A Property Rights WIN

It was a bittersweet victory for a Florida property owner who refused to buckle under the heavy handed demands of a government agency that denied his request for a development permit. Coy Koontz, Sr.’s battle against injustice did not end when he died in 2000, but was fought on by his son, Coy Koontz, Jr. On June 25, 2013 after an almost 20 year battle through the courts, their persistence paid off as a U.S. Supreme Court decision sided in their favour.

The property owner Cory Koontz purchased 14.9 acres of land in Orlando, Florida with hopes of developing 3.7 acres. His land was classified as ‘wetlands’ by the state and required that he obtain a permit from the St. John’s River Water Management District. His problems began when he applied for his development permit and it was rejected. Although Mr. Koontz Sr. offered to dedicate the rest of his 11 acre property for conservation, it wasn’t enough as the District set about to demand unreasonable conditions that he had to fulfill to get his permit. When he was told that he would have to pay up to $150,000 on upgrading government land which was miles away, that was the final straw. He enlisted the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a donor-supported nonprofit watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for property rights and does so, free of charge.

In the ruling, the United States Supreme Court in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District held that a governmental agency cannot condition the issuance of a ‘construction permit’ on the landowner relinquishing or restricting his property.

It was noted that the ruling is a powerful victory for everybody’s constitutional property rights across the nation. The permit demands were extremely excessive and had no connection to their land use proposal. According to the lawyer for the Pacific Legal Foundation, the Court has recognized that the Koontz family was the victim of an unconstitutional taking. The Court’s message is clear: Government can’t turn the land use permitting process into an extortion machine.

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