government asks for too much or for something completely unrelated.
This decision reinforces that rule and expands it to include permit denials and requests for money. Taken to the extreme, the decision could mean that landowners, from this point forward, can raise constitutional objections to just about any condition placed on a permit, even if the permit is denied. Only time will tell how far state courts are willing to go when applying the broader rule.
The court handed the case back to the state to decide if the damages awarded by the trial court are warranted or appropriate.
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