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Filtering by Tag: site plan

Sometimes, a Developer Does Have a Collateral Attack on a Quasi-Judicial Denial

In Palazzo Las Olas Group LLC v. City of Ft Lauderdale, the 4th District threw out the circuit court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a frustrated developer over the city's denial of a site plan for a project that had been the subject of an RFP issued by the city's Community Revitalization Agency and also to long negotiations with the City.

The circuit court agreed with the city that the developer's only remedy was certiorari review of the denial. The 4th District disagreed, holding that under the facts of the case the developer had collateral estoppel and various other claims that could not have been addressed in the certiorari review process.

The facts may be pretty close to unique (if almost predictable): The City, through the CRA had a parking garage near the beach at the end of Las Olas Blvd. It wanted the property redeveloped, so put out an RFP. It seems that the terms of the RFP looked for a use of the property that would require amendments, variances, or conditions on the ultimate site plan approval from the standard terms of the zoning ordinance. The developer wins the RFP, gets the land under contract and starts negotiating the details of the site plan and conditions.

In the meantime, politics being what they are, opposition arises. Ultimately the elected mayor and some of the council are elected and clearly oppose the project. The developer claims that the mayor drove the staff to take positions that delayed staff completeness and otherwise abused the process until the opposition counsel members took office so they could vote to deny the project.

Project gets denied, cert gets denied, developer files multicount complaint, the essence of which is estoppel, bad faith, etc. Developer claims to have $5M tied up into the project based on City's representations not only that it wanted the project, but that it wanted the project in a form that required the variances/exceptions that later justified the denial.

The circuit court bought the argument that cert is the only remedy and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. The 4th, while suspecting that some of the claims will be resolved on summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings, disagreed with respect to most of the claims. Here's the language that we'll need to know for later:

While we agree that Palazzo could only obtain a reversal of the Commission’s
actual decision denying it site plan approval via a petition for writ of
certiorari, we do not believe that this bars the pursuit of other civil
remedies.

First, during certiorari proceedings seeking to challenge the denial of the site plan, the issues that can be addressed are extremely limited. In such a proceeding, the circuit court would be limited "to determin[ing] (1) whether the agency afforded procedural due process; (2) whether the agency observed the essential requirements of law; and (3) whether competent, substantial evidence supported the agency’s findings and judgment." See, e.g., Powell v. City of Sarasota, 953 So. 2d 5, 6 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006). Consequently, the circuit court could never reach issues concerning whether the City had contractually agreed to waive certain permitting requirements as alleged by Palazzo or whether, based upon the City’s actions, the City was equitably estopped from denying site plan approval. Cf. Citrus County v. Fla. Rock Indus., Inc., 726 So. 2d 383, 387 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) (holding "common law issues" concerning whether County was estopped from denying permit because of its acquiescence over the years, the permit applicant’s good faith reliance on actions of County, and the permit applicant’s commitment of resources had no place in administrative permitting process or in certiorari review of decision denying permit).


Second, much of what underlies Palazzo’s civil claims, and particularly counts I and III, is an allegation that as a consequence of the City’s own actions it is now estopped from denying site plan approval. Florida’s courts have long recognized that local government entities must deal fairly with their citizens and that, in the absence of fair dealing, the doctrine of equitable estoppel may be invoked.

. . .


Consistent with these principles, there are Florida cases suggesting that a civil suit will lie against a governmental entity where it has engaged in alleged unfair dealing. In Sundstrom v. Collier County, 385 So. 2d 1158 (Fla. 2d DCA 1980), the owner of real property obtained a building permit and spent money to commence work on the project. Thereafter, the zoning board issued a stop-work order. The property owner failed to timely seek certiorari review and, instead, filed a petition for writ of mandamus. The trial court dismissed the petition with prejudice as a consequence of the owner’s failure to timely seek review of the order via the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari. The appellate court agreed that mandamus was not the appropriate remedy, but nonetheless reversed the dismissal with prejudice because the owner should have been afforded the opportunity to "state a cause of action in equity for equitable estoppel, declaratory relief, or an injunction." Id. at 1159. And, Florida Rock Industries, 726 So. 2d at 383, Town of Largo v. Imperial Homes Corp., 309 So. 2d at 571, and Town of Longboat Key v. Mezrah, 467 So. 2d 488 (Fla. 2d DCA 1985), each involved the circumstance where a property owner/applicant brought a civil action for declaratory relief and/or an injunction, asserting that the governmental entities’ prior conduct was such that it was estopped from taking the complained-of action. And, in Florida Rock Industries, the property owner simultaneously filed a petition for writ of certiorari, seeking review of the order on its application for determination of vested rights, and a civil complaint, seeking declaratory relief and alleging equitable estoppel. 726 So. 2d at 386.


