The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org
The Florida Bar Journal
February, 2007 Volume 81, No. 2
The Status of Florida Law on Contract Zoning: Practical Drafting Suggestions to Avoid Contract Zoning Claims in Settlement Agreements

by Mark A. Rothenberg

Page 51

    Florida courts have generally looked unfavorably upon contract zoning. By definition, contract zoning occurs where a local government effectively bargains away its discretionary power to grant a development approval in exchange for a benefit or a concession given by a developer outside of a public hearing.1 However, Florida courts are split as to whether a settlement agreement that requires a local government to act (e.g., rezone) would constitute contract zoning. The split among the districts has caused uncertainty among local governments and the development community and has impeded efforts to settle land use disputes. The purpose of this article is to provide a status report on the law of contract zoning, shed light on the dispute among the districts regarding settlement agreements, and to make practical suggestions as to how local governments and developers can enter into enforceable settlement agreements.

    History and Origins
    Fearing backroom deals, Florida courts acted early to discourage brokered arrangements between local governments and developers. The seminal case in Florida on the issue of contract zoning is the case of Hartnett v. Austin, 93 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 1956). In Hartnett, neighborhood objectors challenged a decision of the City of Coral Gables to rezone a parcel of property from residential to commercial.2 The rezoning ordinance contained a number of conditions that included requirements for landscaping, lighting, police protection, the construction of a wall, street access, and the eventual submission of a site plan.3 However, the rezoning ordinance further required that the property owner and the city enter into future contracts for the purpose of implementing the conditions.4 The objectors (in pertinent part) challenged the rezoning ordinance because it required the City of Coral Gables to enter into a contract with private parties on unspecified terms to implement the development conditions set forth in the rezoning ordinance.5

    The Florida Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the objectors and invalidated the city’s ordinance for two fundamental reasons. First, the city’s requirement for subsequent contracts rendered the rezoning ordinance unduly vague.6 Second, the court held that the city had unlawfully contracted away its powers to rezone.7 The Florida Supreme Court held:

    A municipality has no authority to enter into a private contract with a property owner for the amendment of a zoning ordinance subject to various covenants and restrictions in a collateral deed or agreement to be executed between the city and the property owner. Such collateral agreements have been held void in all of the cases to which we have been referred…. Any contrary rule would condone a violation of the long established principle that a municipality cannot contract away the exercise of its police powers. When a zoning ordinance is amended by changing the classification of particular property, such amendment must be justified by a change in the use value of the property involved.

    In exercising its zoning powers the municipality must deal with well-defined classes of uses. If each parcel of property were zoned on the basis of variables that could enter into private contracts then the whole scheme and objective of community planning and zoning would collapse. The residential owner would never know when he was protected against commercial encroachment. The commercial establishments on “Main Street” would never know when they had protection against inroads by smoke and noise producing industries. This is so because all genuine standards would have been eliminated from the zoning ordinance. The zoning classifications of each parcel would then be bottomed on individual agreements and private arrangements that would totally destroy uniformity. Both the benefits of and reasons for a well-ordered comprehensive zoning scheme would be eliminated.8

    The Fine Line of Conditions Proffered by Applicants
    In the aftermath of Hartnett, Florida law evolved to permit developers to make concessions to the local government at the public hearing.9 However, for the development condition or concession to be effective, there must be some benefit to the public at large.10 The concession cannot solely benefit the property owner. Virtually all development applications submitted for consideration by local governments are accompanied by proffers from the developer or property owner. These development conditions range from self-imposed restrictions on hours of operation to additional landscaping, maintenance, dedications of public lands, reductions in density, provisions for affordable housing, and construction of rights-of-way. Such self-imposed conditions or limitations are often proffered to mitigate potential adverse impacts associated with an application or to make a potentially unpopular application palatable to the neighbors, the local government’s planning staff, and elected officials. The Third District Court of Appeal has held that such proffers do not automatically render the local government’s decision void as being contract zoning.

