In a decision that received almost no attention outside of property attorneys, the U.S. Supreme Court said this summer that a local government cannot place conditions on land use unrelated to the impact that the proposed land use will have.
They key legal issues in Koontz v. St. Johns River District were the concepts of "nexus and rough proportionality." Nexus is a causal link or relation and is often used when determining the legality of a governmental restriction.
Rough proportionality is the idea that the public benefit from imposing a burden on a landowner should be roughly proportional to the disruption that the land use will cause.
In 1972, Coy Koontz purchased an undeveloped tract of land near Orlando, Fla., much of which the state considered as wetlands. Two decades later, Mr. Koontz proposed development of about a quarter of the land and promised to leave the rest undeveloped.
The local water management district instead insisted on a larger conservation easement area, or a cash payment for the cost of improvements to wetlands miles away from the Koontz property.
Mr. Koontz, who died as the case was still being litigated, sued and when the case hit the appeals level, the Florida Supreme Court decided that nexus and rough proportionality did not apply.
A slim 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court reversed the state court, recognizing that while a government has the right to choose whether and how a permit applicant must mitigate the impacts of a proposed development, "it may not leverage its legitimate interest in mitigation to pursue governmental ends that lack an essential nexus and rough proportionality to the use of the property."
The decision represents an expansion of the rights of property owners, who will find it easier to get required approvals for land use.
-- Andrea Geraghty, Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, email@example.com
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