Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Funds for historic preservation programs, particularly those dealing with identifying, cataloguing, and managing historic resources, are typically slashed when the economy sputters. Right now is such a time. In my previous post, I discussed ARCHES--a free, online, user-friendly, open-source geospatial software system developed by the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund that is purpose-built to inventory and manage immovable heritage to internationally adopted standards. Anyone can downloand and customize ARCHES to suit their needs.
Today I want to discuss a powerful, innovative but cheap technological tool that can aid authorities in their quest to create and/or update their historic resources digital inventory: online crowdsourcing. Simply put, online crowdsourcing allows someone to obtain needed services and/or content by soliciting voluntary contributions from the online public community rather than hiring employees or paying suppliers. Online crowdsourcing has been an extremely effective tool for preserving cultural heritage in many countries. For instance, the National Library of Finland is using online crowdsourcing to index its scanned archives. Similarly, the University of Cape Town in South Africa is using online crowdsourcing to transcribe collections containing the Bushman’s language, stories, and way of life. The National Geographic Society is using online crowdsourcing to analyze millions of satellite images of Mongolia showing potential archaeological sites in the hopes of discovering the tombs of Genghis Khan and his descendants. And an English non-profit organization has utilized online crowdsourcing and online crowdfunding—funds donated by the interested public online—to provide both finances and labor for an expert-led excavation of a Bronze Age causeway composed of millions of timbers in the Cambridgeshire fens. And perhaps most relevant to experiences of local governments in the United States, the City of Los Angeles has created a website, MyHistoricLA.org, that allows citizens to map and submit information about places of cultural importance to them which may not be architecturally significant (and thus escape the purview of preservation officials).
Drawing on the crowdsourcing experience of others, local governments and cities in the United States could create an online portal attached to their own digital inventories, or create an appended website like MyHistoricLA. This portal or website could offer training modules to citizens on cultural heritage recording practices and afterwards ask them to collect and upload descriptive information, statistics, pictures, videos, and maps on historic resources in their neighborhoods. The information uploaded to this portal could be screened and vetted by authorities before permanently adding it to the digital repository, ensuring quality control. In this way, local governments and cities could gather and preserve vast amounts of data related to their cultural heritage in a short period of time and at minimal cost. Furthermore, such a strategy also fosters civic pride, a sense of community, and a deeper, more tangible connection to the city’s past, particularly for younger generations who are adept at using technology. It also offers peace of mind knowing that if and when a disaster occurs that as much cultural heritage as possible has been preserved for future generations.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Posting from New Orleans (No. 3) -- Forging Successful Non-Profit Partnerships Following Crisis and Disaster: O.C. Haley Boulevard's Story
This blog post follows-up a pair of August 5th and August 12th New Orleans posts. Although I’m home in Atlanta getting ready to begin the new school year, I’m continuing an observance of Katrina’s 9th anniversary by ‘walking’ O.C. Haley Boulevard and looking at one of the city’s emerging post-storm neighborhood revitalization stories.
At the outset of this post, it is important to note that there are many more neighborhood stories that deserved to be told, ranging from stretches of St. Claude, Carrollton, and Claiborne Avenues to Freret and lower Magazine Streets. There are also many neighborhood corridors still struggling to come back all over the city, but particularly neighborhoods lying generally east and a little north of the French Quarter, including the vast area of New Orleans East as well as the Upper Ninth Ward and the Lower Ninth Ward.
As the son of an architect, I’m always ready to begin discussion of any neighborhood transformation by flashing slides of the ‘bricks and mortar’ improvements. Those are also the improvements that we as lawyers are most directly involved in supporting: the land acquisitions, the tax credit financings, the bridge loans, the condo documents, the parking easements. But to get any neighborhood to the point where it can provide the social and economic buttressing to support significant private market transactions, there’s often a foundation of community activism and advocacy. O.C. Haley Boulevard is no exception.
Very rarely is any one individual or organization the sole ‘mover’ behind a neighborhood’s re-emergence. Long before the levees and flood walls breached, non-profit, business owner, and neighborhood advocacy groups were working to lay the groundwork for O.C. Haley Boulevard’s resurgence. Carol Bebelle, co-founder of the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, moved the Center onto the Boulevard in 1998 in order to sustain and nurture the stories and traditions of New Orleans’ African American community. The Cultural Arts Center’s historic building, an adaptive use of a former department store, became a foothold for the Boulevard’s resurgence, supporting non-profit office space, exhibit and meeting space, and 29 apartments.
About the same time, O.C. Haley Boulevard Merchants and Business Association gathered local businesses to spearhead creation of a strategic plan for the Boulevard’s revitalization.
A couple of years later, in 2000, Café Reconcile opened across the street as an adaptive use of another large historic commercial building, housing a full-service restaurant dedicated to providing culinary training and life skills development to young men and women from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Along the way, the Boulevard attracted key regional community development partners, and led them to call the Boulevard ‘home.’ These partners included Hope Federal Credit Union (http://www.hopecu.org/) and Good Work Network (http://www.goodworknetwork.org/), both of which concentrate their resources on serving low and moderate income families and developing opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.
