Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District

There is an extremely interesting land use case pending before the United States Supreme Court which will most likely be decided before the end of this month. In Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District, the issue is whether remediation required by the district effects a taking of the owner’s property.

The Florida Supreme Court found that it did not.

Mr. Koontz owns about 15 acres in Orange County Florida. Much of the land was wetlands and he needed permits to develop the property. In 1994 he applied for permits for dredging to use approximately 3.4 acres of the wetlands. He proposed to offset the impact on the wetlands by imposing a conservation easement on the remainder of his property. However, Florida has a “no net impact” policy and his proposal would only limit the degree of net loss, not add any additional wetlands or enhance any existing wetlands.

The district rejected his proposal but suggested several alternatives including design modifications on his property, reducing the scale of the development to 0.7 acres, as well as two off-site mitigation options. It’s not clear what the cost of the off-site mitigation options might’ve been; the trial court estimated a cost from $90-$150,000.

Coons was not interested in any of the development option suggested by the district, and after informing the district of his position, the district denied the application. He filed suit in 1994. He alleged a taking under the Florida Constitution. The trial court found that there was a violation of Nolan and Dolan and that the off-site mitigation options resulted in a regulatory taking.

The case eventually wound up in front of the Florida Supreme Court, which reversed because Koontz was not required to dedicate real property in exchange for the approval of the permit; and because the application was denied (instead of approved as was the case in Nolan and Dolan), nothing was ever taken.

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari. We await the decision.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Caffey v Metro BZA (Tenn. App. June 2013)

We have discussed in the past the difficulties encountered by property owners attempting to obtain variances under Tennessee law. Tenn. Code Ann. §13-7-207 (3) requires that there be some exceptional physical feature which justifies the relaxation of the zoning requirements as to any particular property, and that that exceptional physical feature not the shared by other properties in the general vicinity.

In Caffey v Metro Board of Zoning Appeals, the property owner requested basically an extension of a previously granted variance in the required side yard. The side yard, as required by the zoning ordinance, had only to be 5 feet wide; previously, the zoning board had granted a variance of 4 feet, and the property owner now returned with a request to extend that variance by one more foot, allowing construction right up to the property line.

The decision by the Court of Appeals, does not discuss the factual basis for the variance granted by the zoning board in any detail. Frankly, two very practical considerations seem to be at play here: first, that there was an assumption that there was a unique physical feature on the property by virtue of the original zoning board decision (something which probably should never be assumed); and second, that a 12 inch variance was nothing to get too excited about.

Although the adjacent property owner protested and appealed, the zoning board granted the variance, the trial court affirmed the variance, and the Court of Appeals reach the same conclusion.

This might perhaps be viewed as an exception to the general rule of great difficulty in obtaining variances under Tennessee law, but more likely it is explained by the two factors above: the zoning board had already granted a variance so there must’ve been some exceptional physical feature, and to extend that variance only another 12 inches, did not seem like any particular problem.

It’s an interesting case, and worth review. It’s unusual to find a property owner returning for an extension of the original variance. In fact, I can’t think of any case that I know of where that has happened before in my experience. But, if you have a client who has a similar situation, the difficulty obtaining an extension may not be that great.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ghost Houses

Looking around the Internet the other day, I chanced on an article about two married architects in Knoxville who had essentially rehabilitated an existing home in Old North Knoxville, and in order to remain true to the historical roots of the building, sought and obtained approval for the construction of two more homes immediately adjacent to their project.  They now have three structures, one of which they use as their home, and I think that they rent the other two out for income, especially earmarked for improvements to the continuing renovations on their own home.

It’s an interesting article and part of the difficulties stemmed from the customary zoning provision that only one principal structure was permitted on any one zoning lot. It’s not clear how they overcame that obstacle, whether by a zoning change, or by some type of special approval through the board of zoning appeals, but overcame it they did, and construction went forward.

It’s an interesting article and one well worth reading. I admire the dedication of these young professionals as well as their ability to design and implement the project. I have no talent along any of those lines, and trying to rehab an old structure to me sounds like an insurmountable challenge.

By the way, the "Ghost Houses" nickname comes from the coloring both inside and outside the homes.

Read the article here.

Also, there are some interesting photographs of the homes on this blog from Knoxville.