Floridas Martin County Commission this week accepted settlement terms that leave our clients, Bob and Anita Breinig, no longer facing onerous fines and the imminent loss of their dream: their popular Flash Beach Grille restaurant in Hobe Sound.
Instead, the Breinigs find themselves with their property rights intact, and they stand ready to expand their business without unreasonable interference from meddling government bureaucrats.
Just a quick (or not-so-quick) summary of the facts in case you dont remember the details:
Two years ago, Robert and Anita Breinig faced every American entrepreneurs worst nightmare when they sought to expand their restaurant: government bureaucrats bent on stopping them for no reason other than they could.
Years earlier, the Breinigs started a small catering business, which they eventually expanded into a small but locally popular restaurant, the Flash Beach Grille, in Hobe Sound, Fla. Robert cooks and Anita manages. Success followed success until mid-2013, when they requested approval from the county for a liquor license as a step along the way toward greater success. Then things went south. (The story was reported in Sunshine State News.)
Martin County conducted a property site check for the license. Afterward, the county told the Breinigs that a Preserve Area Management Plan (PAMP) on the property restricted their use of their property. The county required the Breinigs to cut back their operations or face fines. According to the county, the Breinigs storage of their catering truck and other essential restaurant equipment on a small strip of land immediately adjacent to the restaurant violated this PAMP.
This PAMP amounted to a conservation easement. It rendered very valuable land either useless or less than useless -- an actual hindrance that would preclude them from operating the business at all, let alone in a way that would allow the Breinigs to expand as they planned.
A prior owner several-times-removed from the Breinigs agreed to this PAMP, or easement, according to the bureaucrats. But the county never bothered to record that property restriction. The Breinigs knew nothing of it when they purchased the property, despite having done all due diligence to discover any properly recorded restrictions on the property before purchase.
The Breinigs thought the local government officials would recognize that their small business could not operate with the PAMP in place. The Breinigs explained that the size of the restaurant made it too small to house everything they needed to run the restaurant and serve their customers. Without the strip of storage in the back, they couldnt make ends meet.
Couldnt the county work with them to keep a small business in business? They asked the county to modify the restriction so that they could continue to run the business, hire new employees, and grow. The Breinigs made this request in good faith, trusting the good will of the government officials who had the power to either help the business or effectively shut it down.
In May 2014, in a 3-2 vote, the County Commission rejected the Breinigs requests. Instead of acknowledging their failure to record the easement/PAMP, the County Commission announced that it would commence the $1,000 daily fines almost immediately.
So much for the good will of government officials.
Enter PLF. We took on the Breinigs case, at no cost to them, and sued the county for this violation of the Breinigs property rights. After much sturm und drang, the county finally agreed to move the PAMP away from the restaurant in a way that would no longer interfere with the Breinigs plans for their business. The county lifted the threat of fines and even redrew the site plan of the property to reflect the expansion plans the Breinigs have for their future.
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.
The Breinigs are very nice, hard-working people who you cannot help but want to see succeed. PLF looks forward to seeing what comes next for them and the Flash Beach Grille.
Mark Miller is managing attorney of the Atlantic Center, Pacific Legal Foundation's Florida office located in Palm Beach Gardens. This column was posted on PLF's website March 18. PLF is a donor-supported, public-interest watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for property rights, limited government, individual rights, economic freedom, and a balanced approach to environmental protection.