Last week on Wednesday, November 15th, the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce hosted a panel of local business and government leaders, to discuss “After Irma: The Outlook for Small Business in Collier County.” Panelists included Michael Wynn, President of Sunshine ACE Hardware; Blake Gable, CEO of Barron Collier Companies; Jody Hudgins, Senior Vice President at First Florida Integrity Bank; Leo Ochs, Collier County Manager; and Marshall Goodman, President and CEO of Naples Accelerator.

Themes

After an introduction by Bill Barker, President of the Naples Daily News, the panelists discussed the status of business in Collier County following Hurricane Irma which focused on three themes:

  • County’s storm response: All panelists expressed gratitude to Mr. Ochs for the great work of the County staff and the County’ exemplary storm preparation and response.
  • Environment for small business: Both before and after the storm, Collier County has been investing in citizen-accessible “economic incubators” and other methods to accelerate the success of small business.
  • Optimistic outlook: After the biggest storm to hit the Naples area in over 50 years, the small business community is poised to continue the pre-storm momentum and economic recovery.

Lessons from the Panelists

Michael Wynn. Odds are stacked against small businesses and challenges are constantly evolving. Despite the hurricane and despite the “Amazon effect” and trend toward consolidation, Mr. Wynn made it clear that retail is not dead. He stressed the importance of social media during a major storm and for general knowledge of a customer base. Small businesses may not be able to compete with Amazon’s product selection, but they can deliver products and use data to hone in on their customer base and product preferences.

Blake Gable. Mr. Gable explained that Hurricane Irma hit small retail businesses particularly hard and recovery will be an ongoing challenge. One month of lost business can devastate a “Mom and Pop” business. Both commercial and residential real estate markets are making a steady comeback. While Irma hit all sectors in September, signs point to a recovery to healthy pre-storm levels for both commercial and residential real estate.

Jody Hudgins. Mr. Hudgins stressed the importance of having a good relationship with your banker. He also urged that, in times of trouble, standby letters of credit are very important to have (particularly for unexpected surges in overtime expenses and supplies). Mr. Hudgins also indicated that disaster recovery loans have been an important part of the post-storm lending environment.

Leo Ochs. Mr. Ochs received accolades from fellow panelists on the County’s storm preparation and response. He indicated that the County is undergoing an “after action review” of the storm. Mr. Ochs also mentioned that the Board of County Commissioners may be considering policies such as a requirement for actual generators at gas stations and the need for backup generators at County utility stations.

Marshall Goodman. Mr. Goodman has a background in Silicon Valley and uses his background to help small businesses get up and running. He shared stories about the unique businesses that have come through his accelator program and the combination of retirees and opportunities that make Collier County unique.

The Future Looks Bright

Many small businesses are still reeling from the unexpected costs and lost revenue associated with the storm. Despite being directly hit by the most powerful hurricane to hit the area in over fifty years, Collier County is quickly recovering from the storm. The general mood among the panel was optimistic. Lessons learned from Irma will hopefully make the small business community even stronger than before the storm.

 

Photo Courtesy of Gail Lamarche

Last week, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida hosted Cornell University Professor Dr. Tony Ingraffea, as part of its “Evenings with the Conservancy” series who spoke on the “Effects of Unconventional Drilling” on November 8.

Oil & Gas in Southwest Florida

The evening began with an introductory presentation by Nicole Johnson, Director of Environmental Policy at the Conservancy, including a brief history of the oil and gas (mainly oil) industry in Southwest Florida. Oil wells have existed in Southwest Florida since the 1940s, but the industry has not thrived here like it has in other areas, such as the western United States.

The Collier Controversy

The Conservancy played a prominent role in recent controversies involving “alternate extraction” techniques in Collier County in 2013 and 2015. These controversies arose from use of fracking and unconventional extraction techniques at the Hogan Well in eastern Collier County, and resulted in increased public awareness of potential environmental concerns relating to fracking. The Conservancy has identified banning alternate extraction techniques as their #1 priority during the 2018 legislative session.

2018 Bills: H.B. 237/S.B. 462

The Conservancy is encouraging support of Florida H.B. 237, and its companion S.B. 462. If enacted in their present form, all forms of “advanced well stimulation treatment” (including fracking) would be prohibited in Florida.

On November 9th, S.B. 834 was introduced, and would impose penalties of $50,000 per incident on anyone who approves or engages in “extreme well stimulation” (including fracking).

Presentation by Dr. Tony Ingraffea

Dr. Ingraffea is an accomplished scientist who has studied and written about the subject for many years. He presented statistics on Florida’s historical oil and gas production relative to other states; use of solar power in the Sunshine State; and information about methane and CO2 (greenhouse gas) releases from oil and gas operations. Dr. Ingraffea also provided information on countries, states, provinces, and cities and counties that have banned fracking, including:

  • In Florida, 40 counties (of 67) and 52 cities have either banned fracking outright, or have passed resolutions opposing it. Collier County has not taken any formal action.
  • Florida’s oil production peaked in 1978, when production reached 4 million barrels/month.
  • Today there are around 60 producing oil and gas wells in Florida, and they produce around 150,000 barrels/month.
  • Every day, the United States consumes around 20 million barrels/day.

