March 17, 2010
County Struggles to Pay for Unused Infrastructure Capacity
In our relatively short time as co-editors of this blog, we've written several times about the impact of the implosion of the housing market. (Just check out our housing and mortgage crisis categories for many of these posts.) Recently, the local paper here in Athens - the Athens Banner Herald - carried a story about how nearby Jackson County is struggling to pay for the expanded water and sewer service they built to meet the expected demand for new home building. Jackson County is an exurb of Atlanta and before the economy crashed it was experiencing massive growth. Now, as in so many places in the country, subdivided land is little more than "PVC farms" (so called because they are empty except for PVC pipes sticking from the ground where homes are to be built). The Jackson County commission's solution to this is to begin charging a $10 a month maintenance fee on the pipes. However, with many of the builders gone bust, they will have to wait to collect this fee from future developers. Let's hope that works out for them.
Jamie Baker Roskie
March 11, 2010
Glaeser spotlights Atlanta in NYT
Atlanta added 1.13 million people from 2000 to 2008, more than any other in the country except Dallas. But from 2005 to 2009, the number of annual building permits fell by 66,352, the biggest decline in any metropolitan area.
Will Atlanta continue to emerge as a mighty metropolitan economy, or will the housing downturn turn the area into a place that might have been?
After a succint review of Altanta's history as a city, Glaeser observes that growth policies and housing have been key to Atlanta's late-20th Century success:
Housing supply, not quality of life, has been the crucial helpmate of economic convergence. Atlanta has kept housing prices low, despite a vast increase in its size, because there are few natural or legislative limits to new construction.
The city was built in the middle of the state with neither mountains nor an ocean to block its growth. The dominant political players have long been pro-growth, and as a result, much of suburban Atlanta is a paradise for builders. The resulting low home prices have helped bring millions to the region.
Glaeser concludes that despite some of the economic problems that are currently plaguing sun-belt boom cities, Altanta's future may be bright, for three reasons: (1) its position as the dominant city in the region; (2) companies will continue to find its pro-business policies to be hospitable; and (3) it maintains a highly skilled population, with 43 percent of its adults holding college degrees (well above the national average and even higher than places like Boston (41%)). The next decade or so might be revealing about the long-term sustainability of the prevailing models of growth and land use in post-WWII America.
March 09, 2010
Manufactured Housing - People of Hope
While we're on the subject of manufactured housing I'd like to give a shout out to People of Hope. This Athens-based organization is creating the first resident-controlled, affordable manufactured home development in Georgia. This organization arose out of an eviction of a group of tenants from a mobile home park in Athens when the owner sold off the land for development. Like many places, Athens is short on affordable housing in general, so these tenants took matters into their own hands. With the help of the fine folks at Georgia Legal Services and Sutherland law firm, as well as Athens Land Trust and the Georgia Community Loan Fund, these folks are well on their way to realizing their goals.
Jamie Baker Roskie
March 01, 2010
The New American Home Goes Unfinished
Ngai Pindell and I have been lobbing this article back and forth, so I thought I'd go ahead and post it. A desirable in-fill community containing the "New American Home 2010" is going unfinished due to the construction financing crisis.
Record-setting bank closings, tighter regulations for real estate lending, and reappraisals that are less than the amount of outstanding construction loans have put builders nationwide out of business or on the brink of insolvency. “The only way to describe the [AD&C] market is horrible,” says David Ledford, NAHB senior vice president for housing finance and land development. “Even good projects can’t get money, and it’s hard to identify any patterns about the lending that is being done.”
Is this true everywhere? It certainly seems to be so in Georgia. Developers with their own money or with nontraditional partners are the only folks getting anything built nowadays. Do comment and tell us about the situation in your area.
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 22, 2010
Developer Doubles Up on New Buyer Tax Credit
From today's Gainesville (Ga.) Times, a story about a developer who is offering to double the first time homebuyer and "move up" homebuyer tax credits as an incentive to buy in his subdivision in South Hall County (less than an hour north of Atlanta). I've heard of lots of incentives, but that's a new one on me.