    In Wallberg v. Metropolitan Dade County, 296 So. 2d 509 (Fla. 3d DCA 1974), a property owner objected to a residential development being planned for construction on an adjacent property.11 In response, Miami-Dade County12 issued a building moratorium and the county’s planning staff initiated a down-zoning of the subject property for consideration by the county commission.13 The owner of the property subject to the down-zoning application agreed to a density reduction and to develop a greater degree of open space on its property.14 On the basis of the property owner’s proffers to the county, the county commission agreed to preserve the existing zoning on the parcel.15 The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the county’s decision against a challenge that the county’s receipt of proffered conditions from the developer constituted contract zoning.16 The Third District reasoned that self-imposed conditions or promises made by developers at the public hearing on the development application do not trigger the prohibition against contract zoning set forth in Hartnett so long as the local government’s action is not unreasonable and does not ignore the public interest.17 The Third District Court of Appeal stated:

    The Hartnett case is not similar to the one now before the court inasmuch as it does not appear from this record that a private contract was made by the county with a property owner for a change or perpetuation of zoning. In the present instance, the most that can be said for appellants’ position is that the commissioners may have been influenced by representations made by South Cutler. A rule which would forbid owners from announcing concessions to the public interest in any proceeding before a zoning authority would not be in the best interest of the public.18

    Similarly, in the case of Hialeah Citizens Alliance v. City of Hialeah, 2 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 44a (Fla. 11th Cir. Dec. 10, 1993), the Florida 11th Circuit Court upheld a rezoning against a challenge that the City of Hialeah engaged in contract zoning when it accepted a covenant during the city’s rezoning hearing.19 The court in that case held (in pertinent part) that the City of Hialeah did not commit reversible error when it granted a rezoning application on the basis of the applicant’s voluntary proffer of a covenant providing for a density reduction, landscaping, and buffering on the site.20 The Florida 11th Circuit stated:

    The [p]etitioner’s note that the court in Hartnett v. Austin, 93 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 1956), held that when an ordinance conditions its effectiveness upon the subsequent execution of a contract, the ordinance is invalid upon the grounds of vagueness and uncertainty. They contend that if the applicants had arrived at the hearing with a recordable, enforceable covenant in hand, it might be argued that the covenant was merely a voluntary proffer which the [c]ity could freely accept or reject. Instead the covenant was unenforceable at the time of the [c]ity’s action, and the [c]ity “contracted away’’ its police power by conferring on the applicants the power to determine when or if the [c]ity’s legislative enactment would take effect. The rezoning ordinance constitutes unlawful contract zoning and must be set aside for failure to comply with the essential requirements of the law — the second component of the appellate standard of review.

    In the present case, the court has determined that the change to R-3-4 was not conditional or vague. The applicants voluntarily offered at the first reading of the ordinance to deliver a covenant restricting the number of units, limiting the height of buildings and providing a landscape buffer. These changes were discussed by all interested parties at the second reading. At the second reading the applicants offered a signed but not notarized covenant containing the above mentioned restrictions to the [c]ity [c]ouncil. While the covenant was not recordable at that time, its terms were clearly and definitely set out in written form. The covenant was not an agreement to be entered into in the future, nor was it vague. Therefore, the [c]ity has not departed from the essential requirements of the law by contracting away police powers.21

    By contrast, in Bird-Kendall Homeowners Association v. Metropolitan Dade County, 695 So. 2d 908 (Fla. 3d DCA 1997), the Third District Court of Appeal quashed a rezoning because, in pertinent part, the property owner had proffered a covenant to the county limiting the reach of the rezoning to one particular use.22 In that case, the property owner maintained an illegal feed store on a .23 acre parcel of property.23 The property in question was virtually surrounded by agriculturally zoned lands.24 The property owner applied for a rezoning from agricultural to commercial in the hopes of resolving his code enforcement issues and legalizing his feed store.25 Attendant to the rezoning, the property owner proffered a covenant to the county limiting the use of the property to the feed store.26

    Neighborhood residents objected to the rezoning and claimed that the rezoning constituted spot zoning and contract zoning.27 Specifically, the neighbors’ attorney argued persuasively that the property owner’s request constituted a use variance under the guise of a rezoning and further constituted contract zoning.28 Moreover, the neighbors argued that the property owner’s concession to the county solely benefited the property owner and not the public at large.29 The Third District Court of Appeal ultimately quashed the rezoning and viewed the rezoning, which was accompanied by a covenant limiting the property to one use, as being a backdoor attempt at obtaining a use variance. However, the Third District went a step further and concluded that the covenant constituted unlawful contract zoning.30

    Settlement Agreements
    Most property owners and developers prefer to settle land use disputes with local governments as opposed to entering the uncertain world of litigation.31 The issue then becomes whether a settlement agreement can be construed as an unlawful delegation of the local government’s powers and in contravention of notice required for land development decisions. Over the course of the past 20 years, a split has emerged among the districts as to whether local governments can approve rezonings as part of a judicially approved settlement agreement.

