Court Affirms That Neighborhood Opposition Is A Legitimate Reason For Denying Developer’s Request For Land Use Change

In Pinellas County v. Richman Group of Florida, a Florida appellate court recently affirmed that neighborhood opposition is a legitimate, valid basis for denying a developer’s request that a land use designation be changed to permit construction of an industrial park.  Nearby residents opposed the developer’s request, and hundreds of residents from the surrounding area attended the hearing and expressed their opposition to the land use change. The residents articulated specific, rational concerns that amending the land use designation to allow Richman’s planned development of the property would cause traffic, transportation, safety, and economic problems.  As a result, the county planning board unanimously denied the requested land use change.

The developer then sued the county, arguing that denial of the land use change violated the developer’s constitutional rights, and that the county was legally required to approve the land use change because the project was “consistent with all relevant criteria.” The trial court agreed with the developer, determining that the board’s “final decision was based on a desire to appease the Safety Harbor residents, whose forceful opposition was brought to bear throughout the Countywide amendment process.” The trial court concluded that “neighborhood opposition is not a legitimate basis for denying a land use application.”

The appeals court reversed this conclusion by the trial court, instead concluding that “resident opposition, provided it is motivated by legitimate concerns, can provide a rational basis for a government’s land use decision.”  The appellate court cited to multiple prior precedents, including a case holding that in most cases, citizen input may be a sufficient basis for a rational government land use decision: “Where, as here, citizens consistently come before their city council in public meetings on a number of occasions and present their individual, fact-based concerns that are rationally related to legitimate general welfare concerns, it is not arbitrary and capricious for a city council to decide without a more formal investigation that those concerns are valid and that the proposed development should not be permitted.”

This case may very well be relevant to the Weston City Commission’s upcoming decision on whether to grant a developer’s rezoning request to convert one of the two golf courses in Weston Hills Country Club to be rezoned for multi-story condominium construction.