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A room with no view: Homeowners back in court over dune project

The Supreme Court of New Jersey has sent an interesting case back for a new trial recently. While no one from Maryland is involved directly, the events leading up to the litigation could easily have happened here. This is a story about beachfront property and a house with a view. 

The plaintiffs are homeowners who live in an upscale community on a barrier island. Their house had a view of the beach until 2008, when several towns on the island had the foresight to embark on a dune-building and sand-replenishment project. The Army Corps of Engineers set about making the beaches deeper and the dunes higher in an effort to protect the residents and the businesses during severe weather. 

The problem was that the higher dunes blocked what the plaintiffs considered to be one of their home's most valuable assets: the view of the ocean. The town acknowledged this as it set about acquiring the land for the project through its power of eminent domain. The homeowners and the town agreed to appoint a panel of neutral parties to determine what the town should pay the homeowners for the land, including in its calculation the loss of the view.

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows a government agency to take over private property when the land is needed for a public project. Say the state needs to build a new highway entrance, but the property is owned by a few homeowners and a gas station. With its power of eminent domain, the state can condemn the property for its own use. In legal terms, this land acquisition is called "a taking."

However, the government can't just seize private property with a handshake and a tip of the hat to the landowner. It must pay the landowner "just compensation." In most cases, that's fair market value.

In this case, when the taking was just of a portion of the property, the calculation would also be based on fair market value. The loss of the view, though, added a wrinkle to that.

Apparently the plaintiffs did not agree with the number the panel came up with. So they sued.

We will continue this in our next post.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Dune Project Award Sent Back for Recalculation," Chris Fry, July 10, 2013