Having considered the above authorities and principals and the limitations of certiorari review, we hold that while any direct challenge seeking to overturn the Commission’s decision denying site plan approval had to be sought via the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari, this did not preclude Palazzo from bringing a civil suit, wherein it sought relief on matters beyond those appropriately addressed during the certiorari proceeding. The trial cour



Wow. The Court is holding that if you have a valid legal issue that lies outside the scope of certiorari relief, you get to plead a separate cause of action. This has long been recognized in cases involving notice, and also where the relief is under a different statute than the decision was taken under. (see Omnipoint III - the 3d DCA case on remand, and various takings cases).

The interesting fight here ultimately will be the issue of estoppel versus "you can't contract away the police power." A second issue may become the kind of "inequitable conduct" that may lead to estoppel, as the Court seems to be broadening the potential scope. Historically, good faith reliance could be founded only on a lawfully issued statement or decision. Here, the 4th DCA is permitting a "course of conduct" pleading to establish a legally sufficient basis for pleading estoppel.

It will be interesting to see whether this case settles quickly, or only after the circuit court has another go-round at the issues.

Collateral Estoppel in Local Administrative Decisions

In Atlantic Shores v. 507 South Street Corporation, here's the link, the court held that an objecting neighbor could not litigate a height definition issue in the approval of a redevelopment site plan where it had raised and lost the same issue in a seperate administrative proceeding regarding a certificate of appropriateness and had not pursued its administrative remedies in the other case. The court treated this as a form of collateral estoppel.

Critical to the determination was that the hieght issue raised in the second proceeding was the same issue: one of the criteria in the city comission's consideration of whether the plan conformed to the same standards that applied in the certificate of appropriateness. Because the issue was the same, the objector could not relitigate it in the later proceeding having had (and not followed) the opportunity to fully litigate and appeal it earlier.

Quick - Object, even if you don't know how or when

Ok, here's another decision from the same panel the 6th Circuit as in the WalMart case below, equally flawed.

The court started out by dismissing the Petitioners' due process claims on the basis that they failed to make objections on the record to a) ex parte contacts, b) surprise in a party offering a late filed new report.

Here's critical language that could be used by any and all sides in cert actions:

The Petitioners did not object to the fact that there were ex parte
communications, nor request any additional clarification as to the nature or
extent of such communications. The law is well-settled that issues may not be
raised for the first time on certiorari review which were not presented to the
lower tribunal during the quasi-judicial hearing. See G.B.V. International, Ltd.
v. Broward County, 709 So.2d 155, 155 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998) (quashing decision of
circuit court for deciding an issue that was neither presented or decided by the
Commission), quashed in part on other grounds, 787 So.2d 838 (Fla. 2001); see
also Scritchfield v. Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 648 So.2d 1246,
1247 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) (stating that without objection the argument has been
waived). Hence, the Court finds that the Petitioners have waived this argument
as no objection was made during the proceedings below. Had a proper objection
been made, the City Commissioners could have effectively dealt with the
Petitioners' concerns.

OK, this is good stuff - and keep it handy for when the chairman of a planning board or county commission objects to your objections. The problem, of course, is that most local government procedures don't formally recognize parties other than the applicant and the staff, and there's generally no way to object other than to stand up from the audience and interrupt.

The real use of this language, however, is for those of us poor souls who get a completely BS denial at the hands of a commission, file cert, and then find the government attorney raising all kinds of new issues ("gee, your honr, they weren't compatible with policy x.y.z," even though no one ever raised that policy during the hearing).

