WEST PALM BEACH – Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that the Indian River County board of commissioners violated a developer’s rights by denying a site plan for a concrete plant.
In a March 14 ruling, the court reversed a jury’s verdict that the county didn’t violate the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, which was enacted in 1995 to protect and compensate landowners whose property is affected by government action. To prove a violation of the Harris Act, the property owner must prove that “a specific action of a governmental entity has inordinately burdened an existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of property.”
In this case, Oceans Concrete Inc. and its principal, George Maib, had planned to build a concrete batch plant in the Treasure Coast area. During the second round of site plan approval, the county rezoned the property to prohibit industrial uses like concrete plants. According to the court order, the change was made after "the project began garnering governmental and public opposition."
In response, the property owner filed a lawsuit, but the Indian River Circuit Court found the property’s use as a concrete plant wasn’t an “existing use” under the act and that the county’s action didn’t “inordinately burden the property.”
But the appeals court found that the existing use was “inordinately burdened” by the county’s action. According to the act, a right is “inordinately burdened” when the property owner is “permanently unable to attain the reasonable, investment-backed expectation for the existing use of the real property.” The court found that a concrete batch plant was a permitted use under the zoning code, and the county led the owner to believe the site plan was approved.
The court further stated that an expert engineer told Maib that the development was feasible.
“Based upon the foregoing, we reverse and remand this matter for a trial on damages suffered by appellants under the Harris Act,” the court said.