In short, the Boulevard’s momentum had already been triggered when Katrina’s storm surge filled-up 80 percent of city, leaving the Boulevard and only a handful of other major corridors navigable by car as opposed to boat. (A relatively current map of the businesses that have grown-up on the Boulevard in the last fifteen years is found on the Merchants and Business Association’s website, http://ochaleyblvd.org/?page_id=5).
Lawyers – often community development lawyers – figure critically in these first stages of a neighborhood’s redevelopment, well before building projects begin ‘going vertical.’ Lawyers are counseling neighborhood groups and businesses on drafting their articles of incorporation and their bylaws or preparing their Form 1029 to seek IRS 501(c)(3) status. They are helping review applications seeking funding from foundations for planning and predevelopment award monies. They may be advising their clients to seek funds for a market study to help give current and future businesses a sense of where and how they might invest their capital and other resources. Or, they may be advocating at city hall for stricter enforcement of health and safety code violations affecting vacant or abandoned properties. Law students interested in pursuing urban and community development work should gain an appreciation in law school of these critical supporting and counseling roles that lawyers play for community groups.
Earlier this month, I visited with Kathy Laborde, President and CEO of the non-profit Gulf Coast Housing Partnership (GCHP). Laborde, who has worked on the Boulevard for almost two decades, described the factors that convinced her and the neighborhood’s stakeholders that they could turn around the Boulevard’s fortunes. GCHP has been a main driver of redevelopment on and around the corridor since Katrina. In sharing her thoughts and recollections concerning the Boulevard’s rebirth, Laborde described not only the last nine years’ key redevelopment projects, but at the same time she highlighted additional pieces of the urban redevelopment ‘puzzle’ that successful urban and community development lawyers need to appreciate to serve their clients well.
(Photo: Gulf Coast Housing Partnership offices (gray building) at 1610 O.C. Haley Blvd.)
Location is an essential consideration for any urban redevelopment project. Against the essential backdrop of an engaged group of neighborhood stakeholders, Laborde outlined the following factors as critical:
- The O.C. Haley corridor’s historic status as the one of the chief commercial centers for the city’s African American community;
- The corridor’s proximity to New Orleans’ Central Business District (separated only by the elevated U.S. 90, The Pontchartrain Expressway);
- The corridor’s proximity to St. Charles Avenue, one of nation’s great historic streets, which runs just 3 blocks to the corridor’s southeast; and
- The presence of historic commercial buildings fronting O.C. Haley Boulevard and stakeholders’ initial investment in rehabilitation of those structures.
These four areas of strength formed a sort of superstructure for the corridor’s redevelopment; however, by themselves, these four factors were not sufficient to draw significant investment to the corridor. The challenge for GCHP and the corridor’s stakeholders was how to connect O.C. Haley’s assets to the city’s surrounding areas of strength and investment while maintaining the corridor’s character. It was at this juncture, nine years ago, Hurricane Katrina unleashed its destructive forces.
Katrina fundamentally altered the way those inside and outside New Orleans viewed the city. To those living in New Orleans, the telltale watermark stains left by the epic flooding clearly distinguished O.C. Haley Boulevard as ‘high ground’ that did not flood. To those outside New Orleans, particularly local and national foundations and philanthropies, O.C. Haley Boulevard bordered one of the city’s toughest neighborhoods with one of its deepest pockets of poverty. Outsiders also appreciated that the Boulevard was surrounded by areas of significant strength, including the city’s wealthier Uptown neighborhoods, the Central Business District, St. Charles Avenue, and the former C.J. Peete (Magnolia) development which was a 1930s-era public housing development then-slated to receive millions of dollars in HUD funds for complete redevelopment into the new mixed-income Harmony Oaks community.
Outside funders immediately saw the Boulevard in a new way. It stood out not only as a neighborhood where the private foundations and philanthropic funders saw they could achieve programmatic goals of creating more equitable, inclusive, and prosperous inner-city neighborhoods, but also these private funders were buoyed by the fact that high levels of investment were occurring all around the Boulevard. Further, just as foundations and philanthropies were looking to leverage their investments, so too was the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), which was responsible for making decisions about deployment of a tranche of federal disaster block grant monies for commercial corridor investments. It was a ‘no brainer’ for NORA to join the catalytic investments of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Kellogg, Rockefeller, Ford, Surdna, and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundations.
Make no mistake – even with this level of interest, the Boulevard was hardly awash in cash. In a post-Lehman Brothers world, banks had a low temperature for risk, and in post-Katrina New Orleans where the levee and flood control system rebuilding was not yet complete, caution was the rule for commercial lenders. But what the philanthropic and government funding accomplished was to make the development ‘math’ work for deals dependent on tax credits and tax exempt bonds. A non-profit developer could run a development pro forma that now yielded at least a sliver of a development fee. The challenge for those developers and their clients was to complete successful residential and commercial development projects that would help New Orleanians and visitors alike see O.C. Haley Boulevard as a safe place to live and work. As Laborde explains, this was the “show me stage” of the corridor’s redevelopment. Beginning in 2007, this is exactly what the Boulevard’s stakeholders began to do.
