Friday, April 9, 2010

Local Newspaper Editor Learns to Love New Urbanism

Matt Festa alerted me to this piece; apparently he loved his time visiting at UGA so much that he still reads the local paper.  One of the editors of the Athens Banner-Herald recently visited Seaside and decided maybe New Urbanism isn't so bad after all.  The examples we've had of mixed-use development here in Athens have not been very successful - the usual opposition to density and trouble getting appropriate commercial have been bugaboos here.  If Athens were ever to get a development that had the quality of Seaside (although how could you ever replicate the sea views?) folks here might better be able to get behind the concept.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 9, 2010 in Beaches, Community Design, Development, Georgia, New Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Exciting New Initiative from Frank Alexander

Heidi Murphy in our PR department here at UGA law just directed my attention to a very interesting story in The National Law Journal.  Emory Law Professor Frank Alexander has just launched a new center to help cities revitalize abandoned and blighted properties.

The Center for Community Progress has secured $2 million in funding from the Ford Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and has opened a headquarters in Flint, Mich., and a policy office in Washington...

The Flint headquarters will largely focus on assisting communities with handling vacant and abandoned properties. The Washington office will primarily handle policy issues on land use, Alexander said. There are multiple legal angles to the group's work, including pushing for property tax foreclosure reform, helping to pass local vacant property registration ordinances and modifying code enforcement procedures to help cities get abandoned properties up to code or facilitate transfers to new owners. The Center for Community Progress also wants to help communities tap into the $6 billion in funding the federal government has allocated in recent years for neighborhood stabilization.

Prof. Alexander has been a leading light on land use issues in Georgia and nationally for many years.  I'll be excited to see what comes of this latest effort.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 2, 2010 in Federal Government, Georgia, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Red Clay Conference

Last Friday was UGA's annual Red Clay Conference.  This student-organized conference is always a blast, and I often have the honor of moderating a panel.  The conference gets its name from the red Georgia clay, and the theme is always environmental.  This year's theme was "Three States, One River: Exploring the Tri-State Water Dispute."  The three states are Alabama, Florida and Georgia, and the river is actually a river system, the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, Flint. 

I wasn't able to stay for the whole day, but in the morning I sat in on a fascinating presentation by participants in a stakeholder negotiation process that is happening alongside the (inevitable, it seems, for these types of water resource disputes) litigation.

Then I moderated a panel called "Is Atlanta Really the 800 Pound Gorilla?"  As you might imagine, this is a loaded question.  There is much controversy in the region about how to allocate water resources to provide drinking water for Atlanta, water for power generation for Alabama, and sufficient water supply to protect the ecosystem (and fishing industry) in Florida.  Our distinguished panelists included the lawyers who represent Atlanta and the State of Georgia in current litigation over Lake Lanier (which until a recent court decision was a primary water source for several counties and municipalities in North Georgia.)  Needless to say, it was a lively discussion.  My friend and colleague Gil Rogers from Southern Environmental Law Center was an audience favorite, and not just because he does comedy improv in his off hours. SELC has done some great work on the tri-state dispute over the years.  At any rate, all the panelists were incredibly articulate, passionate, and interesting.

The keynote speaker was Joseph Dellapenna of Villanova University School of Law who spoke about potential ways forward in the dispute.  The most interesting, and least practical, option he discussion was that the US Supreme Court could settle the dispute if it was asked to exercise original jurisdiction over a dispute between states. (Blast to Civil Procedure past, anyone?)  However, since they've been litigating that case since the 1920s, that's probably not the most expedient solution.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 1, 2010 in Conferences, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Georgia, Sun Belt, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More on Dirt Piles

Okay, I know we joke around that land use lawyers are "dirt" lawyers, but that's becoming literal for me.  As you may recall, I blogged recently about a giant dirt pile in our neighborhood.  Although everyone here in Athens agrees they've never seen anything like it, apparently rogue dirt piles are not a totally uncommon phenomenon.  One of my students, Chad Hayes, has been doing some research, and he ran across this article in The Roanoke Times.

My favorite quote from the article:

...the dirt pile is now a colossal heap, reaching toward the sky. It has been there so long it's covered with weeds and grass and has recently become a roosting place for a flock of turkey vultures.

Some of the residents of the neighborhood, where hundreds of town houses and single-family homes have been built in recent years, have expressed concern, dismay and even a bit of merry mockery.

"Mount Sinai?" Orange Leaf Court resident Judith Liberman joked when asked what she thinks about the mound, visible from her town house.

"I keep waiting for Moses to come down."

We've dubbed our own dirt pile "Mt. Price" (after the name of the street) but it's also been called "Price Hill."  I've even considered having t-shirts made.  Our dirt pile is less than a month old, so I dearly hope we dont' find ourselves Roanoke's situation three years later.

