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Jury Awards 1.6 Million for Rezoning of Property

A Long Island jury (Noghrey v. Town of Brookhaven) granted a verdict of 1.6 million dollars against the Town of Brookhaven as a result of the rezoning of two parcels of land. The property, which had been zoned to permit shopping center uses was rezoned and the owner claimed this resulted in a loss of value.

While the presiding judge had ruled that the property owner had not lost all economically viable use of his land, he allowed the jury to reach a verdict on the issue of a regulatory taking based upon a loss of investment backed expectations. The property owner had purchased the two parcels in order to develop the properties for retail uses. The court apparently instructed the jury that it needed to only find by a perponderance of the evidence that there had been a loss of investment backed expectations.

This descision seems to run contrary to a long standing rule in New York that a property owner has no vested right in the potential use of her property. Municipalities have been permited to rezone property as long as the land owner has not established that there has been a substantial expenditure in furtherance of the development of the property for a specific use. In Magee v. Town of Orangetown, which is perhaps the leading case on this issue, the property owner had invested millions in developing the property when its permits were revoked and the property was rezoned. In that case the New York Court of Appeals upheld a judgment against the town for a regulatory taking.

It will be interesting to see how the appellate courts respond to this case.

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