A federal judge has struck down a Pasco County ordinance that requires landowners developing their property to hand over part of the land for future roads — or be denied a permit.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday said in a harshly worded 52-page ruling that he finds the ordinance "both coercive and confiscatory … and constitutionally offensive in both content and operation."
He noted that landowners who do not develop their property are justly compensated through the eminent domain process.
The ruling echoes a 2010 recommendation from magistrate Thomas McCoun, who said the ordinance was "a calculated measure … to avoid the burdens and costs of eminent domain and take private property without just compensation."
Pasco's ordinance, approved in 2005, drew a court challenge from Hillcrest Properties, which owns 16 acres west of Interstate 75 off Old Pasco Road. Hillcrest argued it unfairly forces owners to surrender land if they want to develop their property.
The ordinance says property owners must dedicate part of their land to the county if part of it falls on a map of future road expansions. Owners who think that's unfair can argue their project won't generate enough traffic to justify the dedication or apply for a variance. The county's goal was to plan for road expansions and save taxpayers millions of dollars by acquiring right of way before costs balloon.
Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said requiring right of way as a condition of approval has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and is "common practice" in Florida.
As for the county's next move, he said a judgment hasn't been entered yet, "so any discussion of an appeal or continued enforcement would be premature."
Attorney David Smolker, who represented Hillcrest, said he wasn't sure whether those who already donated land would be able to seek recourse. "All you can really say is it depends on the circumstance of each situation."