Private property owner ponders: eminent domain by historic designation? Boca Raton FL News, 12/8/06

By John Johnston

The adjectives flowed freely Tuesday.

“Unconscionable,” was Commissioner Mary McCarty’s assessment of an apparent attempt by the county to force an historic district label on a piece of private property.

“Obnoxious” was private property owner Paul Thomas’ description of an earlier county offer to buy his 17-acre nursery property along Old Indiantown Road in Jupiter for only $1.4 million.

The rhetoric flowed for nearly two hours Tuesday, but actually began in 2004 with a commission decision to designate the surrounding portions of Old Indiantown Road historic. Trouble was, the county doesn’t own the middle segment of the trail, and in order to make the trail contiguous, the county wanted to designate the portion of the road going through Thomas' property as well.

Thomas said he’d be willing to sell the entire property, but otherwise, said no. Further, that his subsequent attempts to create an RV park on the site have resulted in a “nightmare” for himself and his family.

A lack of adequate drainage would ruin Thomas’ desire to develop the property as an RV Park. And while he made no direct allegations, Thomas said he found it curious that – and while he’s attempting to proceed with the processes to gain an RV park approval – ditches which formerly carried water away from his property were in fact currently being filled in by the county.

An audience member Tuesday was then heard to murmur: “This all sounds like eminent domain through the historical back door – and without paying for the property.”

“This really concerns me,” said Commissioner McCarty who argued that with the Historic District Commission was originally formed, the conversation at the time was that private property designations would be made only with the consent of the private property owner.

As it turns out the actual ordinance says otherwise, but only by implication. What the ordinance says is that it takes at least four commissioners to approve an historic designation. The ordinance is silent on whether or not that majority vote was intended to deal with a private property owner’s lack of cooperation, or merely to deal with a disagreement among commissioners themselves about whether any given parcel, public or private, should receive a designation.

By a 5-2 vote Tuesday, commissioners leaned in McCarty’s direction, asking staff to research the original Historic District Commission formation. And a vote on forcing an historic designation on Thomas was delayed until at least June 2007

Between now and next June negotiations, and perhaps a reappraisal of the property, might result in Thomas selling the land, and making the point (for him at least) moot. Or perhaps Thomas will either receive an approval or a denial by the Zoning Board on a change of use application to develop the RV Park.

In any case, “it’s not over,” he said.

Boca Raton FL News: http://www.bocaratonnews.com