CPR Member Scholar John Echeverria has an op-ed in Wednesday’s New York Times on the Supreme Court’s end-of-term decision in a land-use case, Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. Although the case has been somewhat overlooked amidst the Court’s evisceration of the Voting Rights Act, and its landmark decisions on same-sex marriage, it has long-term and critical implications. Echeverria warns that the decision will:
result in long-lasting harm to America’s communities. That’s because the ruling creates a perverse incentive for municipal governments to reject applications from developers rather than attempt to negotiate project designs that might advance both public and private goals — and it makes it hard for communities to get property owners to pay to mitigate any environmental damage they may cause.
The majority opinion in the case, written by Justice Alito, reverses a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court — a chain of events with eerie overtones for anyone with a 13-year memory! The ruling blocks a Florida water management district’s denial of a developer’s application to “fill more than three acres of wetlands in order to build a small shopping center.” The district had requested that the builder either reduce the size of the development or make other adjustments to offset the environmental effects of paving over a chunk of Florida’s beleaguered wetlands. The developer refused, and thus his application was denied.
But the Supremes regarded that as a “taking” that diminished the value of the developer’s property. Echeverria writes:
As Justice Kagan correctly explains in her dissent, the decision will very likely encourage local government officials to avoid any discussion with developers related to permit conditions that, in the end, might have let both sides find common ground on building projects that are good for the community and environmentally sound. Rather than risk a lawsuit through an attempt at compromise, many municipalities will simply reject development applications outright — or, worse, accept development plans they shouldn’t. “Nothing in the Takings Clause requires that folly,” Justice Kagan said. But arguably it does now.