Over the last seven years, GCHP and the Boulevard’s other stakeholders have completed a steady stream of housing, restaurant, office and retail projects. The first pivotal project was GCHP’s completion of The Muses, a 263-unit mixed-income apartment community, which opened in 2009. This project brought hundreds of new residents to the Boulevard and helped bridge the three-block real estate market 'canyon' between St. Charles Avenue and the Boulevard.
The tipping point project may have been GCHP’s redevelopment of almost an entire city block between Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard, Thalia Street, O.C. Haley, and Rampart Street. GCHP convinced the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority to move its 45 employees from its downtown rented office space to become the anchor tenant of an office building with ground floor commercial space. This office and retail building were funded with New Markets Tax Credits, NORA’s investment of $2 Million in disaster Community Development Block Grant (dCDBG) funds, and private financing. The office building, in turn, helped secure financing for an adjacent 75-unit affordable senior housing development.
Another important project was Café Reconcile’s expansion and rehabilitation of its existing restaurant and training space.
Café Reconcile’s $6.5 Million expansion was funded by private donations, NORA dCDBG funds, and state and federal tax credits.
“Success in community development,” Laborde stresses, “is about getting people to follow.” And they are doing so on the Boulevard. More projects are just weeks and months from completion, including the adaptive use of an historic school as a grocery store and offices, the renovation of two large retail buildings into the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), including The Museum of the American Cocktail, as well as the first home of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO), including its 360-seat performance venue. The projects soon coming on-line include:
The school’s $17 million renovation is financed by New Markets Tax Credits, historic tax credits, $1 Million from the City’s dCDBG-funded Fresh Food Retailer Initiative, $900k from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, and $300k from the Foundation for Louisiana.
The NOJO Market and SoFAB redevelopment projects critically anchor two separate O.C. Haley Boulevard blocks where the Boulevard meets Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard. NOJO’s development is financed by State of Louisiana historic tax credits, State of Louisiana theater, musical, and theatrical production tax credits, $10 Million from Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Fund, an $800k loan from NORA’s commercial revitalization gap loan fund, and a bridge loan from Prudential Insurance Company. NOJO will open in the spring of 2015. A ribbon cutting for the SoFAB redevelopment is set for September 29, 2014.
Next week we will wrap-up our discussion of O.C. Haley and Katrina’s 9th anniversary with a discussion of what urban redevelopment professionals are looking for in the attorneys they hire.
John Travis Marshall, Georgia State University College of Law
August 20, 2014 in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Community Economic Development, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Historic Preservation, Housing, HUD, Redevelopment, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, August 11, 2014
Posting from New Orleans (No. 2) -- Reviving Inner-City Neighborhoods: the Challenges of Teaching and Doing Urban Revitalization Work
This is the second in a series of posts from New Orleans. The first appeared last Monday, August 4th. As I promised in that first piece, today we’re just beginning to take a walk down one of New Orleans’ historic commercial corridors, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard (O.C. Haley Blvd.), which is named after a leading local civil rights activist. Today’s post looks at the fortuitous intersection between post-Katrina federally-funded long-term recovery programs and the extensive pre-storm efforts of O.C. Haley Boulevard activists and stakeholders to reclaim this historic corridor.
Photo (2014): O.C. Haley Boulevard looking northwest toward the Central Business District (CBD)
In the decades leading up to the 1960s, O.C. Haley Boulevard (formerly known as Dryades Street) was one of the principal shopping destinations for black families and also a pre-Civil Rights Era hub for the City’s best black musicians. During the 50 years since the mid-1960s, O.C. Haley withered a little more each passing year. First, the corridor lost in increasing numbers its shoppers; then its businesses began to close; and then families in surrounding blocks began to move away. Finally, in the years leading up to Hurricane Katrina, the Boulevard started losing its architecturally distinguished commercial structures – one by one.
Earlier this spring, in his CityLab article, The Overwhelming Persistence of Neighborhood Poverty, Richard Florida tacitly suggests that O.C. Haley’s fate has been the fate of our oldest urban neighborhoods all across the country. Florida’s article, citing a May 2014 study by Joseph Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi, disclosed a number of fascinating tidbits about cities, but the statistic that really jumped out is this one: since 1970 “for every single gentrified [urban] neighborhood, 12 once-stable neighborhoods have slipped into concentrated disadvantage.”
That statistic about declining inner city neighborhoods stopped me in my tracks. As long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by two things: old inner city neighborhoods (my dad is a preservation architect) and the Red Sox (born and raised in Boston). This is to say that I'm easily captivated by box score style statistics, such as the one Florida cites. I'm also no stranger to extended periods of adversity for the teams I love. But I clearly did not have an accurate idea of the extent to which so many inner city neighborhoods had faced such long odds for so long a period of time.
