Florida Eminent Domain Law Defeated Pass
Thanks to radio talk show personality Neal Boortz, Floridians were alerted to two bills in the Florida legislature that would have allowed local governments to condemn vacant subdivision lots without going to the trouble of purchasing them from their owners.
Boortz inundated the air waves with a blistering attack on H.B. 1513 and SB 2548, that would have allowed local governments to take private property, giving the owner "fair market" price, of course, to turn over to any entity that the officials figured would provide more taxes.
Boortz's tirade galvanized people who then flooded their legislators with demands to withdraw the offending bills.
The legislators felt the heat and saw the light resulting in withdrawal of the House bill and a substantially modified Senate bill that deals only with planning. S. William Moore, a Sarasota property rights attorney, said the legislation would have given local governments the power to condemn land "solely because the property had been platted before 1980. That's insane."
Eminently exposed Credit radio host for helping protect property rights
A stealth effort in the Legislature to dramatically expand the eminent-domain powers of local governments folded when the light of publicity was shed on it.
Property owners in Florida owe an on-air whistleblower a vote of thanks. Two bills moving through the House and Senate had addressed the problem of "antiquated subdivisions."
These subdivisions were laid out decades ago by land companies that sold hundreds of thousands of lots to buyers all over the country and overseas as investments or sites for eventual retirement homes.
Many of these companies concentrated on selling lots and maximizing profits, and ignored the costs of providing the public services and infrastructure that would be required if all the lots were developed. Counties all over Florida are left with the legacy: thousands of mostly vacant, platted lots whose owners are spread across the globe.
County officials say the overwhelming number of lots for single-family homes makes planning difficult, and leads to inefficient development patterns that don't provide sufficient tax revenue to pay for necessary government services. The eminent-domain solution One solution is for counties to buy the lots or acquire them through eminent domain, assemble larger parcels, rezone them and sell them to private developers. Florida's Community Redevelopment Act provides the authority for using eminent domain, but the act requires that land be considered "blighted" before it can be taken. The two bills -- which came close to passage with little or no attention, even among property-rights experts -- would have dramatically expanded eminent-domain powers by dropping the "blight" requirement.
That effort, however, was exposed last week -- the final week of the session -- by a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, Neil Boortz. His criticism of the legislation prompted a flood of calls to legislators. As a result, the House bill was withdrawn and the Senate version was substantially modified to deal only with planning.
S. William Moore, a Sarasota property- rights attorney, said the legislation would have given counties and municipalities the power to condemn land "solely because the property had been platted before 1980. That's insane."
More creativity is needed
The problems that accompany antiquated subdivisions can be solved without such an expansion of eminent-domain powers, said Frank Schnidman, a land-policy attorney and senior fellow at the Center for Urban and Environmental Solutions at Florida Atlantic University. He noted that there are numerous ways that current landowners can participate in and profit from rezoning and redevelopment.
The legislation would have made the use of eminent domain too easy, Schnidman said, discouraging local government officials from using their imaginations to develop other ways to deal with the problem. Schnidman contends that, as an intrusive government power, taking a citizen's property is second only to taking his life.
Such power should be used only when other options have been exhausted -- not just to increase a county's tax revenues. Old platted lands can cause serious problems. But if legislators want to deal fairly with them, they should hold extensive public hearings -- and make sure that any legislation addressing them is brought to light before the last week of the session.
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