FDOT Wekiva Parkway: Four-Lane Controlled Access Road (Lake County, FL)

FDOT Wekiva Parkway: Four-Lane Controlled Access Road (Lake County, FL)

A jury of twelve awarded property owners Scott and Elaine Taylor $4.9 million in an eminent domain case involving the Wekiva Parkway Project that proceeded before Circuit Court Judge Victor Musleh, in Tavares, Florida, in a case styled Florida Department of Transportation v. Scott B. Taylor, et al., CASE NO. 2016-CA-000797 (5th Judicial Circuit, Florida).

The Florida Department of Transportation (“FDOT”) and the Central Florida Expressway Authority (“CFX”) are constructing a 25-mile limited access toll facility that serves as the last link to complete Orlando’s Outer Beltway. This last link 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 as been 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 crosshairs of eminent domain. FDOT was charged, as part of the project, to relocate a section of CR 46A out of the Seminole State Forest. As such, FDOT acquired 61 acres of new right-of-way through the Taylors’440-acre rural residential estate.

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. During the public hearings on the project, the residents of 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 a 50-foot buffer within FDOT’s planned 200-foot right-of-way. The Taylors, however, devastated on their own account, 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.

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.  FDOT hired its own 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 the 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.

To protect their private property interests, the Taylors retained Brigham Property Rights Law Firm. Through the law firm, the Taylors hired their own valuation consultants who, also using comparable sales, estimated full compensation to be $4,905,000. The sales they considered, while located much further away, were as large as the Taylors’ property and were located proximate to new beltway 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 5-day long jury trial which ended last on March 30, 2018. Court documents reflect that the Brigham Property Rights Law Firm tried the more persuasive and convincing case wherein the jury rendered a verdict of $4,905,000 as “full compensation.”

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