The statistic Florida cites concerning the decline of inner city neighborhoods got me to thinking about what I taught my land use students last semester. If our land use, local government, real estate finance, and community and economic development clinic students aim to work in cities, Richard Florida is telling us that they have their work cut out for them. The data suggests there are many hundreds of O.C. Haley-like Boulevards across the country.
Of course the problem of distressed inner city communities is not new. As we all know, lawyers have for years played critical roles in representing community groups, developers, banks, philanthropic funders, and local government clients on every side of urban revitalization deals. But Florida’s article reminded me how large the challenge of neighborhood revitalization looms for cities. There’s a lot of ground to cover in a basic land use class, but I found myself asking what my students and I learned this past semester that would help them do this work better or smarter. The short answer is that we squeezed in as much time as we could to study the redevelopment ‘tool box’ a city and its neighborhood organizations can use to stabilize and revitalize neighborhoods: land trusts, land banks, eminent domain, code lien enforcement, tax credits, etc. But thinking about Florida’s article reminded me that this approach is missing a key element. After all, most of these stabilization and revitalization tools were available to young lawyers and planners and community groups for the better part of the 45-year period that Florida observes the rapid evaporation of inner-city neighborhood vitality.
In thinking about the statistics Florida discusses and about the long decline of O.C. Haley Boulevard, it struck me that the conversation that I didn’t have this spring with the land use students is about the nature of urban revitalization work. It is often a slog. Some describe the work as being as slow and painfully incremental as ‘trench warfare.’ I prefer how some describe it as caring for a patient recovering from a debilitating life-threatening injury. That is, urban revitalization work concerns much more than strategic deployment of those redevelopment “tools.” It goes far beyond helping your client close on tax credit financing for a major catalytic redevelopment project. Rather, it also depends on the patient persistence of a diverse team of ‘caregivers’ over a long period of time. Some of those ‘caregivers’ are internal to the community. They are the local merchants associations and neighborhood advocacy groups. They are also the local community development corporations, code enforcement staff, city councilpersons, assistant city attorneys, philanthropic foundation program officers, and the law school clinics with neighborhood organization clients. Neighborhood revitalization ordinarily requires keeping at least part of these diverse teams together for years – often more than a decade. In other words, it is worth discussing with our students that while they need to know the law and understand the nuances of the ‘tools’, the work of revitalizing a neighborhood is not usually just a transactional matter, but it is much more an organic process.
Kathy Laborde, is President and CEO of Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, one of Louisiana’s leading developers of commercial and residential projects serving low and moderate income communities. Beginning in the late 1990s as a community development banker, Laborde has worked with representatives of the O.C. Haley Boulevard neighborhood on redevelopment projects. Prior to Hurricane Katrina she also moved her development firm’s offices onto the Boulevard. Like the neighborhood merchants association and local community groups, Laborde knew O.C. Haley Boulevard had enormous potential to rebound – even as most New Orleanians ignored the corridor and consciously avoided it for fear of encountering the crime for which the Boulevard had become known. Together with a strong and cohesive band of neighborhood advocates, she has long been a steadfast proponent of revitalizing the Boulevard. In a meeting in her office earlier this month, I asked her why, in the late 1990s, she and neighborhood leaders believed that they could turn around the Boulevard’s fortunes.
In the next blog post, we look at snapshots of the Boulevard's challenging 15 year journey through and beyond Hurricane Katrina to an active neighborhood renaissance that continues to catch the attention of both the city's visitors and long-time residents.
John Travis Marshall, Georgia State University College of Law
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
As this is my maiden voyage into the blogosphere, I thought I’d share with you my passion for historic resources and their preservation along with an exciting recent publication. Before ever dreaming of law, or legal academia for that matter, I was studying medieval British history at Oxford University. Due to many experiences in the UK—handling and reading thousand-year-old vellum documents on a regular basis; participating in voluntary archaeological digs for Anglo-Saxon settlements; mapping the phases of urban growth in Oxford; charting extant Romanesque and Gothic survivals in old Oxford buildings and sharing these discoveries with others—I realized more fully how the past enriches the present, and how without an understanding of what has come before, our own lives are less complete.
I’ll never forget eating pizza on the second floor of an old restaurant in Oxford. While munching on a slice, I looked over at one of the walls. During renovations the owners discovered 16th century wall paintings depicting the symbiotic relationship between plants and humans and took steps to preserve these paintings, incorporating them into the ambience of a modern pizza joint. This visible connection between the past and present made me muse about all the people who had eaten (or lived) in this building before, and it made mediocre pizza taste like manna.
