Zoning Board Renders Man's Parcel Unusable Without Just Compensation
Should regulatory changes that prevent one from developing their land be considered 'taking property for public use' without just compensation?
Source: Pacific Legal Foundation
Elliot Severson purchased a parcel of commercially zoned land in the city of Sammamish, WA that was large enough to build a restaurant or convenience store on, but the city prevented him from developing this parcel by gradually imposing land use restrictions that made development impossible. From the standpoint of moral law it is clear that the city unjustly denied him the opportunity to enjoy the full use of his property, which he had a reasonable expectation to develop, and imposed an unwarranted economic burden on him without compensating him for the opportunity cost of not being able to use his parcel. The city argues that they are not obliged to reimburse Mr. Severson because he was permitted to develop his nearby parcels in the past. But this is akin to arguing that a government can seize a man's house, through eminent domain, without compensating him for fair market value because he owns another house or two nearby. The constitutionality of their actions is unclear since the constitution provides a weaker conception of property rights protections than what is entailed in moral law. Undoubtedly Severson still legally owns the property and changes in a city's zoning ordinance isn't necessarily an example of regulatory taking, since laws that inadvertently lower property values are not considered regulatory taking under Penn Central Transportation v. NYC. If the supreme court hears this case the outcome may ultimately depend on the ruling in Murr v. Wisconsin, a similar case involving the regulatory taking of a parcel of land by combining the plantiff's two adjacent parcels effectively lowering the land value by 90%.