New Four-Lane Controlled Access Roadway and Stormwater Ponds
In 2018, the Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (“CFX”) were completing right-of-way acquisition for a 25-mile limited access toll facility that serves as the last link to complete Orlando’s Outer Beltway. This last link in Orlando’s Outer Beltway is known as the Wekiva Parkway (SR 429) because the new highway crosses some of Florida’s most protected and most imperiled parklands, which buffer the spring-fed Wekiva River. The project was lauded by both the roadbuilding and environmental communities because the elevated design of the roadway will allow for continued connectivity of the sensitive wildlife corridors that will run without interruption beneath the new tollway.
Scott Taylor, a long-time advocate for protecting the fragile ecosystems within the Wekiva watershed basin, found his own property in the cross-hairs of eminent domain. FDOT was required, as part of its beltway project, to relocate a section of CR 46A which ran through the middle of the Seminole State Forest. As one of the last undeveloped, privately-owned properties of its size in the Sorrento area, FDOT selected the Taylors’ property to route the relocated right-of-way for CR 46A. As such, FDOT acquired 61 acres of new right-of-way through the Taylors’ 440-acre rural residential estate to construct a replacement four-lane, controlled access corridor.
During the public hearings on the project, the residents of the neighboring residential community Redtail came out seeking to have FDOT acquire more of the Taylors’ property in order to buffer their neighborhood from the anticipated roadway. The Taylors, who believed the project would serve a public purpose and benefit the ecosystems associated with the Seminole State Forest, helped to work a compromise in 2007 that ultimately provided Redtail with an additional 50-foot buffer within FDOT’s planned 200-foot right-of-way. The Taylors, however, made it clear that they did not want to donate their land without receiving full compensation for the taking of their property, including whatever the damages would be visited upon their remaining property because of the new roadway.
Later on, the Taylors subsequently found themselves in an eminent domain lawsuit with FDOT. They found as well that FDOT was only willing to pay an agricultural price for the land in the new right-of-way without almost any damage to their remaining property lying to the east of the new roadway. While the underlying land’s value reflected a highest and best use for upscale residential development, the Taylors decided to build an estate home for themselves along with a stable for miniature horses. The Taylors also maintained the remaining portions of their property as conservation lands.
For its project, FDOT retained valuation consultants who, using comparable sales, estimated full compensation to be $1,700,000. The sales they considered, while located close by, were much smaller than the Taylors’ property and more removed from any new interchange of the Wekiva Parkway.
Under Florida law, the measure of “full compensation” for the taking of private property, not only includes payment for the property taken, but also payment for any damages to an owner’s remaining property. The owner is entitled to be made whole. In most instances, the property should be valued at its fair market value considering what a willing seller and willing buyer would agree in arms-length negotiations considering the highest and best use of the property subject to the transaction.
The Taylors hired legal counsel who put together a team of valuation consultants who prepared for the owner an estimate of “full compensation” in the amount of $4,905,000. The sales the appraiser considered, while located much further away, were as large as the Taylors’ property and were located proximate to new tollway interchanges. In fact, while some of these properties were located as far as the Tampa MSA, a few were also legacy-type, family-owned ranches or citrus groves that sold at tremendous prices due to transitioning land uses associated with various market forces of which an expanded transportation network played a significant role.
Without otherwise being able to resolve the case, the Taylors and FDOT proceeded with a jury trial. The Taylors tried the more persuasive and convincing case wherein the jury rendered a verdict in the amount of $4,905,000 which was the total amount estimated by the Taylors as “full compensation.”