Jamie Baker Roskie
February 17, 2010
Even Boulder Struggles with its Carbon Footprint
Turns out it's very hard to spur people to action, even when the city tries to remove as many barriers as possible, including cost.
A statement like that would give even No Impact Man pause. But Boulder officials aren't giving up yet.
And the Boulder example has wider ramifications.
Aye, there's the rub. And so President Obama has announced a major new funding initiative for nuclear power. That story has a local edge to it for me - the initiative will fund two new plants built by our own Southern Company in Burke County, Georgia (home to Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle). There's sure to be more reaction to that - stay tuned.
In the meantime, what's happening in your own jurisdiction? It is a struggle to change individual behavior at a scale to do broader good. It's the age old question of individual action vs. collective action, and how to make it all matter.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Follow up - here's an article from the NYTimes about environmentalists' response to Obama's proposal to fund the nuclear power plants.
Update two - Friends of the Earth are protesting Obama's visit to Savannah today (March 2, 2010).
February 03, 2010
Interdisciplinary Problem Solving in Newtown
As you all might have noticed from previous posts, our clients in Gainesville, Georgia are getting a fair amount of press lately. The client is the Newtown Florist Club, an environmental justice organization working on industrial pollution issues in their neighborhood. Two nights ago we had a community meeting to discuss the work of our interdisciplinary team on Newtown's problems. The meeting got a nice write up in the local paper. Presenters at the meeting included Kathi Wurzel, a toxicologist who's been collecting environmental data and assessing previous health studies for Newtown, Marshall Shepherd, a meteorologist and climatologist studying air quality in Newtown, Alfie Vick, an environmental design professor and landscape architecture whose students have been helping residents envision redevelopment in their neighborhood, and Nik Heynen, a geography professor and community organizer who is currently helping NFC with a community garden project. Rose Johnson-Mackey and Faye Bush of the Florist Club facilitated. The meeting was well attended - close to 60 folks came. Many attendees seemed to appreciate hearing about the different types of work being done in Newtown. There was a bit of controversy at the end of the meeting, but everything remained civil. You can't ask for more in a public meeting, I think.
Jamie Baker Roskie
January 19, 2010
TDRs in Beaufort
Will Cook and I are headed to Beaufort, South Carolina this week to assist in the implementation of their Transfer of Development Rights program. I have been working with various jurisdictions in Georgia on TDRs since the clinic started in 2002. In fact, one of our first projects was drafting a TDR ordinance for Chattahoochee Hill Country. Since then I've worked with TDR expert Rick Pruetz and other faculty here at UGA on TDR feasibility studies for other Georgia counties.
This time Rick and I have joined forced with Bill Fulton (a planner so famous he has his own Wikipedia page) and his crackerjack staff at DC&E consulting (particularly Aaron Engstrom, who specializes in TDR work).
Beaufort's TDR program is interesting for a number of reasons. It will be an inter-jurisdictional program with the City of Beaufort and the Town of Port Royal. It also has twin goals, to conserve agricultural land and to protect the overflight zone of the Marine Corps Air Station.
We'll have more to report as this project progresses. Also, if Will brings a digital camera, maybe we'll even have some pictures! This is a beautiful area - and where many movies have been filmed, most famously The Big Chill.
Jamie Baker Roskie
December 22, 2009
Article Series on Newtown
As I've previously posted, a Land Use Clinic client, Newtown Florist Club and the Newtown neighborhood, has been the subject of a three article series in the Gainesville Times. The final article contains reaction from public officials to our proposals to amend the city's noise and air pollution ordinances. We're trying to get the city to enforce some industrial performance standards to control the serious noise and dust caused by the neighboring scrapyard and other industry. As you can from the article, it's a long and difficult struggle. I encourage you to view the slide show, which shows the level of aesthetic nuisance the neighborhood endures.
Jamie Baker Roskie
December 10, 2009
Of (Tiger) Woods and Trees and Land Use
Ben Barros points us from Property Prof Blog to an article by Christopher Beam in Slate's "Explainer" feature titled Stopping by Woods: Tiger Woods' car crash caused $200 worth of damage to a tree. How do you measure that?