Jamie Baker Roskie

UPDATE: Chad Hayes just sent me this link, in which the developer filed what looks to me like a SLAPP suit against his critics.  The suit was ultimately dismissed.

UPDATE TWO - Here's a giant dirt pile on Florida's Intercoastal Waterway.

Of course, there are people who love dirt piles.

March 31, 2010 in Development, Environmental Law, Georgia, Humorous, Local Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Approaches to Urban Redevelopment

Saturday I attended a very interesting lecture by Ken Reardon, who is a planning professor at The University of Memphis and a founding member of the Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC).  The lecture was part of an event called "Look at That!  Fresh Approaches for Urban Redevelopment in Athens."  The economy being what it is, many of our clients are looking for help with redevelopment, rather than combating sprawl, so I took the opportunity to attend this event, sponsored by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.

Reardon's lecture was very interesting.  First he had all the participants engage in a group dialogue about our vision for Athens' future.  Ideas included more urban agriculture, better downtown development, preservation of our small town character, and more affordable housing.

Then Reardon discussed how the MRDC has helped some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Memphis, using team members from local design firms, University of Memphis, the Urban Land Institute, and other partners.  He declared himself most proud of a project that turned the largest outdoor drug market in Memphis into a farmers' market, which is truly a noteworthy accomplishment.  The center also played a key role in helping Memphis pass its new, form-based, Unified Development Code.  All the time he was talking, I was thinking, "We need that here!"  I'm planning to spend some time picking Reardon's brain over the next several months.

Jamie Baker Roskie

March 30, 2010 in Architecture, Community Design, Crime, Development, Downtown, Georgia, Historic Preservation, Housing, Sprawl, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Am the Crazy Neighbor

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the latest dramas in my life is a ginormous pile of dirt that a developer recently dumped on three residential lots around the corner from my house.  The dirt originally came from a massive, at least by Athens standards, excavation of about 75,000 cubic yards of dirt for the basement of the new Special Collections library here at UGA.  Fill dirt was once quite a commodity when the housing market was hot, but now, according to a friend of mine who's a commercial contractor, you can't give the stuff away.  Or, apparently, you can, to a developer who will then store it in some lots where he maybe has plans, sometime in the future, to build on the lots.

The problem is that he hasn't drawn up any plans, nor does he have any engineering drawings to show how to accommodate between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic yards (about 100-200 tandem dump truck loads) of dirt on the property.  We got wise to the problem one morning earlier this month when we heard the sounds of diesel engines idling, and dump truck after dump truck banging as it emptied its load.

Now we get to the part where I'm the crazy neighbor lady.  I went away for Spring Break, hoping that my neighbors would be able to stop this madness by calling in the county enforcement folks.  However, apparently dumping continued unabated for at least 3 days. When I returned to town the pile had grown to its current size.  I then read a column in our local weekly about the great Special Collections library project.   While I agree about the coolness of the SC library, I felt like the folks at the magazine should know about its shadow side. So, I e-mailed the columnist and, while I was at it, the on campus newspaper and the local daily. The campus newspaper, the Red and Black, ran the story (see first link above).  It turns out that the Atlanta TV stations read the R&B, and next thing I knew I was getting calls from television reporters.  They were really interested in our giant dirt pile!  I was surprised, but I agreed to give them interviews. While they were out, they got the developer on tape too and ran the story.  (Visit this link on the law school's website to see most of the media coverage - thanks to the law school's public relations staff for pulling that together.)

The next day I was a local celebrity, and not in a totally good way.  My favorite reaction was from a university staffer in my husband's building who, not realizing my husband was related to me, told him, "That land use lady needs to find something to do!"  (When a co-worker of my husband brought our relationship to the staffer's attention, he was apologetic and chagrined.  I just think it's funny!)

I've worked all sides of the development game in my career, including representing developers and neighbors.  I figure it was inevitable I would turn out to be the cranky neighbor myself.  I've started calling myself the queen of the dirt pile.

The local weekly, the Flagpole, has the most interesting take on the story.  Their City Editor, Dave Marr, ran a good column that explains our confusion about how the developer seems to have threaded multiple loopholes in the code.

I've got some great folks in the neighborhood working with me, including a couple of experts on soil and erosion and a civil engineer.  A local commissioner pulled together a good meeting with county staff yesterday and we're working toward a solution.  In the meantime, I'm trying to catch up on my work and get ready for UGA's annual Red Clay conference on environmental issues.  I'm moderating a panel on Georgia's water rights problems called "Is Atlanta Really the 800 Pound Gorilla?"

Jamie Baker Roskie

UPDATE: The latest from the UGA student newspaper on the controversy.

