JENSEN BEACH, FL-A local development case on its way to the Florida Supreme Court has sparked a statewide controversy over whether or not to replace the local court system with a new system to deal with complicated land use cases.

The case involves a six-year court struggle leading to a lower court’s decision ordering a developer to tear down five new buildings because the Martin County Board of Commissioners approved a site plan that was not consistent with the Martin County Comprehensive Plan.

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

“The system is broken,” Keith Hetrick, attorney for the Florida Homebuilders Association, tells “Right now, the trial judge serves as a zoning body. Someone can continually file and challenge any development in court. That doesn’t work for local governments or citizens or developers. It only works for large environmental groups who want to drag it out in court.”

Cecelia Bonifay, a land use attorney with Orlando-based Ackerman, Senterfitt & Eidson, agrees. “I’m afraid this will become their mantra to stop development,” Bonifay tells

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

“We agree with the home builders that this case took too much time, and something must be done about it,” Arline tells He would like to get the process “into the hands of a more knowledgeable body of people.”

Arline suggests replacing court proceedings with a Land Use Board of Appeals, similar to those in Oregon and Washington. Arline says this idea has been brought up in Florida before, but has never gained much steam.

In Oregon, according to Arline, LUBA is a panel of three experienced land use attorneys appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The review process is subject to strict deadlines and filing fees. Another option would be to make LUBA a specialized department within Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings.

“If LUBA would replace local court system, it might be good idea.” Says Hetrick.

But Arline and Hetrick differ on the key issue of whether or not to allow the introduction of new evidence before LUBA. Hetrick agrees with Oregon’s model, where if the local decision is quasi-judicial–as in the case of Pinecrest Lakes–LUBA reviews the decision based solely on the evidence presented in the local government hearings. Arline prefers to allow for a completely new trial with new evidence, as the courts did the second time around in the Pinecrest Lakes case.

Not everybody thinks the system is broken, however. Towson Fraser is the public affairs director of the Florida Department of Community Affairs, which must approve all county comprehensive plans, including amendments, before they can be implemented.

“The Pinecrest Lakes case is an aberration,” Fraser tells “We review 12,000 amendments a year, and they rarely end up in court. We don’t need to revamp a system that works 99.9% of the time.”

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Once you are an ALM digital member, you’ll receive:

  • Unlimited access to GlobeSt and other free ALM publications
  • Access to 15 years of GlobeSt archives
  • Your choice of GlobeSt digital newsletters and over 70 others from popular sister publications
  • 1 free article* every 30 days across the ALM subscription network
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM events and publications

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


GlobeSt. Multifamily Spring 2023Event

Join the industry's top owners, investors, developers, brokers & financiers at THE MULTIFAMILY EVENT OF THE YEAR!

Get More Information


Join GlobeSt

Don't miss crucial news and insights you need to make informed commercial real estate decisions. Join now!

  • Free unlimited access to's trusted and independent team of experts who provide commercial real estate owners, investors, developers, brokers and finance professionals with comprehensive coverage, analysis and best practices necessary to innovate and build business.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM and GlobeSt events.
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including and

Already have an account? Sign In Now
Join GlobeSt

Copyright © 2023 ALM Global, LLC. All Rights Reserved.