Fool me once
This week a three-judge appeals tribunal handed the Longboat Key Commission a stunning defeat. The town lawyer’s land-use litigation losing streak remains intact. The town might finally look elsewhere for legal advice. The primary duty of a municipal attorney is to keep that municipality out of expensive court proceedings, especially if the municipality will lose.
The latest appeals court loss may expose the town to lawsuits and costly litigation from property owners who have been denied unfettered access to the real estate markets due the town’s ill-advised legal gambits against its own residents.
Circuit Court Judge Charles Roberts, and now the Second District Court of Appeals, have ruled that the LBK commissioners broke the law when they zealously advanced the interests of the Key Club. Bob White and the members of IPOC are to be congratulated for their unflinching conviction that the Town Commission had violated the property owner’s legal rights.
Those on the commission and the town’s previous planning director who opposed the Key Club expansion as being inappropriate and needlessly dense have been vindicated. It has been stated before: I was always in favor of improvements at the Key Club, but not at the expense of surrounding property owners.
While on the commission, I requested that the commissioners retain an outside, disinterested land use attorney to advise the commission concerning the Key Club proposal. I had lost faith in the two lawyers retained by the town. At that time I expressed my doubts that the town was on firm legal footing if they approved the Key Club expansion. Unfortunately, there was no support for this proposal, most especially from the town lawyer. If the commission had insisted that the Key Club proposal be adjusted to the point where the surrounding community was comfortable, the Key Club expansion would already be in its third year and close to being completed. Instead we have had a paralyzed real estate market on the south end. Who in their right mind would not be cautious about investing while there was a lawsuit pending on the property?
Unfortunately for our residents, this commission will try to get around this resounding slam by the Florida courts by shamelessly gutting our Comprehensive Plan and those building codes needing change to specifically address the Key Club expansion. If the commissioners once again look to the town lawyer’s advice, they should also look at his win-loss record in land-use litigation he has managed on behalf of our community.
If the new Key Club owners really want to add value for themselves and for our community, they should work with the affected property owners and the commission to create a win-win design that is more appropriate for Longboat Key, keeps the process out of the courts and hastens the completion of the entire process.
The town could now retain an expert land use attorney to advise the town how to avoid another court defeat that could be even more destructive to our property owners that the most recent rout. There is that old saying: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
This commission, and sadly Longboat Key, will now be immortalized in the law journals and legal precedents citations as a goat rodeo. We can do better than that. We need some changes and we need them before more damage is done.