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Florida officials back off land restriction, thanks to property-rights watchdog

By   /   March 23, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog

Photo courtesy of the Pacific Legal Foundation

FREE AT LAST: Robert and Anita Breinig were facing $1,000 daily fines for violating a 25-year-old unrecorded property easement.

After almost two years of battling local regulators, a small Hobe Sound, Fla. business is finally in the clear.

Martin County officials have decided they will not levy $1,000 daily fines against the Flash Beach Grille restaurant for violating a decades’ old, unrecorded environmental property restriction.

Never mind the local government’s beef stemmed from its own mistake, or that enforcing the fines was probably against state law. Robert and Anita Breinig, the restaurant’s owners, can now move forward with their business, and their lives.

That’s no small thing for a couple with 17 years of sweat in the food service industry who risked everything to buy their restaurant building.

“Last year, Martin County threatened to ruin our dream of owning and running a restaurant on our own piece of property,” Robert Breinig said after county officials finally backed-off this week.

“Five hundred dollars a day would put me out of business in a week,” Breinig told Watchdog in September while explaining Hobe Sound’s seasonal economy.

In 1990, local officials placed a 40-by-70-foot conservation easement on the lot. But the county failed to record it and decided to hold the Breinig’s accountable when a code inspector stumbled onto the restriction during a routine inspection for a liquor license.

“I was flabbergasted,” Breinig said.

Previous property owners also were unaware, as a title search failed to turn up any record of the easement before the Breinig’s bought the lot.

A county commission document concedes the easement was never recorded with the county clerk and, according to state law, good-faith buyers are protected against undisclosed items when buying real estate.

But it took more than that for the local government to do the right thing.

Local bureaucrats in the affluent area north of West Palm Beach relented, thanks to legal pushback from the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Florida-based Atlantic Center. The nonprofit public interest law firm took up the small business’s cause, free of charge.

“The Breinigs are very nice, hard-working people who you cannot help but want to succeed. PLF looks forward to seeing what comes next for them and the Flash Beach Grille,” said Mark Miller, PLF managing attorney.

According to PLF, the county has agreed to redraw the conservation plot and will provide $1,000 for approved vegetation.

“Although at times the Breinigs considered pressing forward on principle, they realized that this settlement provided certainty for their future, the future of their business, the employees who count on the Flash Beach Grille for their livelihood, and their loyal customers,” Miller said.

The Breinig’s case is the latest property rights victory for the legal watchdog, whose record includes impressive wins in U.S. Supreme Court.

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William Patrick is a Florida reporter for Watchdog.org. His work has been featured on Fox News and the Drudge Report, among other national sites, and in Florida news outlets such as the Bradenton Herald, Florida Politics, Florida Trend, Saint Peters Blog, Sayfie Review, and Sunshine State News. William is a member of the Investigative Reporters & Editors network and the Florida Press Association.