Laws governing the management of tangible historic resources—often referred to as Historic Preservation Law and/or Cultural Heritage Law—are rounding into maturity. Given that historic resources encompass many types of law (property law, land use law, natural resources law, environmental law, Native American law) and traverse local, state, tribal, federal and international jurisdictions, there has long been a need for a resource that speaks to those jurisdictions and varied types of law collectively, rather than in silos as the field is typically analyzed
Professor Sara Bronin (University of Connecticut School of Law) and I have recently published such a resource with West Academic: Historic Preservation Law in a Nutshell.
Here is the publisher's blurb: “Historic Preservation Law in a Nutshell provides the first-ever in-depth summary of historic preservation law within its local, state, tribal, federal, and international contexts. Historic Preservation is a burgeoning area of law that includes aspects of property, land use, environmental, constitutional, cultural resources, international, and Native American law. This book covers the primary federal statutes, and many facets of state statutes, dealing with the protection and preservation of historic resources. It also includes key topics like the designation process, federal agency obligations, local regulation, takings and other constitutional concerns, and real estate development issues.”
Click this link to go to Amazon where hardcopy and E-book formats can be purchased.
I hope that this book can be of use to you, and I would welcome any feedback on how it may be improved in future editions.
To some extent, all legal and policy decisions we make today--particularly those concerned with land--are predicated on the past. And in knowing about and respecting the past, we learn more about ourselves. As Shakespeare wrote in the Tempest, "What's Past is Prologue".
Thursday, June 26, 2014
No one is more surprised than I with how much time I spend reading about tax law these days, but I wanted to alert folks to another case regarding the valuation of historic conservation easements. This time, we are talking about Maison Blanche - a fancy former department store now an even fancier Ritz Carlton on Canal Street in New Orleans.
In 1997, the Whitehouse Hotel Ltd. (owner of the property) donated an historic preservation conservation easement to protect the facade to the Preservation Resource Center. Whitehouse's appraiser estimated the value of the conservation easement at $7.445 million (not $7,445 million as the 5th Circuit opinion mistates). The IRS cried foul and valued the conservation easement at $1.15 million and also dinged Whitehouse for an extra 40% for underpaying by more than 400%.
Unsurprisingly, litigation ensued. Whitehouse v. CIR, 2014 WL 2609866 (5th Cir. 2014), decided on June 11th is the second time the case has made it up to the 5th Circuit. The disputes have generally been battles of appraisals and valuation methods. I am not going to express any opinion about the appraisal methods but thought I'd point out a few things.
What does the conservation easement allow?
There was a big dispute here as to whether the conservation easement actually had any value. One of the appraisers suggested that because the conservation easement would not actually prevent Ritz Carlton from building what it want to build, the value should be zero. The highest and best use of the property is unchanged by the conservation easement. This conclusion turned in part on the language of the conservation easement and whether it actually prohibited the potential building of 60 additional rooms on part of the hotel complex. The Tax Court agreed with the appraiser that the conservation easement did not have such a prohibition. Whitehouse I, 131 T.C. 112 (Tax Ct. 2010). The Fifth Circuit disagreed. Whitehouse II, 615 F.3d 321 (5th Cir. 2010). On remand to the same judge, the Tax Court reviewed Louisiana servitude law and again stated its belief that the conservation easement did not restrict the additional building and should not have value BUT the Tax Court acknowledged that it was bound by the 5th Circuit's precedent and estimated the conservation easement value based on that assumption (coming up with as the 5th Circuit said "merely $1,867,716"). Whitehouse III, 139 T.C. 304 (Tax Ct. 2012).
Undoubtedly feeling that it got a raw deal from an unbiased judge, Whitehouse appealed but the 5th Circuit upheld the Tax Court stating that even though the Tax Court went out of its way to voice its disagreement with the 5th Circuit that was allowed as long as it actually followed the 5th Circuit.
Can you rely on tax professionals' assessments of your conservation easements?
Well, at first blush the answer to this question looks like "no" because the appraiser was so wrong. But the key question to consider for this case is whether Whitehouse's reliance on its appraiser and other professional should protect it from the penalty for gross underpayment (the 400% thing I mention above). There is a reasonable cause exception that allows taxpayers to get out from under this rather steep penalty. This issue is important for people interested in conservation easements because we see over and over again how far apart the private appraisals can be from those the IRS calculates. How much should we penalize landowners for their underpayments made in reliance on qualified professionals? The Tax Court imposed a 40% gross underpayment penalty, holding that Whitehouse had not done enough to demonstrate that it had reasonable cause to believe the appraisal. The court may have been particularly persuaded by the fact that the appraisal of the conservation easement exceeded the price actually paid for the property. The 5th Circuit reversed on this issue because Whitehouse had consulted with more than one appraiser and consulted other tax professionals. The 5th Circuit found this to be adequate.