But then on to the bad stuff (and this is bad regardless of whether you represent neighbors/environmental groups or developers/landowners). The Court abandons its responsibility to "say what the law is" (see 3d DCA cases earlier) to the local government, in this language:

The Court is not entitled to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for
that of the agency. See id. As aptly explained by the Florida Supreme Court
in Dusseau v. Metropolitan Dade County Board of County Commissioners, 794
So.2d 1270, 1276 (Fla. 2001), the certiorari standard of review requires
this Court to defer to the City's “superior technical expertise and special
vantage point” in its policy determinations and factual findings. As Dusseau
further clarified,

The issue before this court is not whether the agency's decision is the “best”
decision or the “right” decision or even a “wise” decision, for these are
technical and policy-based determinations properly within the purview of the
agency. The circuit court has no training or experience -- and is inherently
unsuited -- to sit as a roving “super agency” with plenary oversight of such
matters

Horse hockey. A city commission, county commission or even planning commission has no special expertise at interpreting ordinances. They do have political agendas. This judicial attempt to establish some kind of "principled abdication" of its constitutional responsibility to ensure that the law is fairly and reasonable intepreted is nothing but a cop out, one that leaves the polity at the mercy of the government.

And I'll also say that while I think the right result occured, the court also erred in how it approached the analysis of whether the WalMart was a permitted use in the zone district. There was a clear ambiguity or inconsistency between the intent of the district - to allow specialty retail -- and the specific permitted uses -- which included retail stores (without limitation) and shopping centers.

The issue: "specialty retail" is a land use and transportation planning term of art, and it does NOT include big box stores like WalMarts. Based on the intent of the district, as properly interpreted by planning experts, not commissioners, the WalMart was NOT permitted. However, the actual permitted uses included retail uses and shopping centers. Absent a seperate definition of "big box" that distinguished these bohemeths from true specialty retail uses, the rules of construction (remember - zoning in derogation of private property rights, so interpretation goes to the landowner) demand that the more specific (the use) rule over the more general (the intent). THAT'S the kind of analysis we need from our courts to ensure that zoning regulations are interpreted fairly for all sides. Abandoning that reasoning to the local government (unless they actually do it and do it right - HAH), is like putting Dick Chaney in charge of the Justice Dep'ts Division of Civil Rights - or appointing him to sit on a FISA tribunal.

Finally, the court rolled out the tired (and IMHO wrong at 1st tier review) old "miscarriage of justice" standard that started out its life as a policy to help narrow 2d tier review, but now has got a life of its own ensuring that the circuit courts don't actually do justice in these cases (violating our right to access to the courts, if you think about it).

Anyway - here's the the opinion:

