25 June 2013

Law in Plain English: Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

Koontz sought a permit to develop a small portion of his land and in return, dedicate the rest of his land to the state for conservation. The St. Johns River Management District said they would grant Koontz his permit if he would improve land already on the District's property (at his own cost, estimated anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000). Koontz refused, and the District denied the permit. The questions before the Court were (1) whether it amounts to a "taking" to deny a development permit for failing to satisfy government-imposed conditions; and (2) whether the taking would violate the essential nexus (a sufficient link between the demand on the property owner and the public policy at issue, from the Court's decision in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission) and rough proportionality (any attempt by a local government to require dedication of a part of private property to a public use has to be proportional to the public impact of the project, from the Court's decision in Dolan v. City of Tigard) tests set out in the Court's prior takings decisions. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the government’s demand for property from a land-use permit applicant must satisfy the Nollan / Dolan requirements even when it denies the permit (those cases held that the government may not condition the approval of a land use permit on the owner’s relinquishment of a portion of his property unless there is a nexus and rough proportionality between the government’s demand and the effects of the proposed land use. As a result, the Court reversed and remanded the case. The practical impact of this decision bolsters the rights of property owners to fight unreasonable demands held hostage by building permits.
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