Court to decide on land-use regulations Environmental laws under review in Supreme Court.

November 19, 1991|By Knight-Ridder

WASHINGTON -- Throughout the nation, environmental VTC regulations ban or limit construction on private property to protect coastlines, preserve wetlands, control flood damage, protect endangered species and conserve open spaces.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the government must compensate private owners whose land was made worthless by regulations designed to prevent serious harm to the public.

A decision in favor of the landowners would make it harder for governments to enact and enforce laws to protect the environment.

The case accepted for review came from South Carolina, where David H. Lucas complained that his two vacant oceanfront lots were deprived of "all economically viable use" by a state law designed to preserve South Carolina beaches.

Lucas paid $975,000 for the land in 1986 and wanted to build two homes on the property.

He conceded that the state's 1988 ban on construction close to the beaches had a "laudable goal." However, he wants payment for government action tantamount to a "taking" of his land.

A trial court awarded him $1.2 million. However, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that Lucas wasn't entitled to any money, despite the Fifth Amendment's guarantee that private property may not "be taken for public use without just compensation."

David J. Bederman, a constitutional law professor at Atlanta's Emory University Law School, said the decision in Lucas vs. South Carolina Coastal Council was important because "there's a whole bunch of environmental legislation out there in which all building is restricted."

The justices are expected to rule by next July.

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