13 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 774a
CONCERNED CITIZENS OF TARPON SPRINGS, INC., HARRY BATUYIOS, DENNIS BROWN, DOROTHY BROWN, WENDY CROSATO, BRIAN R. CROSATO, JEAN DORRELL, HELEN GLADWIN, BILL GLADWIN, WILLIAM HOOPER, CHRIS HRABOVSKY, RICHARD MURDACH, EDWARD SKAALAND, JOAN SKAALAND, JOHN K. TARAPANI, CHARLES VAN WINKLE, SHARON VAN WINKLE, and WILLIAM L. VINSON, Petitioners, vs. CITY OF TARPON SPRINGS, FLORIDA, and WAL-MART STORES EAST, LP, Respondents. Circuit Court, 6th Judicial Circuit (Appellate) in and for Pinellas County. Case No. 05-0014AP-88B. UCN522005AP000014XXXXCV. March 22, 2006. Counsel: C. Phillip Campbell, Theodore C. Taub, Tammy N. Giroux, and Mark A. Connolly, Tampa. John G. Hubbard, Dunedin. David A. Theriaque, Suzanne Van Wyk, Timothy E. Dennis, Tallahassee.
ORDER DENYING AMENDED PETITION
FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI
THIS CAUSE came before the Court on the Amended Petition for Writ of Certiorari, the Joint Response to Second Order to Show Cause, and the Petitioners' Reply. Upon consideration of the briefs, the record and being otherwise fully advised, the Court finds that the Petition must be denied as set forth below.
The Petitioners, Concerned Citizens of Tarpon Springs, Inc., Harry Batuyios, Dennis Brown, Dorothy Brown, Wendy Crosato, Brian R. Crosato, Jean Dorrell, Helen Gladwin, Bill Gladwin, William Hooper, Chris Hrabovsky, Richard Murdach, Edward Skaaland, Joan Skaaland, John K. Tarapani, Charles Van Winkle, Sharon Van Winkle, and William L. Vinson (Petitioners), seek review of Resolution 2004-63, entered January 19, 2005, by the Respondent, City of Tarpon Springs, Florida (City), to approve the site plan, with conditions, submitted by the Respondent, Wal-Mart Stores East, LP (Wal-Mart). These Petitioners have standing.1 In reviewing the administrative action taken by the City, the Court must consider whether the Petitioners were afforded procedural due process, whether the essential requirements of law were observed and whether the Resolution is supported by competent substantial evidence. See Haines City Community Development v. Heggs, 658 So.2d 523, 530 (Fla. 1995) (setting forth the standard of certiorari review of administrative action).
The record shows that Wal-Mart submitted a site plan proposal for the development of a 74.4 acre parcel of land, described as Lot 1, located off of U.S. 19 and bordered on one side by the Anclote River. There are two other designated lots, Lot 2 and Lot 3, and other designated tracts on the property which do not directly involve the Wal-Mart proposal. The land is currently zoned General Business (GB), which specifically includes “Retail Sales Establishments” and “Shopping Centers” as permitted uses. Retail Sales Establishments is defined in the City's Code as: “Any establishment where the primary use is the sale of goods or merchandise to the general public for personal or household consumption.”
After a 13-hour public hearing, the Board of Commissioners of the City of Tarpon Springs (City Commission), in a 3 to 2 vote, approved Resolution 2004-63. The Resolution approved the site plan with several conditions, to wit:
1. The developer is responsible for acquiring all other jurisdictional permits and for meeting the minimum criteria of the Land Development Code.
2. Construction plans, signed and sealed by a registered engineer licensed to practice in the State of Florida, must be submitted within one year of the date of final site plan approval.
3. All conditions and requirements of the final Development Agreement (ATTACHMENT B) must be performed on a timely basis, as applicable.
4. Master meters and utility line adjustments per the requirements of the City of Tarpon Springs Utility Division.
5. Plat approval is required for the subdivision into three lots.
6. Submission of revised traffic impact study with follow-on review by TBE Group for compliance with City of Tarpon Springs transportation concurrency management requirements or reduction of scope of project to within 50% of allowable floor area ratio. No development permits will be issued until concurrency requirements are accomplished.
7. A 50' buffer is required along the Anclote River.
8. A physical barrier is required between the Anclote River and the building/parking lot to prevent run-off into the river.
The Development Agreement, incorporated into the Resolution as Attachment B, is a 24-page document that sets forth several more conditions and restrictions, including that the owner must seek rezoning of Lot 2 from GB to Residential Office (RO), within 18 months of the effective date of the Development Agreement, to be compatible with the City's land-use classification. The Development Agreement clarifies that no residential development is permitted without the appropriate permits to allow residential use. Lot 3 is to be limited to development of a maximum of 8,000 square feet of commercial retail.
