Thursday, May 28, 2009

No minimum lot size exception for you! ….

  A developer sues and get the right to subdivide into smaller lots than otherwise permitted under local zoning rules, through a state statute designed to build more affordable housing.  Can a purchaser from the developer take advantage of this special zoning?  No, according to a New Jersey appellate court holding yesterday (Tanenbaum v. Township of Wall Bd. of Adjustment (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. May 27, 2009)).  
 Suburbs-2  A couple had bought a large lot in the development and sought to split it into two parcels, both of which would have been large enough under the zoning granted to the developer through New Jersey’s complicated “Mount Laurel” laws for affordable housing.  But because the couple had not been a party to the developer’s lawsuit, the township and court both found, the couple’s plan was “non-Mount Laurel construction,” and thus they were bound by the pre-lawsuit minimum lot size requirements, which would not allow two lots on their land (which might be surrounded, of course, by smaller lots subdivided by the developer).
  It may be said that New Jersey townships have fought the implication of the Mount Laurel principle at every turn and in every way, sort of like the Russian Army at Stalingrad (perhaps they see the consequences of doing otherwise as similar), and this decision is yet another chapter … 

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May 28, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Decline of the yard and rise of the rowhouse …

House-street     For most of a century, the detached home has been the American ideal, and land use laws were crafted to match, foster, and nurture this ideal.  But cracks are starting to form.  Today, I don't focus on the usual suspects – high gas prices, traffic, suburban alienation, or the attractive buzz of the city.  Rather, I’ll focus on the observation that appeal of the “lawn” – a place to plant flowers, toss a football, or shoot the breeze with a beer and a lawn chair – may be dying out.  
      First, here’s a story about the growing popularity of rowhouses in the Chicago suburbs.  Unlike detached houses, these smaller, yard-less houses have kept most of their value over the past couple of years, unlike big detached houses.  There are telling quotes from buyers who don’t mind the lack of a yard and appreciate the lower price.
    (Meanwhile, isn’t it interesting that developers are marketing them as “rowhouses?” A generation ago, a “rowhouse” conjured up unfavorable images of working class folks on the stoops in t-shirts in a declining urban neighborhood, while “townhouse” seemed much more posh.  Today, with “townhouses” having sprouted up adjacent to strip malls in many suburbs, the word “rowhouse” now connotes a certain neo-urban chic.  Expect developers to market suburban “tenements” by 2011 …)
    Then, there’s this story the extraordinary amount of time that the typical American teen spends texting.  From my generation, I ask:  When do they get time to wander the malls if they’re always texting?  I suppose they do it at the same time.  For their generation, for whom most waking hours are spent looking at a screen of some kind (phone, computer, TV), what good is a yard?  Will governments begin to craft land use laws with a presumption that rowhouses are as acceptable for new zoning as detached houses?
   And finally, here’s a story about a nearly vacant development of expensive detached homes in Homestead, an exurb at the very southern edge (hence the name) of the Miami metro area.  Imagine, in a growing Sunbelt mega-metro, pinned in on all sides by sea and protected wetlands, a housing development going unsold!  Perhaps the houses will be snatched up once the economy improves; but it also makes one think that maybe these houses should be torn down and replaced with exurban rowhouses …     

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May 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)