Can there be a more "Florida" name for a municipality than "Sunny Isles Beach?" Opinion may differ of course, but we think this one may take the prize.
That diversion aside, here's today's case. In City of Sunny Isles Beach v. Cavalry Corp., No. 3D15-1420 (Jan. 25, 2017), the Florida District Court of Appeal affirmed an eminent domain judgment and an award of just compensation, concluding that the trial court was within its discretion when it allowed the landowner to present evidence of "conceptual" site plans to establish the property's highest and best use.
The city took property for a bridge, and "[f]or all the years since the current owner acquired title to the property and before, there has been no effort by an owner to develop the canal property." Slip op. at 3. But at trial, the owner "contended at trial, based upon conceptual site plans prepared by one of its testifying experts, that the highest and best use for valuation of the injury to the property caused by the taking is that of a private docking facility for adjoining condominiums or homes." Id.
The city, however, argued this highest and best use was created for trial, and because the owner didn't take any affirmative steps to actually develop the property, the jury shouldn't have been allowed to hear of the owner's conceptual plans. The trial court disagreed, and the jury awarded the owner the precise amount sought.
The court of appeal affirmed. It noted that the appraisers tried to use the comparable sales approach to valuation, but could not find comparable properties. Thus, the owner's appraiser used the discounted cash flow/development approach. The court concluded that conceptual plans are "plainly" admissible to support the appraiser's testimony.
The court rejected the city's argument that this was too speculative, concluding the owner "did not seek compensation based upon what could or might be done to make the land more valuable and then solicit evidence on what it might be worth," which would have been speculation. "Rather," the court held, "the testimony  adduced [in the case before us] was based upon the actual value of the property at the time of the taking if sold for development [as a private docking facility], its highest and best use." Slip op. at 8.
"We note in passing that the valuation methodology used by the Owner in this case, relying on a highest and best prospective use, even though the Owner has no plans to sell the property or use it for that use, is precisely the same strategy long employed by county appraisers in appraising property for tax assessment purposes." Slip op. at 9-10.