The Petitioners have raised several issues before this Court. The Petitioners first argue that they were denied due process as the City Commission failed to disclose the substance of ex parte communications; the City failed to require rezoning of the subject property, and; Wal-Mart failed to timely submit a traffic study. The Petitioners next argue that the City's decision does not conform to the essential requirements of law because of incomplete abandonment of development of regional impact; the site plan violates the City's Code, and; the site plan violates the City's comprehensive land development plan. Lastly, the Petitioners argue that the Resolution is not supported by competent substantial evidence because the traffic study was incomplete and the City's decision was influenced by prejudice and bias.
Before addressing each issue, the Court reiterates that in conducting certiorari review of the underlying action it has neither the duty nor the authority to decide whether it is good public policy to allow Wal-Mart to build a supercenter at this particular location. Rather, as set forth in Haines City, this Court's review is governed by a three-part standard: whether procedural due process has been accorded; whether the essential requirements of law were observed; and, whether the findings and judgment are supported by competent substantial evidence. See Haines City, 658 So.2d at 530. In applying the procedural due process prong, the Court must consider whether the Petitioners were provided with fair notice and an opportunity to be heard. See Keys Citizen for Responsible Government, Inc. v. Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, 795 So.2d 940, 938 (Fla. 2001) (explaining the parameters of due process within an administrative proceeding). In determining whether the City observed the essential requirements of law, the Court must consider whether an error occurred and, if so, whether such error resulted in a gross miscarriage of justice. See Haines, 658 So.2d at 527; see also Housing Authority of the City of Tampa v. Burton, 874 So.2d 6, 8 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004) (explaining that in determining whether there has been a departure from the essential requirements of law, the appellate court “should not be as concerned with the mere existence of legal error as much as with the seriousness of the error”).
In evaluating the last prong of review, competent substantial evidence has been described as evidence that is “sufficiently relevant and material that a reasonable mind would accept it as adequate to support the conclusion reached.” See Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles v. Trimble, 821 So.2d 1084, 1087 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002) (citing De Groot v. Sheffield, 95 So.2d 912, 916 (Fla. 1957). The Court is not entitled to reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of the agency. See id. As aptly explained by the Florida Supreme Court in Dusseau v. Metropolitan Dade County Board of County Commissioners, 794 So.2d 1270, 1276 (Fla. 2001), the certiorari standard of review requires this Court to defer to the City's “superior technical expertise and special vantage point” in its policy determinations and factual findings. As Dusseau further clarified,
The issue before this court is not whether the agency's decision is the “best” decision or the “right” decision or even a “wise” decision, for these are technical and policy-based determinations properly within the purview of the agency. The circuit court has no training or experience -- and is inherently unsuited -- to sit as a roving “super agency” with plenary oversight of such matters.
With that standard in mind, the Court reaches the following decision as to each issue.
Due Process
1. Failure to disclose substance of ex parte communications
The Court finds that before the hearing began on January 18th, the City Commissioners disclosed on the record any ex parte communications they had with either side. All of the Commissioners disclosed that they had talked with opponents of the site plan proposal; 4 of the 5 Commissioners disclosed that they had talked with Wal-Mart representatives. The Petitioners did not object to the fact that there were ex parte communications, nor request any additional clarification as to the nature or extent of such communications. The law is well-settled that issues may not be raised for the first time on certiorari review which were not presented to the lower tribunal during the quasi-judicial hearing. See G.B.V. International, Ltd. v. Broward County, 709 So.2d 155, 155 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998) (quashing decision of circuit court for deciding an issue that was neither presented or decided by the Commission), quashed in part on other grounds, 787 So.2d 838 (Fla. 2001); see also Scritchfield v. Dept. of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 648 So.2d 1246, 1247 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995) (stating that without objection the argument has been waived). Hence, the Court finds that the Petitioners have waived this argument as no objection was made during the proceedings below. Had a proper objection been made, the City Commissioners could have effectively dealt with the Petitioners' concerns.
2. Failure to require rezoning of the subject property
