'Bert Harris' Ruling Is Needed Victory for Jacksonville Beach; the City Is Fending off Several Property Rights Cases Coming from Its Height-Limit Law

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Byline: CAREN BURMEISTER

JACKSONVILLE BEACH - A developer who got a court order last year enabling him to build a 10-story condo despite the city's 35-foot building height limit then sold the property for a $2 million profit isn't entitled to financial compensation from the city, a judge declared recently.

The Oct. 26 ruling was a resounding win for Jacksonville Beach, which is fending off several private property rights cases stemming from the building height measure that voters approved in late 2004.

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Fland Sharp said this week he was pleased with the decision.

"It was a frivolous lawsuit and the judge did exactly the right thing," Sharp said.

The decision involves Scott Gay and his wife, Lori, who sought financial compensation from the city, saying the height measure thwarted the condo's construction at 1034 First St. N. The Gays filed the suit under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, which entitles a property owner to compensation when a government regulation "inordinately burdens" a property's existing use.

The 2006 suit surprised city officials since it came shortly after a judge declared that the land had vested rights and the Gays could build the 10-story condo as they had originally planned before the height limit.

A few months later, the Gays sold the land to another developer, Lee Underwood, for $3.5 million. The Gays had bought the property for $1.35 million.

In his order, Circuit Judge Charles Mitchell said the Gays had no standing under the Bert Harris Act because they no longer owned the land. In addition, Mitchell said the height cap no longer created an inordinate burden on the property once the other judge granted the vested rights ruling.

At that point, "any claim of inordinate burden upon the property arising from the height restriction 'evaporated,' " Mitchell said. …