Capricious Government Power vs. Property Owners’ Rights

An age old battle which property owners seem to be losing. Following its Ryan’s Landing loss, the City of Palm Coast government doesn’t seem to have learned its lesson.

palm coast real estate lotPalm Coast, Florida – March 5, 2009 – Fresh off its concession to Seagate in the Ryan’s Landing debacle (Politics is Like Theater), the City of Palm Coast has a new target in the ongoing battle of individual property rights vs. the public good (as perceived by our local government). If the city persists in following their present path, Palm Coast property owners and tax payers will surely be the losers, regardless of the outcome. This is the first of a series of articles about the upcoming battle.
Imagine that the following happened to you:
  • You bought a Palm Coast lot, one of the 49,643 ¼ acre lots platted by ITT in 1973. The lot is in the neighborhood pictured above.
  • You did your due diligence, including verification that development rights had never been vacated.
  • Since your purchase, you have consistently been billed for property taxes and storm water management fees as owner of a developable lot.
  • In 2006 the City of Palm Coast issued a building permit for construction of a single-family home on your lot.
  • Because of changing economic conditions, you cancelled the building permit.
  • In 2007, the lot was assessed for $25,000.
  • When in 2008, you decided again to build; the city claimed that your lot was not part of the storm water management system, even though they continue to send bills for storm water management fees.
  • You are informed that the only way you could build on the lot is to devise a system to contain all storm water runoff from a 100-year flood event within the boundary of the lot. Of course this cannot be done on a 10,100 square foot lot. You are checkmated because someone changed the rules when you weren’t looking.
Hardly seems fair, does it?
Now that I have your attention, let’s look at the real owner’s problem.  Port Equities bought not one, but 683 lots. They purchased lots within the planned community boundary for which the storm water management system was designed. The lots were platted. Subsequent documentation confirms that development rights continue. One example; the 2020 Comprehensive Plan says, "Vacant properties that are platted residential lots are vested for development of residential uses…."
palm coast real estate newsThe only thing that differentiates these lots is that at one time, ITT (the original developer of Palm Coast) decided to temporarily drop them from their current sales offering list. Some were wetland at the time but have reverted after drainage canals were dug. Some did not have roads and sewer installed at the time. Hence, they have been saddled with the designation "drop lots." Subsequently, several were sold to various developers. Many had homes built upon them (i.e. building permits were issued). The lot in question, 6 Llovera Place, is clearly on high ground (Look at the pine trees in the picture to the right). The owner is armed with engineering studies, and city initiated correspondence backing their claims.
Yet the city persists. They are essentially "taking" the property owners land by depriving them of their rights to build. When the government "takes" your land, they should have a very good reason. Their taking should never be arbitrary or capricious. When an answer is not clearly at hand, they should always err in favor of individual property rights.
A similar case in South Carolina, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. I know this case well since I lived only a block away at the time.

In 1986, David Lucas paid $975,000 for two residential oceanfront lots in Wild Dunes, located on a barrier island just north of Charleston. At the time, a single family home would have been allowed on each lot without any additional permits required by the S.C. Coastal Council. South Carolina subsequently passed a Beachfront Management Act which directed the Coastal Council to establish a “baseline” along the shoreline beyond which any homes were prohibited. Lucas filed suit claiming that ban on construction effected a taking of his property without just compensation. Appealing all the way to the US Supreme Court, Lucas won. The state had to purchase his property.


Saddled with the cost of owning two worthless oceanfront properties, the state changed its restriction, allowing them to sell the lots. Two multi-million dollar homes now occupy these worthless lots. And that’s the rest of the story (in honor of Paul Harvey).


The item has been placed on the March 17th City Council agenda. I hope you are mad enough to attend and speak out. I hope you contact your elected council members. If not, you risk a potentially protracted legal battle for which you will pay with your tax dollars, win or lose. And if the city wins, they will only be emboldened in the future. Their next target may be you.
I’ll be doing at least one more story giving background in the drop lot saga. Stay tuned.
2 replies
  1. Jim Sheehan
    Jim Sheehan says:

    More Amazing

    I find it even more amazing in the case mentioned above, that two unbuildable lots magically became buildable once the town owned them.

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