There are no facts, nor any legal authority, cited by the Petitioners that the City rezoned the property, de facto, without requiring Wal-Mart to go through the necessary rezoning process. The Petitioners' argument is that the property's current zoning, GB, does not allow for the development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. As explained in greater depth below, the Court finds that the proposed development of Lot 1 squarely falls within the GB zoning classification. Further, there is no dispute that Lot 2, which is not a part of the development of Lot 1, is not properly zoned for residential development. As a condition of the Resolution, Wal-Mart will be required to go through the proper rezoning process before any residential development can proceed at which time the Petitioners can present any objections they may have to such proposed development.
3. Failure to timely submit traffic study
As with the ex parte communications issue, the Court finds that the Petitioners have waived this argument by failing to expressly object to the introduction of the Supplement Traffic Analysis during the January 18th hearing. See id. The Petitioners did not request additional time to review the traffic report. Further, even if the Petitioners had not waived this argument, the record shows that the Petitioners were fully afforded the right to present evidence and testimony during the January 18th hearing, as well as the opportunity to cross-examine the traffic experts presented by the City and Wal-Mart. Under these facts, the Courts finds that the Petitioners were afforded procedural due process.
Essential Requirements of Law
1. Incomplete abandonment of development of regional impact
In reviewing this issue, the Court finds that the Petitioners do not have standing to argue this matter as Florida Statutes, § 380.07(2), confers standing only to the owner, developer, or state land planning agency to appeal a DRI development order or abandonment order; even then, the order must be appealed to the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission. However, assuming this issue were properly before the Court, there is no support for the Petitioners' argument that the DRI Abandonment Order, entered beyond the 90-day time frame due to scheduling delays caused by three hurricanes, is a nullity. See e.g. Caliente Partnership v. Johnston, 604 So.2d 886, 887 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991) (holding that the failure to publish a notice of intent for a plan amendment within the statutorily prescribed forty-five days is not grounds for approval by default); School Board of Leon County v. Weaver, 556 So.2d 443, 446 (Fla. 1st DCA 1990) (holding that failure to enter a final order within the statutorily prescribed ninety days from receipt of a recommended order does not warrant reversal unless the fairness of the proceeding or the correctness of the action is impaired by virtue of the statute's violation).
2. Proposed use of the site plan violates the City's Code: (a) the site plan does not comply with the Code; (b) the site plan circumvents procedural requirements for conditional uses, and; (c) the site plan application is incomplete
The Court finds that the proposed use of the site plan, specifically Lot 1, is a permitted use in a GB zoning. The City's Code, Section 25.11 states, in pertinent part:
(A) The GB District is established to provide for the development of a centralized commercial area where specialty retail, restaurant, office and residential uses are readily available. This district is intended to encourage redevelopment of traditional shopping areas and promote cultural tourism within the National Register Historic District and Cultural Preservation District which function to serve the immediate residential neighborhoods and the community as a whole.
(B) Permitted uses; (15) Retail Sales Establishments; (18) Shopping Centers. (emphasis added).
As previously stated, “Retail Sales Establishment” includes “[a]ny establishment where the primary use is the sale of goods or merchandise to the general public for personal or household consumption.”2
The Petitioners focus on the words “specialty retail” to argue that the proposed development is not a permitted use under GB zoning. However, while the intent of the GB district is to encourage specialty retail, the district does not limit retail solely to “specialty.” Rather, the Code unambiguously and expressly allows for retail sales establishments, as well as shopping centers, with no limitation to specialty retail. The Court finds that the Wal-Mart Supercenter falls squarely within the definition of a “Retail Sales Establishment” and, for all practical purposes, is essentially a Shopping Center. To find that development in the GB zoning is limited only to specialty retail would render portions of the Code a nullity. See Florida Dept. of Revenue v. Florida Municipal Power Agency, 789 So.2d 320, 324 (Fla. 2001) (explaining that a court's function is to interpret statutes to give effect to each word and avoid interpretations that would render portions of it useless); see also Palm Beach County Canvassing Board v. Harris, 772 So.2d 1273, 1286 (Fla. 2000) (same). The Court finds that under these facts, it must defer to the City's interpretation that the proposed Wal-Mart is a permitted use within the GB zoning. See Palm Beach, 772 So.2d at 1283 (explaining that courts will defer to an agency's interpretation of statutes and rules the agency is charge with enforcing unless contrary to law); see also Paloumbis v. City of Miami Beach, 840 So.2d 297, 298-98 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2003) (holding that administrative interpretation of personnel rules is entitled to judicial deference as long as it is within the range of possible interpretations).
