Land Grab

Doug Peterson paid a cool half million for his place. Now the government wants a chunk of it.

About two weeks after Peterson squawked, Neil Kalin, the South Broward district director, offered instead to take an easement for the pond. Peterson closes his eyes and shakes his head. "But that's all beside the point; the point is that they're not entitled to confiscate your property."

Kalin wouldn't verbally answer New Times' questions. His responses to faxed queries generally failed to address Peterson's complaints. But he did write, "For clarification, the District is not taking 'private property,'" adding that the body has routinely required easements in exchange for permits since 1989.

John Eastman, who lives down the street from Peterson, still grinds his teeth when he talks about a shed he built five years ago. He submitted plans to the drainage district and learned that it wanted an easement. "I'm supposed to give them 15 feet on the north and south sides of my property for drainage easements," he scoffs. "They already had a 40-foot easement on the back for a ditch." He says he asked Kalin: "Why do you need this now? You haven't needed it for the 27 years the house has been here." Eastman claims Kalin told him to either sign or forgo building. "I'd already gotten $10,000 of site work done," he says. "I had no choice but to sign it."

Doug Peterson balked at officials' demand for easements in exchange for a permit to erect this fence
Colby Katz
Doug Peterson balked at officials' demand for easements in exchange for a permit to erect this fence

Eastman later complained to Broward Commissioner Lori Parrish, who looked into the matter. County Attorney Edward Dion informed her in a July 1999 memo that the district was an independent body and thus the County Commission couldn't reverse its decisions.

Unlike Eastman, Peterson refuses to give in to the district's demands. Sitting in his study, Peterson spreads out on his desk the contents of a manila folder -- copies of state statutes, correspondence, memos.

"I ain't a lawyer, I'm a mobile park manager," he growls. "But I can read. I have a 12th-grade education." He contests a clause in the district's charter that empowers the agency "to acquire, by purchase, gift, devise, condemnation, eminent domain, or otherwise" any property it needs. "That 'otherwise' is what they claim gives them the right," he says.

Not so fast, says a South Florida-based attorney who specializes in real estate law. "Basically, the Florida constitution guarantees that no private property shall be taken for a public purpose without payment of full compensation," says Bradley Gould, who is not involved in the case. In certain cases, a public entity can require an easement as part of the permitting process, he says, but only if the building project and the easement are related in some way. Gould is skeptical that a fence could disrupt drainage enough to require such an easement.

Peterson swears he'll take the matter to court before bending. From the stack of documents on his desk, he pulls out a pink, laminated violation notice recently nailed to his fence by a drainage district official. Do not remove until authorized, it counsels. "If I lose, I've got very little to lose," he declares. "But if they lose, every son of a bitch in this neighborhood that they've extorted property out of is going to be saying, 'Wait a minute!'"

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