I am really torn on this one. We want landowners to be able to rely on qualified appraisers and to impose a 40% tax penalty could be particularly painful to small landowners. But there have been repeated examples of bad appraisals around and it seems like there has got to be some type of smell test. Where a conservation easement is valued so much higher than the purchase price of the property, I hesitate too. Of course, I understand that the purchase price doesn't really tell you the value of the property and the value of what an entity like Ritz Carlton can get out of a property, but at the end of the day as a taxpayer, I don't even like the fact that the landowners here got a $1.8 million dollar charitable tax credit to build a big fancy hotel and condo complex that will make them oodles of dollars. Arguing that they lost $1.8 million because they couldn't make it as absolutely big as they might have just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
June 26, 2014 in Architecture, Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Development, Economic Development, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, Land Trust, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, June 23, 2014
As long-time readers know, I have an obsession with interest in conservation easements. In particular, I have been intrigued with a category I call "exacted conservation easements," which I view as any conservation easements that have been created in exchange for some type of land-use permit or development benefit.
Many conservation easements are donated to land trusts and government entities. Those landowners are then able to seek deductions for charitable contributions on their federal tax returns based on the fair market value of the conservation easement. Of course, calculating the fair market value of a conservation easement may not be a simple task, but we can leave that discussion for another day. Today, I want to talk about the potential for tax deductions on exacted conservation easements.
Exacted conservation easements exist because a landowner is seeking the right to develop or change her land in a way currently restricted by law. For example, where a landowner wants to convert endangered species habitat into a residential development, the landowner often agrees to burden other land with conservation easements in exchange for an incidental take permit. Now, in what I hope is an uncontroversial statement, I often assert that such conservation easements should not garner landowners any charitable tax benefits. Unfortunately, I heard many stories of landowners seeking and obtaining tax deductions for such properties.
In a recent tax court opinion, we see an example from Colorado. In Seventeen Seventy Sherman Street, LLC [SSSS] v. CIR, T.C. Memo 2014-124, the Tax Court examined the deductibility of historic facade and interior conservation easements. SSSS wanted to develop an historic site (the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) in Denver into condos. Because the property is a designated landmark, the architect proposed building in the parking lot and preserving the shrine "as leverage to induce the city of Denver to modify the zoning restrictions governing the use and development of the [property,]" which at that time was not zoned for residential development (T.C. Memo at 5-6). SSSS then entered into negotiations with the city's Community Planning and Development Agency regarding changes to the Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the area, the conservation easements, height variance, etc. The Agency asserted that it would not recommend any changes to the PUD or granting of the height variances without the conservation easements.
Hopefully, you see quickly why I label these exacted conservation easements (or I sometimes call them "coerced conservation easements") and why they differ from the vision most folks have of conservation easements protecting the family homestead and helping farmers keep the property in the family. Here, we have a developer with no emotional connection to the property simply making a deal to obtain the development rights that the developer sets as its goal. This doesn't mean that the developer doesn't value the historic, scenic, and cultural benefits of this property. Indeed, a developer may purchase an important or beautiful site exactly because it believes those features are important, BUT we may not have the same ideas of freedom of contract or donative intent involved. We might want to view such conservation easements differently, more critically.
So what kind of tax break should SSSS be able to get here? My initial take on these has always just been zero. The conservation easements were exchanged for a varaince and favorable development measures; they are not donations. But as the Tax Court points out, we may be able to find some instances where some of an exacted conservation easement was done in exchange for a permit or some other benefit, but the value of the restriction actually exceeds the value of the permit. Frankly, while I agree generally with that sentiment, I have trouble picturing where that might occur. How do we calculate that? Without the conservation easements here, we know there would have been no permit. So can we really say that the value of the conservation easements exceeds the value of the permit? If so, are there ways to confine the conservation easement to bring it in line with the value of the permit? They have to be perpetual, so we could only change other characteristics. Suddenly I feel like we are immersed in some Dolan-like analysis of value and proportionality.
The conservation easements in this case were first valued at over $7 million. On its tax forms, SSSS did not indicate that it had received anything of value in exchange for the conveyance of the conservation easements (to Historic Denver). The IRS responded that SSSS had failed to meet some filing and appraisal requirements and asserted that the conservation easements should only be valued at a little over $2 million but claimed that the interior CEs were not deductible at all, leaving the potentially deductible amount at $400,000. Here, the Tax Court did not need to determine the value of the conservation easements or the value of the development benefits SSSS received in exchange for them because SSSS failed to identify that it received consideration for the CEs as required by the Tax Code. The court continued to explain that the exchange sure looked like a quid pro quo one with SSSS agreeing to the CEs (whatever their value) in exchange for the Planning Agency's support (whatever its value).
I am glad to see the IRS taking a careful look at these conservation easements. Generally, I think we should be wary of any conservation easements emerging from development schemes.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Nancy McLaughlin (Utah) has posted Perpetual Conservation Easements in the 21st Century: What Have We Learned and Where Should We Go from Here?, 2013 Utah L. Rev. 687. Here's the abstract:
April 8, 2014 in Agriculture, Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, Scholarship, Servitudes | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Potential tax deductions are one of the driving forces behind creation of conservation easements. The exact contours of the tax deduction (how much can you deduct and over how many years can you stretch your donation) has varied over the years. For the past several years, the deductions have been particularly generous.