3. The site plan violates the comprehensive plan
The Petitioners argue that the City erred in approving the site plan without first requiring Wal-Mart to seek conditional use approval for potential future residential development of Lot 2. However, one condition of the Resolution is that plat approval is required for the subdivision of the property into three lots. Further, the Development Agreement requires the property owner, Wal-Mart, to seek rezoning of Lot 2 from GB to Residential Office (RO), within 18 months of the effective date of the Development Agreement, and further states that no residential development will be permitted without the appropriate permits. As held above, the Petitioners will have an opportunity to be heard if, at some point in the future, Wal-Mart seeks to rezone Lot 2 from GB to RO for residential development. Lastly, to the extent that the Petitioners seek to challenge the of the consistency of the Resolution with the City's Comprehensive Plan, such a challenge must be pursued as an action for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to Florida Statutes, § 163.3215(1).3 See Parker v. Leon County, 627 So.2d 476, 478-79 (Fla. 1993); see also Turner v. Sumter County, Board Of County Commissioners, 649 So.2d 276, 276 (Fla. 5th DCA 1993).
Competent substantial evidence
1. Incomplete traffic study
The Court finds that there is nothing in the record to show that the Supplemental Traffic Study was incomplete. Rather, the record shows that the City Commission considered the testimony and evidence presented from the City's Planning and Zoning Director, the City's Development Services Director, the City's traffic consultant, Wal-Mart's project engineer and Wal-Mart's planning expert, along with the Staff Report recommending approval of the Wal-Mart site plan before concluding that the traffic study was sufficient to support its decision to approve the Site Plan. The Court cannot reweigh the evidence nor substitute its judgment for that of the City to arrive at a different conclusion. See Dusseau, supra.
Further, the Court finds that the traffic impact on the proposed development is still subject to review by the City. As set forth in condition # 6 of the Resolution, Wal-Mart must still submit a revised traffic impact study to be reviewed for compliance with the City's transportation concurrency management requirements before any development permits will be issued.
2. Evidence of prejudice and bias
In reviewing the last issue, the Court finds that the City attorney did prepare a memorandum, at the request of the City's Mayor, dated January 10, 2005, and addressed to the City Commission, that outlined possible litigation issues that could arise from granting or denying Wal-Mart's proposed site plan. The Court finds that, standing alone, it is not inappropriate for the City to consider the legal consequences of its actions. In the memorandum, the City Attorney stressed that the City Commission must base its decision on competent substantial evidence presented at the hearing and not on possible litigation that might arise from its decision. While some Commission members may have been influenced, to some degree, by concern about litigation, there is nothing in the record to suggest that this was the basis for any votes. Furthermore, this has nothing to do with the sufficiency of the evidence.
In conclusion, the Court finds that the Petitioners were afforded procedural due process, the City observed the essential requirements of law, and the Resolution is supported by competent substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Petitioners' request for certiorari relief must be denied.
Therefore, it is,
ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Petition for Writ of Certiorari is hereby denied. (DAVID A. DEMERS, PETER RAMSBERGER, and ANTHONY RONDOLINO, JJ.)
__________________
1As a preliminary matter, this Court, in an order entered July 28, 2005, granted, in part, the Respondents' motion to dismiss amended petition based on lack of standing. The motion to dismiss was granted only to the extent that the Court had no jurisdiction over those Petitioners not named in the original petition. Concerned Citizens, incorporated after the underlying hearing but comprised of citizens with standing to appeal, and the remaining named Petitioners were allowed to proceed with the petition for writ of certiorari.
2There is not a definition of “Shopping Center” provided in the record. However, the Court finds that the term Shopping Center is self-explanatory and unambiguous.
3The Court notes that there is a separate declaratory action, filed by the Petitioners pursuant to Florida Statutes, § 163.3215, currently pending at the trial court level.

