Vanderbilt Inn owners to sue over property rights

January 10, 2005
By Larry Hannan,
Naples Daily News
Naples, Florida
To submit a Letter to the Editor: 
The owners of the Vanderbilt Inn have begun the process of filing a property rights lawsuit against Collier County government, alleging they lost millions when a measure was passed limiting building heights in the Vanderbilt Beach area to 75 feet. 
Attorneys for Van-Dev Inc. and Vanderbilt Beach Associates Ltd., the owners of the Inn and the land the hotel is on, contend that the county's special overlay district [zoning] has cost them at least $18 million because they are now prohibited from building a 125-foot condominium and a private beach club on the land where the hotel is. 
The preliminary lawsuit, which has been sent to county officials but hasn't yet been filed in court, asks for at least $18 million in damages.
The county got the claim on December 22 and has 180 days [until May 22] to respond to the complaint before a lawsuit can be filed in Collier Circuit Court. 
This is known as a Bert Harris claim. 
The Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act became law in Florida in October 1995.
It was written to compensate property owners when actions taken by the government reduce the economic viability of their properties by creating an "inordinate burden" on an "existing use." 
Attorney Richard Yovanovich, who is representing the owners of the Vanderbilt Inn, said this is a classic Bert Harris case. 
"The old zoning would have allowed us to go up to 100 feet and plans were well under way (to build the condominium and beach club) before the overlay was passed," Yovanovich said. "When they made it 75 feet, we basically lost three floors." 
Naples-based Carroll & Carroll Real Estate Appraisers looked at the real estate potential of the property and determined that it will lose at least $18 million in value if the property can't be built above 75 feet, the lawsuit states. 
The building height limit in the area was 100 feet before January 2004 when the overlay was passed. In 2001, the property owners began the process of requesting a zoning variance from county officials that would allow them to build a 125-foot condominium. 
Yovanovich said building anything less than 100 feet is unacceptable because that was the county's height limit in the area before the overlay [zoning district]  was passed. At that point, there were active plans to build the condominium and county officials were aware of those plans before they approved the overlay. 
In June 2004, Vanderbilt Inn owners requested a site development plan for a 100-foot building on the property. 
According to the lawsuit draft, the county hasn't approved or rejected the site development plan, but county officials told representatives of the Vanderbilt Inn that the site development plan cannot be approved. 
This is the second Bert Harris case in the Vanderbilt Beach area.
Last year the county lost $2.75 million in the first case. 
J.D. Allen and Norman Burke, and their company, Aquaport L.C., contended it had a vested right to build a 68-unit hotel at 10620 Gulfshore Drive on Vanderbilt Beach before the county pulled their permit in May 2001. The permit was yanked because the surrounding community opposed the hotel
Senior Circuit Judge Jack Schoonover ruled Burke and Allen had a county-approved site development plan and a building permit. 
Allen and Burke went on to build the 15-unit Bellagio Grande on Vanderbilt Beach instead. 
Yovanovich said he hopes county leaders' previous defeat will encourage them to settle this situation. 
"When we first went through the overlay the other Bert Harris case hadn't been decided yet," Yovanovich said. 
County Manager Jim Mudd referred all questions on the lawsuit draft to the County Attorney's office. County attorneys couldn't be reached for comment.
Copyright 2005, Naples Daily News.
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