According to the article, it turns out that there is some methodology for valuation of trees as property. It involves a number of factors that you may not find surprising: size, age, species, repair/replacement costs, aesthetics, neighborhood context, contribution to the (literally) underlying real estate value. There is even a professional Council of Tree and Landscape Appriasers, which publishes the Guide for Plant Appraisal (9th ed.) that instructs one in the methodology of the Replacement Cost Method and the Trunk Formula Method.
This makes eminent sense to anyone involved with land use or real estate. Trees are a significant contribution to both the hard value of real estate and the more subjective aspects of land ownership or use (beauty, sentimentality, shade). Both builders and buyers today place a great deal of significance on the contribution of trees to the overall value of any particular piece of land. It is also a matter of public interest, and tree ordinances have, um, sprouted up in many cities in the U.S. as an intergral component of land use planning.
But all of this is built on the anthropocentric presumption that a tree is in fact a thing that can be reduced to property and "owned" by humans. Would it be possible to have . . . a tree that owned itself? Most of you property law experts out there would say no. But one U.S. city says--yes! And UGA Prof. Jamie Roskie knows exactly where this is:
Athens, Georgia, of course. You may have heard of Athens' famous Tree That Owns Itself. It is a popular tourist attraction, dating from sometime between 1820 and 1832, when Colonel W.H. Jackson executed a deed purportedly conveying ownership of his favorite tree to . . . itself:
I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree . . . of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.
Here we are (apparently the current tree is the "son" of the original):
I wouldn't recommend trying to use any of your fancy human-based property law theory, what with your common law and your learned treatises and whatnot, to mess with the Tree That Owns Itself. The alleged deed may be lost, and there may be rules about capacity and so forth, but as a point of civic pride most Athenians will agree that the Tree does own itself. It is accorded self-"ownership" rights through longstanding (if perhaps winking) local custom. The real property records and plat book do not show the Tree as part of any adjacent property (it's in the public right of way). Furthermore, Ol' Reliable (i.e., Wikipedia) cites a 2006 statement by county Landscape Administrator Roger Cauthen to the effect that it is the official position of the Athens-Clarke County government that the Tree does, in fact, own itself. At any rate, it's legally protected as a historic landmark tree.
Anyway, it's a good thing Tiger Woods wasn't living nearby in Athens, or else one of Prof. Roskie's former students might have had the chance to represent the Tree (or perhaps the Tree's recognized caretaker Athens Junior Ladies Garden Club as next friend) on contingency.
December 07, 2009
"Life in the shadow of industry"
Today our clients the Newtown Florist Club, and the Clinic, got some great coverage in the Gainesville (GA) Times. This article, hopefully the first in a series, covers the impact of industry on the Newtown neighborhood, something I've discussed in a previous blog post and that one of my students also discussed in his guest post. I'm very pleased with this coverage - this reporter, Ashley Fielding, has really gotten at the history and nuance of this complicated situation, which implicates zoning, public health, nuisance, race, class, community and economic development, and much more. Who says newspaper reporting is a dead art?
Jamie Baker Roskie
December 7, 2009 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Georgia, Industrial Regulation, Local Government, Nuisance, Planning, Politics, Property, Race, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 03, 2009
Sea Level Rise in Georgia
As promised yesterday, today I'm blogging about sea level rise research and modeling being done here at University of Georgia's River Basin Center. (I've been privileged to work and be housed with the RBC for the past several years, and RBC co-director Laurie Fowler founded the Land Use Clinic).
Dean Hardy of the RBC staff has modeled the effect of one meter of sea rise on the Georgia coast. One meter is a forecast commonly accepted by scientists. A visit to the RBC website gives you a very interesting - or scary, if you're a coastal property owner, government official, or planner - view of the future. I visit the Georgia coast fairly often - particularly Savannah, Tybee Island, and Jekyll Island. It's very compelling to see my favorite beaches and neighborhoods inundated by seawater in the aerial flyovers.
