ELC represented Tropical Audubon Society and Friends of the Everglades in filing an amicus curiae “Friend of the Court” brief in Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal in opposition to a trial court’s misinterpretation of Florida’s Community Planning Act.
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida had challenged a development called Rivergrass under Florida’s Community Planning Act, arguing that the development was inconsistent with the Collier County Comprehensive Plan. The trial court, for the first time, interpreted the relevant provision of the Community Planning Act to only allow for challenges to development orders that relate to the “use, density, and intensity” of the property at issue and interpreted those terms very narrowly. The trial court’s ruling precluded a significant portion of the Conservancy’s claims and the Conservancy appealed to the Second District Court of Appeal.
The trial court’s narrow interpretation of the Community Planning Act has the potential to significantly limit community members’ ability to challenge development orders that inappropriately impact natural resources, including Everglades resources, and to enforce the environmental mandates of local comprehensive plans.
The Rivergrass appeal is about much more than just Rivergrass. The public’s ability to challenge irresponsible development could be eviscerated throughout much of Florida if the lower court’s incorrect ruling is upheld.Nicole Johnson, in Guest opinion: The Conservancy of SWFL: Staying the course for the public good, The News-Press (December 22, 2021)
ELC ‘s brief explained how the trial court’s misreading of the Community Planning Act conflicts with statutory language and common law and threatens longstanding state, federal, and tribal partnerships, billions of dollars in ecosystem investments and benefits, and natural resources like the Everglades. Further, residents of Florida and the Florida Legislature have made their intent to protect the Everglades clear through a constitutional amendment, a plethora of legislation, and billions of dollars of investment. Comprehensive plans provide a critical mechanism through which these priorities are codified, protected, and implemented. The trial court’s interpretation of the Community Planning Act limiting the ability to challenge conflicts with these comprehensive plans undermines the Legislature’s established commitment to protecting the Everglades ecosystem and threatens federal and state investment in the Everglades.