From a relevant Supreme Court ruling: “The unconstitutional conditions doctrine vindicates the Constitution’s enumerated rights by preventing the government from coercing people into giving them up.”
The approval of the expansion of the Mayflower retirement community by our city commission on July 22, 2019 was not without drama.
The city’s Transportation Advisory Board unanimously supported and on Monday three members of the commission initially voted to require two easements from the Mayflower in exchange for approval of an expansion plan modified from a 2018 preliminary approval. These easements were in contemplation of the city eventually creating pedestrian/bicycle trails along sections of the northern and western border of Mayflower property. There are no detailed plans for such trails and neither requested easement goes anywhere today. That is, the city would need to acquire additional easements from property owners adjoining the Mayflower to implement a trail that connects anywhere. The Planning and Zoning Board had voted unanimously to approve the application without the easements.
Interestingly, the three members of the commission voting to require these easements continued their support in the face of seven neighbors from bordering residential areas along with petitions representing 43 of their neighbors, and five Mayflower residents along with 250 petitions from Mayflower residents, all speaking against the easements. No one from the Mayflower or from the adjoining neighborhoods spoke in favor of the contemplated pedestrian/bicycle trails and related easements. One person spoke in favor of requiring the easements, that being a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Board speaking on behalf of that board.
Contrary to a headline in a local blog, “Winter Park, Where Bike Trails Come to Die,” (will that woman ever get her facts straight?) the Mayflower, faced with an amendment approved by a 3 to 2 vote to require both easements, before the final vote on the project approval, agreed to one of the two easements requested by the city. The Mayflower agreed to this because they had previously indicated their willingness to accept that particular easement, and thus had little ground upon which to argue against agreeing to it.
The commission, but for the persistence of Commissioner Sprinkel and the advice of the City Attorney, almost stepped on the land mine of a constitutional taking. In the end, the commission revised the amendment to limit it to include the one easement the Mayflower agreed to. The final vote was 5 to 0 and all is well in Mayberry.
For those desiring pedestrian/bicycle paths (I have been a supporter on public right of ways), the only way to make this happen on private property is to detail a very specific plan and to then pursue eminent domain proceedings to acquire the needed easements from property owners.
As a practical and just matter this means the city will need to compensate property owners fairly for easements for pedestrian/bicycle trails, rather than extort such easements in exchange for development approvals, as was attempted here.
If a majority of the city commission wants pedestrian/bicycle trails through private property, then prepare and approve a detailed plan that includes the cost of compensating property owners for the needed easements, that includes the legal costs of pursuing eminent domain hearings and related legal actions, and go through city wide notices, budgeting, and public hearings.
We would each do well by our city to fully understand the details of this episode for future reference.
Regards, Pete Weldon