    In 1988, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in the case of Molina v. Tradewinds Corp. by Kilday, 526 So. 2d 695 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988), upheld a settlement agreement requiring the City of Boynton Beach to conduct hearings and adopt ordinances approving a planned unit development once the developer filed a revised application. The city and applicant had also stipulated to the trial court reserving jurisdiction over the implementation of the settlement agreement.32 The Fourth District held that the settlement agreement did not constitute contract zoning because the applicant was required to file a revised development application and the city was required to adopt ordinances at duly noticed public hearings consistent with the agreement.33

    By contrast, the Second District Court of Appeal rejected the notion that a local government can, in a settlement agreement, bind itself to taking a specific action or agree to be supportive of an action prior to formal consideration at a public hearing. In the case of Chung v. Sarasota County, 686 So. 2d 1358 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996), the Second District Court of Appeal rejected a settlement agreement that required the county to rezone. The settlement agreement at issue was entered into by the county after an unsuccessful applicant for a rezoning filed suit.34 As in Molina, the county and the applicant then entered into a stipulated settlement agreement which obligated the county to rezone the property subject to a number of stipulations and conditions.35 An adjacent property owner challenged the settlement agreement and the lower court agreed to vacate the settlement. The Second District upheld the decision holding that the settlement agreement constituted contract zoning.36 The Second District reasoned that although litigants may stipulate to facts in dispute, the decision to rezone is not a matter that could be the subject of a stipulation.37 The Second District also expressly recognized its disagreement with the Fourth District’s decision in Molina. Specifically, the Second District reasoned that even if the local government was required to hold hearings on the development application, its decision would have already been made, rendering the hearings illusory.38 Moreover, the Second District believed that as a matter of public policy, developers could simply submit unacceptable plans for consideration and obtain approval during settlement negotiations.39

    Following the Chung decision, the Florida Legislature adopted the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act.40 Depending on the circumstance, an unsuccessful applicant for a development approval may be positioned to file a Harris Act claim. Upon filing the claim, the applicant/property owner is required to (in pertinent part) submit a settlement demand to the local government. The Harris Act permits the local government to provide for relief that includes an adjustment of land development standards; increase density or intensity; transfer development rights; provide for land swaps; provide for mitigation payments in lieu of onsite mitigation; and the issuance of variances, special exceptions, or other development orders.41 The issue of contract zoning has been raised in relation to such settlement agreements.

    In Chisholm Properties South Beach, Inc. v. The City of Miami Beach, 8 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 689b (Fla. 11th Cir. 2001), per curiam aff’d, 830 So. 2d 842 (Fla. 3d DCA 2002), neighborhood objectors challenged the grant of a variance through the use of a Harris Act settlement agreement. In that case, the City of Miami Beach had adopted new height regulations.42 A property owner who was then subjected to the new height limits filed a Harris Act complaint against the city and simultaneously applied for and received variances from the height restriction. The variances were then subject to a challenge from neighborhood objectors.43 The property owner and the city then entered into a Harris Act settlement agreement whereby the variances were given a second time. The circuit court ultimately quashed both variance approvals. Neither the 11th Circuit or the Third District Court of Appeal ultimately ruled on the objector’s arguments regarding contract zoning. However, it is anticipated that the issue will resurface in the future.44

    Development Agreements
    The Florida Legislature also provided for the execution of agreements between developers and municipalities.45 The crux of this type of agreement is that the developer is able to obtain recognition from the local government as to its vested development rights while simultaneously articulating and assigning the responsibilities for the establishment of supporting infrastructure. Alternatively, the development agreement may establish what types of development approvals the developer will require prior to commencing development.46 Presumably, in an effort to address the concerns expressed by the Florida Supreme Court in Hartnett, the legislature established regulations governing the establishment or amendment to such agreements. For example, before entering into a development agreement, the local government is required to conduct two public hearings.47 Both hearings are required to be advertised in the newspaper seven days prior to the hearing.48 Finally, the development agreement must be consistent with the local government’s comprehensive plan and land development regulations.49

    Morgran Co. v. Orange County — A “Cautionary Tale”
    Although most local governments will honor development agreements, practitioners should be guarded when drafting agreements that require a local government to take a particular action for two important reasons. First, the political winds can and often will change. Second, Florida courts have been reluctant to force local governments to surrender benefits or concessions made by developers when an agreement is nullified. On the first point, take for instance the case of Morgran Co. v. Orange County, 818 So. 2d 640 (Fla. 5th DCA 2002).