Dr. Ingraffea alluded to the United States’ plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement in his discussion of greenhouse gas emissions, and provided some alarming statistics and projections.

Dr. Ingraffea concluded with a picture of Southwest Florida completely submerged, and he cautioned that Southwest Florida could be under water by 2022 (in five years), if the greenhouse gases and methane from oil and gas production remain on their present course. Amid gasps (and some giggles) from the crowd, he emphasized “these are only projections.”

Takings/Bert Harris Act

The arguments for conservation are compelling and sincere. However, regulation of resources involves striking a balance among competing interest holders. Because of this, in banning extraction techniques, the legislature would be wise to consider potential impacts to mineral rights holders. Failure to do so could lead to takings and Bert Harris Act lawsuits, and the possibility of indeterminable, potentially enormous, liability exposure for state and local governments in Florida.

If you have any questions regarding fracking or land use in Southwest Florida, please feel free to contact me at jeff.wright@henlaw.com or by phone at 239-344-1371.

 

Your neighbors are proud of their beautiful, large fruit trees, which are now growing substantially over your property. The trees have grown so large that a number of branches extend over your house, tool shed, and other improvements, which you believe results in a dangerous condition, not to mention rotten fruit dropping on your patio. What are your options: force the neighbor to remove the tree extending over your land, sue for damages, or something else? You may be surprised.

Is Your Neighbor Legally Responsible?

In Florida, a possessor of land is not liable to others outside his land for nuisance caused by vegetation growing from his land over adjoining properties. Scott v McCarty, 41 So. 3d 989 (Fla.4th DCA 2010). Therefore, your neighbor has no duty to remove or even trim the tree branches that encroach onto your property.

Continue Reading Are Your Neighbor’s Trees Growing On Your Property?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (and I hope you are, or will become one!), you will know that many of my posts, over the years, have to do with property rights. An important component of property rights is valuation of the property right taken, or at stake. Today, as part of my series with local appraisers, I am interviewing Matt Simmons, an appraiser and principal with the firm of Maxwell, Hendry & Simmons, LLC.

Carlos: What do appraisers do?

Matt: At the core, we value the bundle of rights inherent in real property. We typically determine the value through application of one or more commonly accepted approaches to value: the Sales Comparison, Cost, or Income approach. But within each approach the nuance of the overall rights remains the value driver. The acronym DUE encompasses the fundamental rights most fee simple real property possesses. These are the rights of disposition, use, and exclusion. When an action (governmental or otherwise) impacts one of these rights, the value of the property is almost always impacted.

Carlos: What made you want to become an appraiser?

Matt: Like many professionals, I was introduced to the profession through a friend. I began working in appraisal data entry when I was 19 and gained my initial trainees license the following year. I’ve always had an interest in real estate and the opportunity to analyze properties, solve complex valuation issues, and build a real estate centered business is incredibly rewarding.

Carlos: How do you work with attorneys in property rights cases?

Continue Reading Meet the Appraiser: Matt Simmons

As of January 1st of 2017, it has been reported that the total value of real property in Lee County increased for the fifth consecutive year to $105.6 billion (nearly 9% higher than 2016 values).

With this year’s Truth in Millage (“TRIM”) Notices just around the corner (typically mailed by the Lee County Property Appraiser in mid-August), one recent legal opinion highlights the nuances of remedies available to the property owner—and the Property Appraiser—in the event assessed values are contested.

Background on Florida’s “Save Our Homes” Doctrine

For real property that has been classified as a “homestead” in Florida, the Save Our Homes provision of Section 193.155(1), Florida Statutes, allows for an annual increase of only 3% in the assessed value of property, or the yearly increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less. Moreover, under 193.155(2), Florida Statutes, if the capped value exceeds the market value in a given year, the capped value will be reduced to the market value.

Nikolits v. Haney

Continue Reading Homestead, Save Our Homes, and Corrections to Assessed Value: Are You Ready for Your 2017 Property Taxes?

What do they have in common? Nothing…except that when I was getting a new set of tires put on my car, I had time to read Murr v. Wisconsin, the recent U.S. Supreme Court 40-page decision in a property rights case involving a regulatory takings analysis.

Facts

The facts of the case are pretty simple. The Murrs purchased Lots E and F separately in the 1960s, transferring Lot F to a family plumbing business, but keeping ownership of Lot E in their own names. The Murrs transferred Lot F to their kids in 1994 and Lot E to the kids in 1995. The lots each had less than one acre available for development. The Murr kids brought the lots under common ownership (in other words, the kids owned both lots, unlike the parents, who owned one lot through a company and the other lot as individuals).