Under standard law, individuals can deduct the value of the donated property up to 30 percent of their adjusted gross income, and any excess value can be carried forward for 5 years. But in 2006, Congress passed the enhanced landowner incentive. It allows deductions up 50 percent of donors’ adjusted gross income and over a 15-year carry-forward period. That incentive ended this past December. The consistent support of this tax deduction by Congress led many to people the enhanced version would be extended without struggle.
Perhaps not. The most recent tax-extension proposal from the Senate Finance Committee does not extend the enhanced tax deduction for conservation easements. Russ Shay at the Land Trust Alliance has hypothesized that the bill drafters may want to change the nature of the deduction, but are still likely to keep the enhanced deduction available to some extent. In particular, this might appear an attractive opportunity to remove deductions for conservation easements over golf courses, something both parties (and the IRS) have indicated their support for. Others suggest that a better approach would be to craft legislation making the enhanced deduction permanent so it does not require periodic extensions.
Friday, January 24, 2014
I just finished reading a new article by Jess Phelps in the latest issue of Environmental Law. In Preserving Perpetuity?: Exploring the Challenges of Perpetual Preservation in an Ever-Changing World, Phelps tackles some issues closely related to questions I research: what do we do about perpetual permanent restrictions in a world of constant change? Phelps takes a narrower tack than my articles though, looking just at historic preservation easements. If you think that perpetual land conservation sound challenging, try fooling yourself into thinking that buildings are going to last forever. Well, okay we all know that perpetual restrictions have their usefulness even when we know that a perpetual building is not possible. What I like about Phelps' piece is that he cites me he takes a practical approach, providing specific plans for how to respond when natural disasters damage or destroy structures protected by historic preservation easements. It is a helpful read for land trusts or drafters of conservation easements thinking proactively about climate change impacts.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
This summer, many of us conservation easement research types received emails from the Law Commission for England and Wales. The Law Commission is similar to the Uniform Law Commission here in the US in mission (researches potential legal reform and presents suggested statutory texts), but the British version is a body established by Parliament and the US version is a non-profit organization.
When considering changes to the law, the COmmission staff assemble consultation papers. The papers present research on the legal topic at issue, suggest statutory parameters and language, and solicit comments from "consultees." Anyone who visits the website and submits the form can comment, but the Commission also contacts specific people and organizations to solicit their views. There is even a form with specific questions on the issue to complete. I thought this was a very informative and interesting approach.
As you should have already gleaned from the title of this approach, the Law Commission is examining the case for introducing "conservation covenants" into the law of England and Wales. Now, while I read the consultation paper carefully and made lots of notes (several exclamation marks in the margins of this one), I just couldn't get my act together to submit comments by the June 21st deadline. While this is just a proposal and not yet even a proposed bill, there are lots of interesting things going on in this british version of conservation easements. I thought I would highlight a few of them for you here:
(1) Specific choice not to use the word easement.
(2) No tax breaks associated with donating conservation covenants.
(3) All transactions must be voluntary, so presumably that means no exactions or eminent domain-like creations. However, the Commission contemplates widespread use for offsetting schemes.
(4) Conservation covenants are much easier to terminate or modify. With holders having power to unilaterally discharge obligations. Also suggests a judicial proceeding with specific factors that the tribunal should consider in modifying or terminating the covenants
(5) leaseholders with long leases can enter into conservation covenants for the term of their lease
Plus oh so much more.The differences between the proposed law and the US laws is significant.
I'd be really interested to hear both what consultees said in response to this paper and what you would change here in the US if we were to rewrite our conservation easement laws. (I have my own little wishlist of course).
- Jessica Owley
Monday, May 27, 2013
The U.S. tradition of Memorial Day has a long and complex relationship with land, history, and memory. This post has some thoughts on the subject from last year.
Today was Memorial Day in the US. There are lots of land use issues that we can associate with Memorial Day, which, stripped to its essence, is designed as a day to remember the military members who died in service to the nation. There is the obvious land use issue of cemeteries, and the related legal and cultural norms governing how we memorialize the dead (check out any of the interesting blogposts or scholarship by Al Brophy and Tanya Marsh on cemeteries). It gets even more relevant when we start talking about government-owned national or veterans' cemeteries, and the attendant controversies about First Amendment and other issues. [The photo is from last year's Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery, which my daughter attended to honor fallen Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Sauer Medlicott.] Of course, there are always land use and local government issues involved with things like parades and public ceremonies, and in many communities there are specific rules that govern the "summer season" informally commenced on Memorial Day weekend.
Check out the whole post for some info about a couple of little-known and interesting events from the early history of Memorial Day and land use, including what may be the first Memorial Day celebration, by African-Americans in Charleston on the former planters' racecourse, and a U.S. Supreme Court case about eminent domain for historic preservation on Gettysburg National Battlefied.
