Monday, January 8, 2007

Trailer or a million bucks? Not an easy choice …

   The mainstream media loves a good tale of moral dilemmas and lots money, so the story of the Briny Breezes trailer park in Palm Beach County, Fla., has been getting a lot of publicity recently.  (Click here a special section of the Palm Beach Post.)  The community plans to vote this week on whether to accept an offer to sell the entire complex to a developer for more than $500 million, which would amount to more than $1 million per trailer owner, most of whom are far from rich.  Despite the dangling cash, many of the residents are retirees who say they prefer life in the waterfront park, which has been around since the 1940s.  Two-thirds of the town must vote “yes” for the sale to be approved.

Palmtree    The story holds a number of lessons for land use law.  One point is that a monetary payment may not sufficiently “compensate” the resident for the entire psychic “value” of a home -– a point made by opponents of widespread eminent domain, both on the right and on the left. Another point is that the recent boom in land values, especially in locations such as coastal Florida, is creating a significant shift of the nation’s assets in favor of long-time homeowners, such as the trailer residents at Briny Breezes, who have the option of taking a large monetary windfall (not often a welcome term in coastal Florida), and away from young people and new entrants to the homeowning market, who are bearing the brunt of the high prices (which, admittedly, are finally starting to fall in many places).  As with the uncertain future of social security, we as a nation pay too little attention to the generational discrimination of our land use policies and their effects.

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