The case involves a six-year court struggle leading to a lowercourt's decision ordering a developer to tear down five newbuildings because the Martin County Board of Commissioners approveda site plan that was not consistent with the Martin CountyComprehensive Plan.

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Developers fear that if the decision stands, it could be used asa tool by environmental activists and other anti-growth activists,much like the issues of endangered species and wetlands.

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"The system is broken," Keith Hetrick, attorney for the FloridaHomebuilders Association, tells GlobeSt.com. "Right now, the trialjudge serves as a zoning body. Someone can continually file andchallenge any development in court. That doesn't work for localgovernments or citizens or developers. It only works for largeenvironmental groups who want to drag it out in court."

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Cecelia Bonifay, a land use attorney with Orlando-basedAckerman, Senterfitt & Eidson, agrees. "I'm afraid this willbecome their mantra to stop development," Bonifay tellsGlobeSt.com.

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But Terrell Arline, legal director for 1000 Friends of Florida,an activist group which supported the Pinecrest Lakes home ownersin their case against the county, says that is not theirintent.

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"We agree with the home builders that this case took too muchtime, and something must be done about it," Arline tellsGlobeSt.com. He would like to get the process "into the hands of amore knowledgeable body of people."

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Arline suggests replacing court proceedings with a Land UseBoard of Appeals, similar to those in Oregon and Washington. Arlinesays this idea has been brought up in Florida before, but has nevergained much steam.

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In Oregon, according to Arline, LUBA is a panel of threeexperienced land use attorneys appointed by the Governor andconfirmed by the Senate. The review process is subject to strictdeadlines and filing fees. Another option would be to make LUBA aspecialized department within Florida's Division of AdministrativeHearings.

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"If LUBA would replace local court system, it might be goodidea." Says Hetrick.

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But Arline and Hetrick differ on the key issue of whether or notto allow the introduction of new evidence before LUBA. Hetrickagrees with Oregon's model, where if the local decision isquasi-judicial--as in the case of Pinecrest Lakes--LUBA reviews thedecision based solely on the evidence presented in the localgovernment hearings. Arline prefers to allow for a completely newtrial with new evidence, as the courts did the second time aroundin the Pinecrest Lakes case.

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Not everybody thinks the system is broken, however. TowsonFraser is the public affairs director of the Florida Department ofCommunity Affairs, which must approve all county comprehensiveplans, including amendments, before they can be implemented.

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"The Pinecrest Lakes case is an aberration," Fraser tellsGlobeSt.com. "We review 12,000 amendments a year, and they rarelyend up in court. We don't need to revamp a system that works 99.9%of the time."

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