4th DCA - Yes, you get a Declaratory Action When A Local Gov't Gives You Nothing Else

In South Riverwalk Investments, LLC v City of Ft. Lauderdale, here's the opinion, we find yet another shining example of a commitment to fair play on the part of a local government. This time, anyway, the developer at least will get a day in court -- though over the strident position of the City that an application simply has no remedy when a local government simply fails to act on a development application.

In this case, the applicant filed a site plan for a new project. The City had (as do some others) an "area wide density" inside a Regional Activity Center. It then appeared that there was no residential density left to allocate (we are not told what uses might be left to the property), so the site plan was neither approved nor denied, but remained "open". All other issues had been addressed except the availability of density. Under the local code a site plan remains open until approved or denied.

And (at least based on later allegation) the City starts a plan amendment process that might allocate more density to the Regional Activity Center.

But then, lo!, the City simply decides that, at this point, the site plan no longer exists! Not denied (which might have triggered standing for an administrative appeal, or if none were available, then a dec action, suit under Bert Harris, takings or some other theory), but simply non-extent.

So the developer files a declaratory action to determine, basically, whether it had the right to "stand in line" until density become available. The City's response: sorry, you have no standing. You can't claim when rights might be available, so you don't have any issue to decide. It even convinced the circuit court to dismiss the action with prejudice.

The 4th reversed, holding that there was a real and present controversy with respect to the question of whether the developer has rights in the site plan to density once (and whether) it becomes available. Even though that availability is a future event, the determination is a present need.

And while the court never reaches it (probably not in the record) we are left to ponder why the City would behave this way. Does it want the density to go to another developer? Does it want to change the rules against some aspect of this site plan? Does it simply want to get more review fees? Are there some other vested rights that the City wants to defeat?

Let's be clear: as wrong as it is, the developer almost certainly would have no due process claim under the 14th amendment that could be enforced through an action under USC s1983 (with attorney's fees at the end) because the court would find that the developer had no "property" in the permit (though the permit is the expression of the government regulation of the land). Whether due process under the Florida constitution would provide some protection, we don't know, because it hasn't really been litigated separately -- but historically Florida courts would give that protection.

But I suspect that the City was taking the view that if a developer doesn't have a property right that would be recognized under federal due process principles, it didn't have an "interest" that could be protected by a declaratory action. Thanks to the 4th DCA for finding otherwise.

3d DCA - Petitioners in Cert cases are ENTITLED to meaningful legal review and redress

In Osborn v. Board of County Comm'rs (Monroe), here's the opinion, the 3d wrote one of those short and sweet opinions that you really need to keep around.

The 3d granted cert and quashed a circuit court's opinion in a cert case because the lower court's opinion demonstrated a lack of clarity regarding its role and the standards that it should or could apply. In so doing, the 3d expressed an expansive view of the rights of a petitioner to have meaningful review AND an expansive view of the nature of the remedial instructions that the circuit court can provide.

Here's the guts of the opinion, emphasis is mine:


On first-tier certiorari review from an administrative decision, "the circuit court must determine whether procedural due process is accorded, whether the essential requirements of the law have been observed, and whether the administrative findings and judgment are supported by competent substantial evidence." City of Deerfield Beach v. Vaillant, 419 So. 2d 624, 626 (Fla. 1982). The Petitioner is, in effect, entitled to consideration of whether the administrative agency followed its laws and regulations, and whether the agency’s findings are supported by competent substantial evidence. Baker v. Metro. Dade County, 774 So. 2d 14 (Fla. 3d DCA 2001). Thus, at first tier level, the circuit court may correct any errors made below: jurisdictional, procedural or substantive; and judgments may be modified, reversed, remanded with directions, or affirmed. See G-W Dev. Corp. v. Village of N. Palm Beach Zoning Bd. & Adjustment, 317 So. 2d 828, 830-831 (Fla. 4th DCA 1975).

Ok - this decision is CRITICAL for land use practioners who constantly get hosed by local goverment attorneys who emphasis the "limited scope of review" in cert and claim that the 2d tier standard limiting it to addressing a "miscarriage of justice" applies to 1st tier claims.

FIRST - the Petitioner is ENTITLED to consideration of whether the agency followed its laws and regulations and whether the decision is supported by CSE. They forgot the constitution, but we can take it that constitutional issues go along for the ride here. Then, the court may correct ANY ERRORS made below, jurisdictional, procedural or subantive. Not just errors that rise to a miscarriage of justice. Finally, the court may modify, reverse, or remand with instructions - not just remand.

Note that the last line seems to fly in the face of the "just quash" approach that the the Fla. Supremes adopted in GBV. But in that case, the court tried to order that the lower court grant the development order. The third is saying something more limited: the trial court can tell the agency (or board acting quasi-judicially) what needs to be done to correct the error. And note that if the court does this, the lower tribunal violates the law of the case if it does something else on remand.

This is critical because local governments play vile and nasty games on remand. Just look at the Quadrangle case in Orange County.

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