UPDATE TWO: The dirt pile now has its own website.

March 25, 2010 in Development, Environmental Law, Georgia, Local Government, Nuisance, Planning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 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 17, 2010 in Development, Exurbs, Georgia, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Glaeser spotlights Atlanta in NYT

Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser--whose interesting work on cities we have posted about before--has a great entry on the New York Times' Economix Blog called Betting on Altanta.  He asks:

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.

Matt Festa

March 11, 2010 in Financial Crisis, Georgia, Housing, Local Government, Sun Belt | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 9, 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 9, 2010 in Affordable Housing, Downtown, Georgia, Homeowners Associations, Housing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 1, 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.

The New American Home 2010 had already survived delays in the approval and installation of its insulated concrete form walls, rejection by the city of an innovative graywater recycling system, and an arson fire that engulfed a framed house on an adjacent lot. But it could not overcome an [acquisition, development and construction] lending environment that has dried up in Las Vegas and across the country.

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

March 1, 2010 in Development, Georgia, Las Vegas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 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 22, 2010 in Exurbs, Georgia, Housing, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Even Boulder Struggles with its Carbon Footprint

From the Wall Street journal, an article about how Boulder, despite heroic efforts in reducing the carbon footprint of its built environment, has only reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 1%.

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.

Boulder has found that financial incentives and an intense publicity campaign aren't enough to spur most homeowners to action, even in a city so environmentally conscious that the college football stadium won't sell potato chips because the packaging isn't recyclable...Since 2006, Boulder has subsidized about 750 home energy audits. Even after the subsidy, the audits cost each homeowner up to $200, so only the most committed signed up. Still, follow-up surveys found half didn't implement even the simplest recommendations, despite incentives such as discounts on energy-efficient bulbs and rebates for attic insulation..."If a place like Boulder that regards itself as being in the environmental forefront has such a tough time, these types of efforts are not going to work as a core policy" for the nation, says Roger Pielke Jr., who studies the political response to climate change at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

A statement like that would give even No Impact Man pause.  But Boulder officials aren't giving up yet. 

Boulder plans to spend about $1.5 million in city funds and $370,000 in federal stimulus money to hire contractors to do basic upgrades for residents.  In the program, dubbed "Two Techs in a Truck," as many as 15 energy-efficiency teams will go door-to-door. They'll ask home and business owners for permission to caulk windows, change bulbs and install low-flow showerheads and programmable thermostats—all at taxpayer expense. The techs will set up clothes racks in laundry rooms as a reminder to use the dryer less often. They'll even pop into the garage and inflate tires to the optimum pressure for fuel efficiency.

And the Boulder example has wider ramifications.

More than 1,000 U.S. cities have pledged to make such cuts, yet analysts say most are stymied—in part because it's extremely difficult to reduce emissions without a wholesale switch to renewable energy sources. Boulder depends almost entirely for energy on a coal-powered plant.

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.

Thanks to Anthony Flint at the Lincoln Institute for the heads' up about this story, through their e-mail newsletter.

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 17, 2010 in Clean Energy, Climate, Environmentalism, Georgia, Local Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 3, 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

February 3, 2010 in Environmental Justice, Georgia, Industrial Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 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

January 19, 2010 in Georgia, Planning, Property Rights, Transferable Development Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 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 TimesThe 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 22, 2009 in Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Georgia, Industrial Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 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):

Tree Owns Itself
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.

Matt Festa

December 10, 2009 in Aesthetic Regulation, Georgia, Historic Preservation, Local Government, Property, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 7, 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 (0)

Thursday, December 3, 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 3, 2009 in Coastal Regulation, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, December 2, 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 study sheds light on the ultimate significance of the Stop the Beach Renourishment (FL) and Severance (TX) takings cases.  The name of the article is State and local governments plan for development along most land vulnerable to rising sea level along the US Atlantic Coast
    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.

December 2, 2009 in Coastal Regulation, Georgia, Local Government, Planning, Property Rights, Scholarship, Takings, Water, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 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.

      This semester I have been working with the UGA Land Use Clinic on a project involving environmental justice issues being faced by the citizens of the Newtown Community in Gainesville, Georgia.  This case is illustrative of the many dimensions that are involved in environmental justice issues and has become an extremely effective model for students and practitioners in coming to a better understanding of the interplay of those dimensions.  The interdisciplinary approach involves individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds including planning and zoning, geography, community organizing, environmental design, and general environmental sciences.  Ultimately, the success of the Clinic’s involvement with the issues affecting Newtown will come down to a balancing of the many interests involved and capitalizing on the collective strengths of the actors working together.
    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 24, 2009 in Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Georgia, Industrial Regulation, Local Government, Nuisance | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)