WEST PALM BEACH – After a 20-year court battle, Coy Koontz Jr. may finally receive the land promised to his father ages ago.
The case began when Coy Koontz Sr., applied for a permit to develop 3.7 acres of his own waterfront property in 1994. St. John’s River Water Management District agreed to grant the permit to Koontz, but only if he placed a conservation easement over his land and replaced culverts and plugged drainage canals that weren’t on his property.
When Koontz refused to comply and the district denied his permit, Koontz took them to circuit court and won on the ground that the requirement bore no connection to the project’s alleged impacts on the riparian habitat protection zone. The district was not satisfied with this outcome and has been fighting the Koontz family ever since.
“The district has fought the Koontz family for more than 20 years," Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) lawyer Mark Miller told the Florida Record. "It’s been a decade since the family obtained their verdict and the district made the family go all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States to protect that verdict. Then, the district continued fighting even when the case was remanded back to the state courts.”
PLF has supported the Koontz family in legal matters for years, even filing a petition to the Supreme Court on its behalf. PLF attorneys represented the Koontz family in its Supreme Court case, arguing it was unfair to request Koontz Sr. to improve conservation efforts on property that did not even belong to him.
The court ruled that the district’s attempt to deny a permit did not meet the Nollan and Dolan requirements. This means that the government cannot condition the issuance of a land-use permit on the applicant giving up a portion of his property, including financial property, unless there is a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the government’s demand and the proposed land use.
Nollan and Dolan can only occur when discussing purchasing new property, or when the government approves and issues a permit with conditions. In this case, Koontz was discussing mitigation work and the conditions were given upon denying the permit, and by that standard Nollan and Dolan cannot be applied.
“The district wronged Mr. Koontz and his family in this case, and that is why the district has now had to pay Mr. Koontz hundreds of thousands of dollars for the taking and will pay him even more for his attorney’s fees,” Miller said.
After the Supreme Court’s decision, the case was sent back to the district court, which recently awarded the Koontz family more than $600,000 for its troubles. The two sides are still discussing exactly how much the state will owe the Koontz family in legal fees, however.
Miller was quick to credit Coy Koontz Jr. who has continued the case in his father’s memory.
“The district litigated this case so long that it outlasted Coy Koontz Sr., who originally brought the case," Miller said. "He has long since passed away. It’s to his son’s credit that Coy Koontz Jr. kept fighting the district in memory of his father.”