As large developments use increasingly large amounts of available land in South Florida, the conflict between developers’ plans and environmental regulations becomes ever more acute. In a recent case involving a developer’s plan to build a four-story duplex, the Palm Beach County Circuit Court ruled that the Boca Raton City Council’s denial of a variance for the project was invalid. Denials of variance applications are not uncommon, but the reasons for the denial of this particular application appear to be unique.
The proposed building was located on a prime stretch of Boca Raton’s beach front. The plan submitted to the City in support of the variance request showed that the developer wanted to encroach on a sanctuary for nesting sea turtles. The developer included a variance application for the encroachment in the request for zoning approval.
When the application was presented to the city council, the council unanimously voted to reject the application. Unfortunately, two of the council members had announced their opposition to the project and to the variance before the council voted. When this fact was presented to the County Circuit Court, the court ruled that the two members did not open minds to the project and that their votes must be rejected. The court sent the case back to the city council for a new vote on the application. The court ordered the council to bar the two members who announced their opposition to the project from voting on the remanded application.
The long view
The court’s reversal of the original denial of the variance application may have no practical effect. The case will be heard and voted on by three council members who could stand by their original decisions and vote to deny the application. The three members would need to reverse their original votes to change the outcome. The city could also appeal the court’s ruling on the ground that merely announcing an intention to vote a certain way is not illegal if no other forbidden behavior is involved.
Anyone involved in a conflict with a governmental authority may benefit from retaining an attorney who is experienced in dealing with similar issues. A knowledgeable attorney can provide helpful advice on the course of administrative consideration and action on the proposal at issue.