Property Rights vs. Height Limits

Local officials in Manasota Key, FL tried to preserve the character of their community by putting height restrictions in place, but a thwarted developer has been awarded $500k for the limitations these restrictions imposed on his property rights.

"The case underscores Florida's endless conflict between preservation and property rights, and the difficult choices government leaders face in balancing those interests. It also highlights the impact of the Bert J. Harris Jr. Act, a 1995 state law giving landowners more power to sue for compensation when government limits what they can do with their property.

The threat of lawsuits deters many communities from passing development laws meant to protect the safety and well-being of residents, said Steve Pfeiffer, a Sarasota attorney and board member for 1,000 Friends of Florida, a growth management advocacy group.

"The act has a shadow impact that is beyond any impact of actually filing Bert Harris claims," Pfeiffer said, using the shorthand legal term for challenges under the law.

The Harris Act was used recently to file suit against the city of Sarasota after a zoning change rendered a planned 18-story building downtown unbuildable. The change restricted height in the area to 10 stories."

Full Story: Preserving character at risk of losing cash



Michael Lewyn's picture

slightly misleading headline

If you read to the end of the story, you discover that the $500K payout was to someone who "had planned a three-unit building on his Beachcomber Lane lot. But with setback restrictions, the new law allowed only a single-family unit." No height restrictions or 18 story condos involved- just a story of someone who lost money because the government changed the rules in the middle of the game.

In the height restrictions case, by contrast, suit has been filed- but the article doesn't mention any victory or settlement, so I suspect that here, as in many other takings-related cases, the courts will toss that claim in the trash. By and large, courts defer to municipalities- how else could NIMBYs prevent development so often?

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