Thursday, June 11, 2009

What – Not every city protects it history?…

Detroit-train    Tomorrow the climactic game of the National Hockey League season will be played at Joe Louis Arena in “Hockeytown,” Detroit, Mich., where thousands of rabid fans will pack the downtown riverfront arena.  The sight (more crowded for games than those at the suburban basketball arena) will be a rare one in Motor City.  Less than a mile to the east is the headquarters of General Motors.  Enough said.  And a little more than a mile to the west is the empty shell of what used to be Michigan Central Station.  With its cavernous Roman waiting room and huge office tower behind it, the station was once one of the world’s most impressive rail temples (here’s a photo back in the glory days), but was abandoned by Amtrak in 1998.  It is now empty, with window glass shattered.  The city government voted earlier this year to demolish it, but local preservationists are struggling to save it.
   If the station were in, say, Chicago or Boston or Seattle, where historic preservation is an essential part of local government, the station no doubt would have been transformed into some sort of public arts center or mixed-use facility.  (Here are some fascinating photos of the graffiti-covered but apparently still-structurally intact station.)  But it’s easy to forget that the powerful preservationist instinct is not nearly as well-developed in other places, such as Detroit, where the politically powerful have shown little interest in preserving hundred-year-old Roman temples, in the face of problems such as unemployment, crime, and falling populations.  And it doesn’t help that auto interests have never looked kindly on rail interests.  In cities such as Detroit, it is not easy to raise public funds for preservation of a history, an architecture, and a culture that seems remote to both the typical citizen and the average politician.  And this indifference to historic preservation is not likely to change any time soon. 
   Perhaps some of them can take solace in hockey triumphs.  Go Wings …

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June 11, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Protection for nude dancing, deep in the heart of Texas …

Texas   Whenever I mention to students that some courts have held that “nude dancing” businesses receive some first amendment protection, I get back snickers and looks of disbelief.  I then quickly add that not everyone agrees with this conclusion.  Last Friday, however, a state appellate court held that a state tax of $5 per customer on “sexually oriented businesses” (with the humorous acronym of “SOB”) violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  I also stress to students that courts in some states (New  Jersey comes to mind) tend to create more intrusive land use rules than do other states.  But this SOB ruling comes from the Court of Appeals of Texas.  The tax (imposed in 2007) is at Texas Business & Commercial Code § 47.052(a).  The ruling is Combs v. Texas Entertainment Ass’n, No. 03-08-00213-CV (Tex. Ct. App. June 5, 2009).   The Court of Appeals of Texas concluded that the tax was a “content-based” regulation of “expressive conduct,” which is treated as “speech.” This entitled the challenger to “strict scrutiny,” which the government conceded was a standard it couldn’t meet.

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June 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Who needs the city council?

  What’s the role of the local legislature in the creation of land use laws?  The history of the past 100 years has been one of a general accretion of power and authority away from city, town, and county councils, and towards zoning and planning commissions with the expertise and attention to detail necessary to craft land use laws.  Does the legislature still play a significant role in the process?     
Bridgeport    The city of Bridgeport, Conn., appears to have taken these points a bit too far.  According to a recent news report, land use changes in the city were halted because of the city council’s failure last year to approve a new city master plan.  Apparently, some people thought that the city council’s lack of attention to the master plan submitted by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission meant that it simply went into effect.   The relevant Connecticut law states, somewhat obtusely, that  “[t]he legislative body or board of selectmen, as the case may be, may hold one or more public hearings on the plan and shall endorse or reject such entire plan or part thereof or amendment and may submit comments and recommended changes to the commission.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 8-23. 
   Bridgeport, which technically is Connecticut’s largest city (albeit with only a population of 138,000, less than in 1920) has a history of industry, which led to its economic decline for much of the past 50 years.  But, as in New London and other old Connecticut mill towns, there are plans aplenty.  In fact, the city was planning to vote this week on major changes to the zoning regulations.  It’s just that the city council at least has to vote on the master plan first.  But good news:  there’s no indication that the founding Subway restaurant, located in Bridgeport, is imperiled … 

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June 8, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)