VOLUSIA COUNTY — The ongoing case between a town and developers continues as the 5th District Court of Appeal remands the case.
The town of Ponce Inlet challenged a multimillion dollar second amended final judgment from a jury trial for damages concerning an inverse condemnation claim and a liability order that a bench trial granted Pacetta LLC, Down the Hatch Inc. and Mar-Tim Inc. This appeal marks the third time this case has gone to the 5th District Court of Appeal.
Pacetta is one of three riverfront enterprises in Ponce Inlet. The legal matters started in 2003 when Ponce Inlet took up a comprehensive land-use plan that put limits on the structure of commercial buildings and banned the construction of new marinas and increase of existing marinas, according to court records. The following year, Ponce Inlet also put in a place a Riverfront Overlay District (ROD) that put a limit on the use of dry stack boat storage facilities. About six months later, Pacetta bought land in Ponce Inlet to construct a “dream home,” records state. Pacetta then expanded its land, “with encouragement from (Ponce Inlet),” to what the trial court called a “delightful mixed-use planned waterfront development.” But to accomplish that, Pacetta had to buy more property. Pacetta purchased 10 parcels next to each other on 16 acres of land.
Pacetta made a plan to develop the parcels into Villages of Ponce Park. The trial court said Pacetta thought “it would be entitled to build and sell a series of townhomes on the south end of the acreage, would be able to continue to run and expand the restaurant” Down the Hatch, according to court records. Pacetta would also be allowed to build and use a dry slip stacked storage facility on the north side of the property in a section that has typically been used to make and fix boats.
Still, Pacetta’s plans didn’t comply with Ponce Inlet's comprehensive land-use plan and ROD, according to court documents. Ponce Inlet would have had to change its regulations for Pacetta to proceed with its plan. Both parties came to an agreement; however, an election for town council included a petition that have could put limits on Pacetta’s construction and operation of dry boat storage facilities. This caused a potential issue for Pacetta because its large dry stack boat storage facility helped the area fund its expansion and changes.
Three residents who were against Pacetta’s expansion were elected into the town council. Ponce Inlet selected an amended plan that included the citizens’ plans banning Pacetta’s expansion, court records state.
Pacetta took legal action against Ponce Inlet to cancel the amendment and ordinance, arguing the ordinance only affected its singular 16-acre parcel of property. According to the ruling, it didn’t line up with a Florida regulation that bans local plans when it comes to changing initiatives concerning five or fewer “parcels.”
In the first appeal, the appeals court confirmed the final summary judgment and decided that Pacetta’s 16 acres were considered one parcel. Pacetta filed an instant lawsuit saying it should be compensated under four counts: the “unconstitutional ‘taking’/inverse condemnation” that was a prohibited in both the United States and the Florida constitutions, “denial of substantive due process and equal protection under both constitutions, denial of procedural due process under both constitutions, (and) statutory damages for the ‘inordinate burdening’ of its real property by Town’s regulations.”
The trial court also ruled in a liability order in favor of Pacetta. The court had to decide whether Pacetta was allowed to force Ponce Inlet to change its comprehensive land-use plan and its ROD to expand its property. It ruled that Pacetta was correct and was allowed to receive compensation for the damages.
In the second appeal, Ponce Inlet challenged the nonfinal liability order. It said the court erred when it permitted Pacetta to amend the comprehensive land-use plan. The circuit court agreed and reversed and remanded the judgment to trial court. In the lower court, Ponce Inlet stated "the trial court’s findings of liability against it on all counts were solely predicated on the court’s threshold, finding that Pacetta established a vested right to build its project in violation of the 2003 plan based upon the equitable estoppel doctrine and that, as a result of Pacetta II, this avenue was no longer viable." The trial court disagreed and dismissed Ponce Inlet's motion. Ponce Inlet subsequently appealed.
The appeals court reversed the final judgment for damages. It said the trial court made a mistake when it didn't rule in Ponce Inlet's favor on two of the four counts. It remanded the legal matters to another trial for liability and possibly one of the damage counts.