    In Morgran, the developer’s attorney drafted a development agreement requiring the county to support and expeditiously process a rezoning in the aftermath of a comprehensive plan amendment. In exchange, Morgran offered to dedicate 50 acres of property for use as park space once the rezoning process was concluded.50 In reliance on the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in Molina and the Second District Court of Appeal’s admonition in Chung, the developer’s attorney wisely limited the obligation of the county to support and process the application. Unfortunately, the county commission changed its mind in large measure because of school overcrowding concerns and began looking for ways to curb new development. Morgran found itself caught in the crossfire. Orange County then sought to disavow the development agreement in its entirety. 51 The Fifth District Court of Appeal lamented the county’s actions but held fast to its determination that contract zoning exists even if a development agreement only requires the county support an application for development. The Fifth District held:

    This case may . . . serve as a cautionary tale for anyone who enters into a contract with Orange County.

    Orange County’s position is that its agreement to “support and expeditiously process” Morgran’s rezoning application is unambiguously void as a matter of law, since this agreement with Morgran requires the [c]ounty to contract away its police powers . . . . Morgran responds that there is a distinction between an obligation to support the request for rezoning and an obligation to approve the request. They urge that both parties, aware of the law of contract zoning, developed this carefully worded, highly negotiated contract language that “does not purport, either impliedly or expressly, to restrict or any way interfere with, the exercise of the Board of County Commissioner’s police power as the final zoning authority in the [c]ounty.” This argument, we fear, draws too fine a distinction . . . . The problem in this case lies with Orange County’s obligation to “support” Morgran’s request for rezoning, as part of that development agreement. If the Board of County Commissioners has already contracted to “support” Morgran’s request for rezoning, it has invalidly contracted away its discretionary legislative power as the final decision making authority. The clause in the contract which provides that the “rezoning process is subject to all [c]ounty ordinances and regulations governing rezoning,” does not cure the problem.52

    On the second point, Florida courts have been reluctant to penalize local governments and require restitution even when the local government disavows its own agreement. In 1989, the Second District Court of Appeal refused to require the City of Largo to repay a developer money it had paid the city under a development agreement requiring the approval of a roadway project. The Second District held:

    With regard to the [c]ity’s contractual liability, we agree with the position taken by the [c]ity that the subject contract is ultra vires and therefore unenforceable…. The [c]ity does not have the authority to enter into such a contract, which effectively contracts away the exercise of its police powers . . . . [W]here, as in this case, it is determined that a party has entered into a contract with a municipality that unlawfully limits the municipality’s exercise of its police power and is therefore beyond the municipality’s power to contract, the party cannot then recover money paid to the municipality under a theory of implied contract or quantum meruit. A party entering into a contract with a municipality is bound to know the extent of the municipality’s power to contract, and the municipality will not be estopped to assert the invalidity of a contract which it had no power to execute . . . . Where the parties to such a contract are in pari delicto, the law will leave them where it finds them, and relief will be refused in the courts because of the public interest.53

    As a threshold matter, to the extent that the settlement agreement may arise out of a denial of an application, the property owner/applicant can and should request that the local government agree to recall its prior decision and rehear the matter. However, such a decision by the local government must be made within 30 days of rendition of the local government’s order. Once the local government has agreed to rehear and reconsider the matter, the applicant should begin to work with the local government’s staff on rectifying any issues that were raised by the local government or neighborhood objectors. In addition, and provided that the applicant can show a public benefit, the applicant may also consider other conditions or restrictions including the dedication and construction of additional right-of-way, landscaping, design changes, etc.