Dean and his partners are taking this data to local government officials in Glynn County, Georgia next week. Those officials apparently hope to use this data in their future planning. I'm certainly glad I'm not in their shoes - although they might be calling the clinic for help soon, so I should be mentally prepared.
Jamie Baker Roskie
December 02, 2009
Sea Level Rise & Local Planning
The co-editors of this blog recently got an interesting e-mail from Jim Titus, an eminent EPA scientist who has been researching sea level rise for many years. He was co-author of one of the first EPA-funded studies on sea level rise in the mid-80s. He wrote to tell us about an important new study:
The Texas case ultimately gets at the question about whether the legislature can adjust property law to reflect the geological reality of changing shores without causing a taking for those immediately affected, and for those who will ever be affected. The Florida case looks like a judicial takings case but it too really gets at whether a confusing doctrine of avulsion can be adjusted to reflect the reality of shoreline movement and government response without causing a taking. Ultimately, the question about whether all riparian owners benefit from beach nourishment depends on whether they had a right to build a seawall or would have had to lose their homes without that beach nourishment. That is, cases like Stop the Beach Nourishment will ultimately require resolution of cases like Severance. But ultimately, the relevance depends on where we will hold back the sea and where we will retreat.
Our new study gets into that question. The sea level rise planning study, recently published in the peer-review journal Environmental Research Letters., was based on a $2 million research project by USEPA, conducted in collabortation with 130 local governments. Actually, the regional planning councils did the work in FL, GA, and PA; elsewhere we obtained our data and vetted the analysis through the local governments. The media coverage was mostly in the southeast, especially North Carolina, but the general story is important to all who want to think about either (a) how lands use planning will deal with sea level rise or (b) where all these coastal takings cases ultimately go.
The study does three things worth knowing about. First, we create maps about where people would hold back the sea if current policies continue, based on the data provided by 130 local govenments, refined through site-specific corrections by local planers. The idea is to motivate dialogue on where we **should** protect and where we **should** allow wetlands to migrate inland. So now, local governments that want to start planning for sea level rise have a strawman baseline analysis. This is needed because one can not really address rising sea level in a local plan without making an assumption about which land will be yielded to the sea, which land will be elevated, and which land will be protected by a structure.
With all these GIS maps, we then analyze how much land is likely to be developed and protected from the rising sea (possibly exposing people to a New Orleans situation) and how much land is available for the inland migration of wetlands. We estimate that 60% of low land will be developed, with 10% set aside for conservation and the other 30% undeveloped at first--but shore protection would be possible even here. Opportunities for land-use planning are greatest between Delaware Bay and Georgia; elsewhere emergency and infrastructure planning are more urgent. (My personal view is that, as legislatures and others think about possible clarification and alignment of property rights to reflect rising sea level, the areas shown in blue should all have something like the Texas rolling easement as a background principal, the areas in red are candidates for purchase of rolling easements as an interest in land--possibly by eminent domain, exactions, or conserancies; and the areas in brown should have policies more protective or property rights along estuaries provided that public access is preserved.)
Finally, we conclude that the resulting level of shore protection has a cumulative impact which violates the Clean Water Act (legal reasoning explained in the article).
Our thanks to Jim for letting us know about this study. It parallels some work being done by the Ecology school here at UGA. I'll blog about that soon.
Jamie Baker Roskie
UPDATE: Jim asked that I be sure to add the links to the sea level rise planning maps and the state-specific summaries. (On the latter page, for extra fun, you can download a Christmas global warming song!) Also, Jim attended oral arguments for Stop the Beach, which I will post in a separate blog entry.
November 24, 2009
Environmental Justice & Scrapyard Regulation
This is another in an occasional series of UGA Land Use Clinic student-authored posts. Today's guest blogger is Ryan H. Dodd, former Army JAG lawyer and current LL.M. Candidate in Environmental Law.
