Friday, November 3, 2006
They have been an essential feature of affluent land use in both suburbs and resorts -- as inevitable on a large scale as coffee shops on a smaller scale. But for the first time in recent memory, the number of golf courses that are closing in the country in 2006 is likely to exceed the number that are opening, according to the Economist. The chief reason for the closings is the value of land for housing in affluent areas. Even some property owners in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a famous golfing haven, have decided that they can make more money by selling to residential developers.
I can't lament too much the loss of the links, even as some golf community residents who bought with the expectation that a course would there forever are suing under contract theories, the Economist reports. Golf courses use up a large amount of land; with new housing construction for a growing America restricted in many places by environmental regulations, open space requirements, and large-lot zoning laws, housing demand is bound to fall upon the golf links. Let the market work.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
The new “model” for re-locating corporate headquarters has been set for many years. When given a choice, most big corporations prefer suburban locations, where land is cheaper than in the city downtown, parking is plentiful, and, by the way, the CEO and other top execs live nearby. (My favorite story in this regard is how an incoming chief of General Dynamics in the 1970s got the corporate headquarters moved to the St. Louis area because he already lived there.) Corporate relocation to the suburbs not only brings with it corporate jobs (and other jobs that rely on corporate employee residence and work), but also brings cachet, traffic, and land use disputes.
Some businesses have been resistant to the move to the suburbs. Law firms, for example, tend not to need much office space and often prefer to be close to city courthouses. But a new type of employer is now reported to be following the trend to the suburbs, disregarding all the talk of fighting “sprawl” and of encouraging centralized development near public transportation. This employer is the federal government. According to a story in today’s Washington Post, more and more agencies are moving some operations to the suburbs of Washington, and from inner suburbs to outer ones. For the military, in particular, many operations are being moved to the Virginia exurbs (where, by the way, many top military personnel happen to live.)
The move away from public transportation and towards exurbs, whose handful of road arteries are already chocked with commuters (any sane person would much rather drive around downtown Washington during rush hour than around Virginia’s Tyson’s Corner or Manassas) seems to be the antithesis of “smart” growth. It is also a sobering phenomenon in the on-going fight to reverse the trend toward sprawl.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
A vehicle is damaged and abandoned, leaking oil and creating a traffic hazard. Does the government respond, by removing the vehicle and charging the owner?
Not necessarily, if the vehicle is a boat. Here in Florida, home to more than a million registered boats, law encourages people to leave their boats anchored in harbors without cost (marina fees are costly and often have wait-lists), according to the St. Petersburg Times. When boats are damaged, many owners simply let them rot, causing navigation hazards, and sending fuel and paint into the water. According to some, Florida’s governmental authorities haven’t given priority to enforcement of derelict boat laws.
One way to get governments to pay better attention to public land (or water) use hazards and nuisances is to make it monetarily worthwhile. Like the small-town cop that fills town coffers by stopping out-of-town auto speeders, governments should make boaters pay for their improper water usage. Charge more for boat registration (and use the money for enforcement), require that boats have readily accessible identification tags that are difficult to remove, send out notices promptly to owners of derelict boats (Florida gained hundreds of these after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005), impose heavy fines on owners who don’t remove their boats quickly, and encourage local enforcement by allocating some of the funds to the local government.
Imposing hefty fees on those who cause harm to public land (or water) is the best way to encourage civic-minded land and water usage.
Monday, October 30, 2006
[American Resettlement – fourth in a series about how land use law is responding to changing residential patterns]
The big census news (since the news about 300th million person) is that “married families” now constitute a minority of American households, as Americans are more likely to be unmarried -– young people who put off or eschew marriage, single immigrants, and elderly widow and widowers. This change in population should be and is having significant effects on land use law, which was largely developed (especially in the suburbs in which a majority of Americans now live) under the assumption that the “typical” American household is a married couple with kids. The pro-family bias in zoning laws need to be re-examined.
As if on cue, the New York Times also reported recently about how developers are responding to the change in households. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering its role as a vanguard in battling “exclusionary zoning,” the example comes from New Jersey. In the affluent suburb of Livingston (median household income of about $100,000), a new development includes condominiums that appeal to both elderly couples and young people who can’t afford or don’t need a detached house. Zoning laws were recently changed to allow the non-traditionally suburban development and have also facilitated new townhouses near a downtown retail street –- not a typical scene in affluent suburbia.
Suburban governments and developers across the nation should and will eventually, I predict, respond to the changing America and amend land use laws to facilitate new housing demands and new kinds of residential development.