By Tom Rhodes, 6/27/2013
Amidst all the hoopla over gay marriage and voting rights, a win for individual property rights by the SCOTUS went un-noticed. In what was probably the most important of this week's SCOTUS verdicts, was Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, where they found that when municipalities attach fees and extraneous payment obligations to a permit, like finance road improvements or expansion of waste disposal sites or wetlands development, the burden is now on the government to justify those mandates.
The idea that to force a property owner to pay extra to expand or improve sites not owned by that property owner as a condition to build or develop that property, the burden is no longer on the property owner to prove his development won't have an impact but on the government to prove it will. Unless the government can prove that such mandates are in "rough proportionality" to the demonstrative effects of development, such mandates are in effect the taking of property by the government.
The case is simple, St. Johns River Water Management District denied an application by Coy A. Koontz Sr. to fill more than three acres of wetlands in order to build a small shopping center. The district put conditions on granting the permit that effectively took his property. They were requiring Mr. Koontz to reduce the size of the development or spend money on any of a variety of wetlands-restoration projects designed to offset the project's environmental effects. Because Mr. Koontz declined to pursue any of these options, the district denied the permit.
KooKoo Koontz claimed that the permit denial constituted a "taking" based on other Supreme Court precedents; specifically Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard. These cases established that conditions placed on the development of private property are an appropriation of private property unless the government could show a logical relationship and a "rough proportionality" between the conditions imposed and the projected effects of the development. The SCOTUS agreed.
SJWMD vs. Koontz dramatically shifts the burden of proof to
the government to justify mandates placed on private property owners; it follows the traditional idea that people are innocent until proven guilty, including the impact of private property development. This dovetails with other recent rulings against the EPA concerning "wetlands." And will have an impact on the EPA which will now have to prove development impinges on wetlands rather than the property owner proving it doesn't.
This was a both a symbolic and real win for private property rights. It may be used as a blow against "sustainable development." This SCOTUS ruling puts the onus where it belongs, on the government.