By way of background, the Newtown Community has been actively fighting these environmental justice issues for decades now. Because of the community’s location in the midst of the city’s industrial zone, many of the battles fought have been between the community and neighboring industrial businesses. Currently, the focus of attention has fallen on a neighboring scrap yard and the nuisance it is creating via fugitive dust and noise from its scrap processing operations. With regard to many of the other types of heavy industrial businesses near Newtown, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has been able to step in and regulate. This has been because these businesses are required to carry permits that are enforceable by EPD. Unfortunately, scrap recycling is one of those businesses, as I have found, that does not have any stringent regulation or permitting process. Therefore, the EPD has taken a hands-off approach, leaving it up to the local government to regulate.
Specifically, my involvement in this process has centered on the issue of code enforcement. I have looked at how similar issues have been handled throughout the nation. Not only is Georgia failing to regulate scrap yards, but so are most states. The exceptions are Florida, New Hampshire, and Indiana, which have enacted programs known as “Green Yards” and “Clean Yards” respectively that create an incentive-based system to get scrap yard owners to voluntarily comply with environmental laws and regulations. This is a potential model that we are looking at proposing in Georgia.
Another issue that I have been researching is the utilization of existing code enforcement for dealing with nuisances, particularly fugitive dust and noise. In the cases of Gainesville, these issues are enforced by the public works department. However, other municipalities use their health departments for enforcement of these issues and it appears that these are working quite effectively. This is because, in most cases, a health department has the knowledge base and tools to deal with nuisance issues. It will be interesting to see how receptive local governments will be to taking some new approaches to code enforcement. Many may continue to wrestle with budgetary constraints or personnel shortages. However, if a municipality is to truly deliver the best services it can to its citizens, then it is incumbent upon them to embrace new frameworks in order to competently address some of these old problems.
One thing that continually amazes me is how many communities in Georgia struggle with unregulated scrapyards creating nuisances and hazards. While these are outliers in an industry that generally provides a needed community service, it's enough of a problem that the clinic has taken this up as a project theme over many semesters. Let's hope that Georgia is willing to adopt a "Green Yards" or similar approach as a step in the right direction.
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 17, 2009
Juergensmeyer Symposium in March 2010
Georgia State University has announced a symposium in honor of Julian C. Juergensmeyer's 45th year of teaching, to be held in Atlanta March 25-26, 2010. Entitled "A 2020 View of Urban Infrastructure," the draft agenda offers both national and international perspectives on topics such as "Infrastructure and Property Rights" and "Transportation Infrastructure and Control of Sprawl." Scholars and practitioners presenting include Robert Freilich, Patricia Salkin, and Jerry Weitz. For more information contact GSU's Center for Comparative Study of Metropolitan Growth at Infrastructure2020@gsu.edu
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 11, 2009
Well-Being Index for the 50 States
The website LiveScience just posted an article entitled "The Well-Being of 50 U.S. States." It's actually a survey called "the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index," which purports to show which states are the happiest. Some of the factors that contribute to happiness include personal behaviors, but a related article says part of the reason is that some states' populations are happier is because the states are wealthier and can provide better infrastructure to meet residents' needs.
So how do these rankings shake out? Utah, Hawaii, Wyoming and Colorado are the top 4. I'm a Colorado native and just returned from a trip there, so that ranking warms my heart. However, I think the view of the Rockies way outstrips the infrastructure in contributing to happiness. Maybe when I can ride the light rail all the way to the Denver airport (scheduled for 2014) I'll feel differently. As for my current home and the home states of my co-bloggers - Texas is 21st, Georgia is 23rd, South Carolina ranks 26, Alabama is 33rd, and Nevada is 38th. (I expected Nevada to have a higher ranking, given the rankings of other western states. Maybe Ngai Pindell has some ideas about why Nevada is relatively low?)
I'll be blogging more about current land use issues in Colorado in the coming weeks. I'm also planning to post some guest blogs by my students about their projects this semester.
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 06, 2009
In Local News...
Here in Athens, Georgia we didn't have a local election on Tuesday, but there is some interesting downtown development news. The Athens-Clarke Commssion (we're a consolidated city/county) just voted to construct a new parking deck downtown, over the last minute objections of some Athens residents that the deck is too big and not needed. However, there is a waiting list for the other parking deck downtown. Also, the Commission must spend the money, as it has already been allocated by referendum as part of our Special Local Option Sales Tax. Also, the site currently houses a parking lot, so the aesthetic arguments didn't carry much weight with the commission.
