Zoning laws and their enforcement have always been controversial. Most zoning decisions by local municipalities bestow a significant economic benefit on one party and exact a similarly significant economic penalty from another party. Naturally, lawsuits frequently result.
Two recent zoning decisions by the town of Flower Mound have sparked a multi-million- dollar lawsuit against the town and three of its council members.
A local development company submitted to the city of Flower Mound a plan for a business park and related commercial development. The proposal requested changing the zoning for the land in question to campus industrial and industrial distrit-2 uses.
Many people who lived in close proximity to the proposed development attended a public meeting of the town’s planning and zoning commission to protest granting the zoning permits sought by the developer. The Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend denial of the permits sought by the developer. One week later, the City Council denied the application and also lowered the zoning classification on the subject property to “planned development district,” a classification that would not allow any industrial uses.
A few days after the council’s actions to deny the permit, the developer filed suit in the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Texas alleging that the denial of the zoning application and subsequent zoning changes reduced the value of the land by $40 million. Most courts have held that any reduction in land value caused by a rezoning does not give rise to a claim for damages; the landowner’s only remedy is a lawsuit to overturn the zoning decision.
The developer also alleged that three members of the Town Council violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by holding unauthorized closed sessions and unsanctioned meetings on the Internet program Zoom. The developer has also alleged that its proposed use was included in the Town’s master plan and that approval was mandatory. In summary, the complaint alleged that the Town’s actions deprived the developer of its property rights under the Texas state constitution.
Lawsuits such as this one are rarely litigated to conclusion. The parties are usually able to settle their differences before the matter comes to trial. Anyone caught up in a similar dispute may wish to consult an experienced business attorney for an assessment of the case and an opinion on the likelihood of a favorable outcome.