I attended an interesting seminar yesterday sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association and its Environmental Section, concerning the impact of Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District, 133 S Ct 2586 (US 2013), a case which we discussed on these pages several months ago. The seminar was extremely interesting; all of the speakers did an excellent job in their particular areas.
Of special interest was the presentation by Prof. J. B. Ruhl, Professor of Environmental and Land Use Law at Vanderbilt University, suggesting that the impact of Koontz may not be very pronounced in the environmental law area because environmental mitigation programs are already designed in a way which follows the Nollan/Dolan/Koontz paradigm. However, in the wild and woolly local land use arena, Koontz may encourage local governments and their agencies and officials to more carefully weigh the impact of mandated exactions and dedications so as to avoid an adverse constitutional determination. It is certainly true that local land use officials have not paid a great deal of attention to this area of the law in the past. I have given numerous seminars over the years, and any time I mention subdivision control, I always discuss the Supreme Court predecessors of Koontz: namely, Nollan v California Coastal Commission and Dolan v City of Tigard (I’ll be adding Koontz to my comments this year).
Notwithstanding this emphasis, I still believe that in any major planning commission across the state of Tennessee at any given public hearing, you can find examples of mandatory dedications and exactions which do not comply with the Nollan/Dolan/Koontz paradigm. For whatever reason, local officials are just not very cognizant of the constitutional issue.
I’m hopeful that Koontz will alert at least some of the more attentive and perceptive officials of the potential dangers that often remain obscured by the minutia of subdivision regulations.