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Senate committee moves to boost developers' rights

A bill spurred by a court ruling against a developer would take away governments' protection from lawsuits.

Published April 1, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Local governments might have to exercise more caution when evaluating development plans under a bill the Florida Senate appears poised to pass aimed at bolstering private property rights.

Sens. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, and Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, are sponsoring legislation that seeks to remove the protection government has from lawsuits, known as "sovereign immunity."

The bill, SB 1164, passed unanimously Monday at a Comprehensive Planning Committee meeting. If approved by the full Senate and House, it would amend the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act.

Supporters say the legislation is needed to reflect the intent of the 1995 law, requiring cities and counties to compensate developers when they take property for public use by imposing zoning restrictions that limit density or height.

Advocates for cities and environmentalists say the Senate bill is reacting to a court decision still on appeal and could have serious unintended consequences.

The case driving the reform was a circuit court decision in July against the Royal World Metropolitan.

The developer said it had received permits for a 24-story apartment building. But city officials cited new zoning restrictions and limited height to six stories.

The development company sued under the Bert J. Harris Property Rights Protection Act but lost because the city of Miami Beach could not be sued.

"If you take half the value of a building I could build on a lot . . . somebody stole half the value of my property from me," said Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge.

The Sierra Club and the Florida League of Cities say the proposed changes would force taxpayers to pay dearly. Rather than pay developers for their loss, many cities might ultimately forgo zoning restrictions altogether.

"It's an intimidation tool," said Denise Layne, growth management director for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club. "You will never have another local government say no again to a landowner."

[Last modified April 1, 2003, 05:22:38]

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