This particular intersection is also of interest because it is the home of the historic Georgia Theater - at least, the shell of the Georgia Theater, much of which was destroyed by a fire earlier this year. The rebuilt theater will be part of the mixed-use complex that will be built as part of the parking deck. The theater is a much beloved landmark here in Athens, which has a vibrant local music scene. Since it was built in 1889 the theater has been a YMCA, a Masonic lodge, a church, and a music venue hosting 100s of bands, including R.E.M., The Police and the B-52s. The theater owner had just renovated the entire theater prior to the fire, and his casulty insurance won't cover the whole loss. Therefore the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has agreed to help the theater raise $1.5 million for restoration. If you donate $100 your name goes on a brick in the new space - a cool way to be part of history remade.
Jamie Baker Roskie
November 05, 2009
Atlanta is America's Most Toxic City
My colleague Helen Kang, director of the Environmental Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University, just sent me a link to this article on Forbes.com proclaiming Atlanta the nation's most toxic city. But, look out Matt Festa, Houston's hot on Atlanta's heels at number three on the list. Take heart, though, Matt. Houston's air is so polluted that it's become a world hot spot for air pollution research. It's always good to be cutting edge!
The article lauds New York as less toxic due to its excellent public transportation system (and related density) and Portland as a model of land use planning. This lends even more support to the premise of Professor Nolon's article, which I blogged about earlier today.
Jamie Baker Roskie
October 29, 2009
Presenting at the National Community Land Trust Network
As I posted earlier this week, the National Community Land Trust Network is having their annual conference here in Athens. Four UGA busloads of folks came over from the Atlanta airport Tuesday and Wednesday and they're all now safely ensconced at The Foundry Park Inn (part of which is, indeed, a rehabilitated foundry and a very cool historic structure).
This morning three of my colleagues and I gave a panel presentation on the land use issues faced by the Newtown Florist Club and Newtown Land Trust in Gainesville, Georgia. Newtown deserves a post (or several) of its own, but I'll save that for another day. Suffice it to say that Newtown Florist Club is a prominent environmental justice and civil rights organization in Georgia, and they have been the clinic's client for the last two years. We have been working with them on an interdisciplinary approach to solving environmental and land use problems in the Newtown neighborhood. Newtown served as a case study this morning for how community land trusts can engage with outside partners to address land use issues. Rose Johnson-Mackey of the Florist Club board spoke of the history of the neighborhood and how this predominantly African-American neighborhood became surrounded by industry. I spoke about the Clinic's efforts [give this data-rich link a couple of minutes to download] to convince the City of Gainesville to, among other things, enforce existing ordinances and improve industrial zoning regulations. Alfie Vick from UGA's College of Environment & Design spoke about how his landscape architecture students are using their community design skills to help the neighborhood create a vision for a better future, and plan a community garden. Dudley Hartle from the US Forest Service's Southern Center for Urban Forestry Research spoke about how concepts of green infrastructure can be applied in an urban neighborhood situation like Newtown.
We had some great dialogue with the participants about environmental justice, community organizing, rural planning, and how land trusts can play a role in creating sustainability. I think some interesting partnerships and data sharing will come out of today's interactions.
Jamie Baker Roskie
October 27, 2009
Community Land Trusts in Athens
This week the National Community Land Trust Network is having its annual conference here in Athens, Georgia. Here's their mission statement from their website:
NCLTN provides technical and other support to community land trusts who are providing affordable housing. Community land trusts market affordable homes to low to moderate income clients. The homeowners hold title to the improvements on the land, while the land trust holds title to the land and leases it to the homeowner through a renewable 99 year ground lease. This allows the land trust to keep the housing permanently affordable. NCLTN is different from the Land Trust Alliance, which provides support to land trusts engaged in land conservation activities around the country.
Some colleagues and I are giving a presentation Thursday on land use issues faced by communities where community land trusts operate. I'll blog more about that later this week.
Jamie Baker Roskie