Once under common ownership, state and local rules forbidding separate sale or development of the lots came in to play. The Murr kids wanted to sell Lot E as part of an improvement plan for both lots, and requested variances from the local zoning authority. The zoning authority denied the variance request, and the state courts affirmed the denial of the variance request.

Continue Reading A New Set of Tires and the Latest Supreme Court Case on Property Rights

It’s an old saying, but it’s true in life and in court, as illustrated in a recent takings decision, Town of Ponce Inlet v. Pacetta, LLC, et al. The Town appealed “a multi-million-dollar” judgment on an inverse condemnation claim. Like most takings cases, this one has a long and confusing history.

The property owners had purchased ten adjoining parcels, seeking to develop a waterfront project. The Town, however, amended its comprehensive land use plan, leaving the property owners unable to develop the ten parcels as contemplated.

First Lawsuit

The property owners sued the Town, challenging the amended comprehensive land use plan. The property owners successfully argued, at both trial and on appeal, that the ten parcels should be treated as a single 16 acre parcel.

Second Lawsuit

Continue Reading Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Box stores won a victory in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, recently. With the assistance of Henderson Franklin’s Summer Associate Kristen Schalter, we wanted to share the facts and impact of the Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Forbes/Cohen Fla. Props., L.P. (Fla. App., 2017) case for those involved in commercial leasing.

Background

On July 12, Sears Roebuck (“Sears”) prevailed over the City of Palm Beach Gardens (“The City”) and the owner of the Gardens Mall (“Forbes”) in a commercial sublease dispute involving a violation of the store’s substantive due process rights under the Florida and U.S. Constitutions and unconstitutional impairment of contract.

The Sublease

In 1987, Sears Roebuck entered into a thirty-year lease with Forbes. Sears desired to sublease part of its store in the mall to Dicks Sporting Goods in 2011. Forbes later sent a letter to Sears stating that Sears could not sublease to Dick’s Sporting Goods because Sears had no right to sublease, the sports store lacked signage rights, and Dick’s Sporting Goods “did not belong” at the mall.

Resolution 20-2012

Unbeknownst to Sears, Forbes requested the City enact a resolution granting mall owner (Forbes’) approval over subleases and store modifications. Forbes contributed to the drafting process. The City passed Resolution 20-2012 (“Resolution”) which contained no criteria or grounds for approving or denying of any of the listed modifications or proposed subleases and heard no testimony regarding the Resolution.

Holding

Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeals ultimately agreed with Sears, finding that Resolution 20-2012 unconstitutionally impaired Sears’ right to contract with Dick’s Sporting Goods because it gave unilateral approval to the City and Forbes without specific criteria, which allowed Forbes to arbitrarily deny Sears’ sublease. Most importantly, the court stated the Resolution lacked a legitimate interest for a public purpose and no rational basis. To the court, the existing City Planned Unit Development already accomplished the public purpose of the Resolution.

Accordingly, the court held that Sears had a right to sublease to Dick’s Sporting Goods, that the City had deprived Sears of substantive due process, and awarded Sears reasonable fees and costs as the prevailing party.

Future Action

At trial, Sears conceded that the sublease to Dick’s Sporting Goods would require municipal approval through waivers because the plans for signage did not comply with the City’s zoning standards. However, Sears noted regular industry practice involved working with municipalities obtain approvals and waivers for signage. It will be interesting to observe whether or not the City grants the waivers for the signage now that it has lost to Sears at trial, especially since Sears’ lease is up in 2018.

Take-Away

Always be sure to determine if governing ordinances provide sufficient criteria for unilateral decision-making, otherwise there may be a lurking claim that the decision is arbitrary and the ordinance could be unconstitutional.

 

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, the word “fight” has several meanings, including

[t]o stand up against something or assert oneself.”

Recently, as a nation, we celebrated the 241st anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. We are justly proud of that independence. The signers, and other heroes, stood against tyranny and asserted themselves for liberty.

It took a fight to achieve that independence.  It has taken many other fights since then to preserve it.

Continue Reading Fight for Your Rights

pexels-photo-96612In recent years, Condominium and Homeowner’s Associations have become a target for negligent security lawsuits and claims. Typically, a resident or guest of an Association is a victim of a violent crime and the crime victim later sues the Association. While we discussed this previously, we wanted to provide an update after speaking with Henderson Franklin’s premises liability litigation partner, Traci McKee, for additional thoughts on what Associations can do to reduce liability.

Can property owners be liable for the criminal acts of third parties?

Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.” In a negligent security claim, the crime victim claims that the Association failed to implement reasonable security measures which would have prevented the crime. In most instances, the injury to the victim is severe resulting in a large potential exposure to the Association.

Under Florida law, landowners, including Associations, owe residents and guests a duty to take reasonable steps to protect against foreseeable crimes. Whether an Association’s safety measures were reasonable is typically a question for a jury. To determine whether a particular crime was foreseeable usually depends upon multiple factors such as past crimes at or near the property, and an Association’s knowledge of dangerous propensities of an individual.

Continue Reading Negligent Security Claims: Reducing Liability for Associations