    To the extent that the property owner desires to settle a pending suit against the local government, the property owner/applicant may approach the local government’s staff and individual members of the government’s governing body to discuss mutually acceptable methods by which the settlement agreement could be adopted. Although such provisions can be set forth in the agreement, the local government’s discretion cannot be impeded either by requiring the local government to take a specific action or even to support the action in question. It is further recommended that any benefits being provided to the local government (e.g., dedications, mitigation payments, or other lawful improvements) be held in escrow pending the outcome of formal action by the local government. Finally, although a settlement agreement may be approved by resolution and not subject to the notice requirements for an ordinance, the development order being requested will need to be noticed and heard at a public hearing in a manner consistent with the applicable notice requirements.

    Conclusion and Call for Legislative Action
    This article has highlighted the disputes that have arisen between local governments and property owners in relation to contract zoning. It is hopeful that the Florida Legislature will expand the power of Florida courts to arbitrate zoning disputes through the use of special masters trained in land use matters and that agreements entered into in these hearings will be deemed enforceable.54 Moreover, it is hopeful that the Florida Supreme Court will provide direction regarding the enforcement of settlement agreements made attendant to a zoning dispute. This author respectfully advocates that either the legislature or the Florida Supreme Court formally adopt the approach taken by Molina with several minor modifications.

    The settlement agreement in Molina required the local government to approve certain ordinances attendant to a planned unit development. Such ordinances were required to be considered at a public hearing and in a manner consistent with applicable notice requirements. However, the Second District took issue with this approach because the local government’s decision would be predecided and the hearings would be illusory.55 As such, the Florida Legislature could adopt a requirement whereby a settlement agreement is noticed for quasi-judicial review and discussion before the local government in the same manner reserved for the underlying development approvals.56 At which point, neighborhood objectors would be given an appropriate point of entry to contest the settlement agreement and such agreement would be subject to judicial scrutiny reserved for quasi-judicial actions. Because the circuit court would have maintained jurisdiction over the dispute, it would be positioned to decide whether the matter could go forward or whether appropriate changes could be made to the settlement agreement. Moreover, objectors would then be free to contest the development order through (where applicable) a certiorari action and/or an original action.


