Victoria Oaks construction
PHOTO COURTESY MARTIN O'CULL Construction at DeLand development Victoria Oaks.

Enacted in 1995, the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act states that laws and regulations passed by state or local governments can’t impact private property rights. The right to develop your property is one of those rights.

But the Bert Harris Act isn’t the golden ticket to do whatever you want to land that some developers think it is, environmental advocacy organization 1000 Friends of Florida’s Policy and Planning Director Jane West told The Beacon.

“There is no law that says that you are entitled to the highest and best use of your property. What you are entitled to is whatever zoning and land-use designation it has at the time that you bought it,” West said. “You’re not entitled to more. You bought it agriculture, that’s what you get it, but that’s a very difficult notion to convince people of.”

West would like to see municipal governments stick to their guns when it comes to their planning and zoning maps.

“If you take a snapshot of Volusia County’s existing future land-use map, you would probably be like, ‘Oh, we’re OK, there’s plenty of land.’ You know, agricultural, conservation, open space we’re fine,” she said. “And you would be fine if they didn’t change it.”

But the plans do get changed. Although land-use attorney Mark Watts told The Beacon the vast majority of developer clients he represents don’t request land-use changes, some of them do, and those changes — almost always increasing the intensity of development allowed on a parcel of land — are often granted, sometimes because local government officials fear they’ll be sued if the request is denied.

“That’s kind of one of those things that lingers in the back of my mind, and I think in the back of the minds of the other members of the City Commission,” DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said. “While I don’t feel threatened by it, I know that [Bert Harris] Act is out there.”

The Bert Harris Act was amended this year to remove barriers from landowners seeking to file claims against governmental agencies, if their “property is inordinately burdened by a local government regulation,” according to a summary of the changes.

The amended language expands the parameters of what governmental action means to include “government actions that affect real property including acting on an application or permit or adopting or enforcing any ordinance, resolution, regulation, rule, or policy.”

Among the other changes:

• A claimant can have the court, rather than a jury, determine damages.

• A claimant who later relinquishes title of the property is still entitled to relief.

• The claimant can sue for “injunction relief,” essentially allowing the courts to prohibit the government action.

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Everywhere you turn are signs of growth: barren land with trees cut clear, and new houses rising like crops from the land. For this special edition, The Beacon talked with several individuals involved, to get perspectives on growth and development, and some insight into the process. We’ll continue this conversation next week. Share your ideas at


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