    1 Hartnett v. Austin, 93 So. 2d 86 (Fla. 1956).
    2 Id. at 86-92.
    3 Id.
    4 Id.
    5 Id.
    6 Id.
    7 Id.
    8 Id. at 89. The Hartnett case is important because it demonstrated the reluctance of Florida courts to sanction a contract attendant to a rezoning. The Hartnett case presented a scenario where a local government rendered its decision without having entered into a contract before hand. Specifically, Hartnett addressed the instance where the local government required contracts to be entered into after the rezoning had occurred. Over the years, Hartnett had naturally been extended into instances where agreements were made prior to the act of rezoning. For example, in County of Volusia v. City of Deltona, 925 So. 2d 340 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 2006), the Fifth District Court of Appeal recently remanded a municipal annexation case back to the circuit court for consideration as to whether a preannexation agreement that required (in pertinent part) the City of Deltona to use its “best efforts” to support the establishment of a community development district constituted contract zoning.
    9 It should be noted that the local government itself may impose conditions on development approvals so long as the conditions do not amount to an unlawful exaction. The Florida Supreme Court has adopted a two-pronged test to measure the constitutional validity of development conditions such as impact fees. See Volusia County v. Aberdeen at Ormand Beach, LP, 760 So. 2d 126 (Fla. 2000) (upholding exception from school impact fees for over 55 community). Specifically, the local government must demonstrate 1) a rational nexus between the need for additional capital facilities; and 2) a rational nexus between the improvement/expenditure of funds collected and the benefits accruing to the subject property. Moreover, the Florida Supreme Court held that county-wide growth cannot be used as a justification to satisfy the first part of the test. Rather, the exaction must relate squarely to the impacts generated by the proposed development. Id. at 134. See also Wald Corporation v. Metropolitan Dade County, 338 So. 2d 863 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1976) (upholding subdivision conditions requiring dedication of canal and drainage easement where subject property required drainage and adjacent properties would be adversely impacted by development absent drainage through the subject property). The dual nexus test requires an assessment of the local government’s “rational basis” to require the improvements. Koontz v. St. John Water Management District, 10 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 30c (9th Cir. in and for Orange County, October 30, 2002) (holding that the water management district failed to show that requirement for off-site wetlands mitigation of 50 acres of wetlands seven miles away from the subject development did not meet nexus between or show rough proportionality to proposed 3.4 acre development.).
    10 See Walberg v. Metropolitan Dade County, 296 So. 2d 509 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1974).
    11 Id.
    12 At the time, Miami-Dade County was known as Metropolitan-Dade County.
    13 Id.
    14 Telephone interview with attorney Neil Flaxman. (attorney for the subject property owner) (June 5, 2006).
    15 Id.
    16 Id.
    17 Id.
    18 Id. (emphasis added). It should further be noted that Florida courts routinely enforce these types of restrictions. See Palm Beach Polo, Inc. v. Village of Wellington, 918 So. 2d 988 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2006) (upholding development conditions requiring the preservation and restoration of open space); City of Melbourne v. Richardson, 196 So. 2d 489 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1967); see also Metropolitan Dade County v. Fontainebleau Gas & Wash, Inc., 570 So. 2d 1006 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1990) (upholding the county’s enforcement of a development restriction proffered attendant to a rezoning that limited the permitted use of the subject parcel to a bank); Metropolitan Dade County v. Sunlink Corp., 642 So. 2d 551 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1992) (upholding covenant entered into as inducement to an industrial rezoning that restricted alienation of property to AT&T).
    19 The court ultimately reversed the city’s decision for failure to comply with the city’s concurrency requirements.
    20 Id.
    21 Id. (emphasis added). See also Broward County v. Griffey, 366 So. 2d 869 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1979) (upholding right-of-way dedication as an inducement to a rezoning against a contract zoning challenge).
    22 Bird-Kendall, 695 So. 2d 908 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1997).
    23 Id.
    24 Id.
    25 Id.
    26 Id.
    27 Id.
    28 Telephone interview with Jeffrey Bass. (June 5, 2006) (counsel for the residents).
    29 Id.
    30 Id.
    31 There are several commonly used methods to effectuate settlement discussions once the local government has acted to deny the request. First, the local government may be inclined to rehear the request and recall its prior decision. For the local government to reconsider a quasi-judicial decision, it must decide to rehear the decision prior to the expiration of the appeal period and before an appeal is filed. See Smull v. Town of Jupiter, 854 So. 2d 780 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2003).
    32 Molina, 526 So. 2d 695 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1988).
    33 Id.
    34 Chung, 686 So. 2d 1358 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1996)
    35 Id.
    36 Id.
    37 Id.
    38 Id.
    39 Id.
    40 See Fla. Stat. §70.001 (2006).
    41 Id.
    42 Chisholm, 8 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 689b (Fla. 11th Cir. 2001), per curiam aff’d, 830 So. 2d 842 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2002)
    43 Id.
    44 Moreover, practitioners should be extremely cautious when seeking a Harris Act settlement as a backdoor means of obtaining a development approval, especially when the local government has granted the approval and the approval is the subject of a pending challenge. As can be seen from the esteemed Judge Schwarz’s scathing rebuke of the city and the property owner in question.
    45 See Fla. Stat. §166.3223, et seq.
    46 See Fla. Stat. §163.3227.
    47 See Fla. Stat. §163.3225.
    48 Id.
    49 See Fla. Stat. §163.3231.
    50 Morgran, 818 So. 2d 640 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 2002)
    51 Id.
    52 Id. The Fifth District further rebutted an argument that an agreement with the local government’s staff would be different from an agreement directly binding the commission.
    53 P.C.B. Partnership v. City of Largo, 549 So. 2d 738 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1989).
    54 The Florida Legislature has already recognized the importance of special masters in land use disputes when it overhauled the Growth Management Act in 2003. In that instance, the Florida Legislature allowed municipalities to participate in a system whereby comprehensive plan challenges could be heard by a special master and then subject to certiorari review in the circuit court as opposed to requiring an original action be filed.
    55 Id.
    56See Fla. Stat. §166.041.

    Mark A. Rothenberg is associated with the Irvine office of Morgan & Lewis & Bockius, P.A. Mr. Rothenberg has extensive experience in representing real estate developers and municipalities throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. He has previously served as an assistant city attorney for the City of Homestead, and the Town of Miami Lakes. He received his B.S. from the Florida State University, and his J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of Miami. Mr. Rothenberg thanks Charles L. Siemon and Wendy U. Larsen for their tireless assistance, dedication, and support.
    This column is submitted on behalf of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section, Rohan Kelley, chair, and Richard R. Gans and William P. Sklar, editors.

[Revised: 02-10-2012]