We hope you had a safe and happy Memorial Day.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
So I've been taking something of a break from blogging during my quasi-sabbatical, but I got a powerful lesson about the power of place this week, something that seemed worth sharing.
Monday night Oconee Street United Methodist Church in Athens experienced a terrible fire. This is the church my husband and I attended in Athens, and it's been powerful to see the effect of the fire on the community. At first there was shock and grief but very quickly the community began to rally. The church is the home of the local soup kitchen, and only hours after the blaze they were serving breakfast in front of the still smoldering building. A campaign has begun to restore the historic structure (originally built in 1903). This church is an Athens institution, popularly known as the "church on the hill."
A few years ago I blogged about the rebuilding of another Athens insitution gutted by fire, the Georgia Theater. The community banded together to help finance the two year rebuilding process, and the theater re-opened better and more beautiful than ever in 2011. Here's hoping the same thing can happen with this wonderful little community church!
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, February 8, 2013
Jonathan Zasloff (UCLA) has a piece on Legal Planet: The Environmental Law and Policy Blog (Berkeley/UCLA) called Has New Urbanism Killed Land Use Law?
My Land Use casebook, like most of them, mentions New Urbanist zoning and planning techniques, but does not dwell on them. In order to teach New Urbanist concepts such as Form-Based Codes, SmartCode, and the Transect, I had to develop my own materials, as well as shamelessly stealing a couple of Powerpoint presentations from a friend who works at Smart Growth America.
What’s the cause of this gap? Is it because land use professors have a thing about Euclidean zoning?
I doubt it. A quick check in the Westlaw “ALLCASES” database yields only one result for the phrase “Form-Based Code” and none of the results for “transect” has anything to do with the New Urbanist land use concept. That means that it is very difficult actually to find cases that reflect aspects of New Urbanism.
One can understand that in several ways, I suppose. You could infer that New Urbanism just leaves less room for legal disputes than traditional Euclidean zoning. For example, there is no need to worry about non-conforming uses, use variances, or conditional use permits with Form-Based Codes because those codes do not regulate uses to begin with. . . .
Now let me quibble with this a little bit: in Houston--the Unzoned City--we supposedly don't regulate uses either. But it seems we do nothing here but apply for, and fight over, variances, nonconforming uses, and special exceptions, for everything from lot sizes and setbacks to sign code and HP rules. It seems to me that people are going to want incremental exceptions for building form or site requirements at least as commonly, if not more so, than for use designations.
But overall it's a good point. Zasloff concludes that even if we do move to form based codes, we'll still probably need to keep a little zoning around:
[W]hile New Urbanism coding can serve as a replacement for a lot of Euclideanism, it cannot eliminate it entirely — not because we are addicted to Euclidean forms, and not because we are dumb, but because lots of the world is uncertain, and cities will have to grapple with that.
I also find that New Urbanism is hard to teach in a doctrinal land use law class. Zasloff concludes:
If this is right, then land use casebooks will still emphasize Euclidean zoning, because that’s where the disputes are and necessarily will be.
A problem set with form-based codes would be nice, though. Just sayin’.
I know some recent land use casebooks have moved to a problem-based approach, and some of our colleagues have created their own materials for teaching New Urbanism. Students find this stuff interesting, so we should all work towards developing these resources for teaching.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
For those of you interested in conservation easements (particularly historic façade easements), you may have been following the Scheidelman saga.The next installment is now out.
In Scheidelman v. Comissioner, T.C. Memo. 2010-151 [Scheidelman I], the landowner sought a deduction for a façade easement burdening her Brooklyn brownstone. The Tax Court disqualified an appraisal because it viewed the method of calculating the easement’s value inadequate. Appraisals must include the method of valuation used as well as the specific basis for the valuation. The appraiser applied a percentage to the fair market value of the property before conveyance of the conservation easement. The Tax Court found that the appraiser had insufficiently explained the method (i.e., the percentage approach) and basis of the valuation (i.e., the specific data used).
The landowner appealed to the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit [Scheidelman II, 682 F.3d 189 (2d Cir. 2012)] reversed the Tax Court, saying that the shortcomings of the approach should not disqualify the appraisal.
On remand [Scheidelman III, T.C. Memo. 2013-18 ], the Tax Court accepted the Second Circuit's assessment that the appraisal was “qualified” but still thought it was crappy was not credible. You can check out the case if you want to delve into the nitty gritty of appraisal methods. The most problematic issue appeared to be the fact that the appraisal just picked a number between 10 and 12% of the fair market value of the home when trying to determine the value of the conservation easement. The appraiser's reasoned that those are the numbers that courts and the IRS seem to like instead of actually looking at the property and making an assessment.
I am enamored of this case though because in the end the Tax Court said no tax deduction is warranted. The evidence demonstrates that façade easements actually increase the value of homes in this area. Additionally, the landowner herself admitted that she was seeking a tax deduction for something she would have done anyway. Here is my favorite quote from the landowner:
"Well, I was primarily interested in preserving my house itself in light of the dramatic development that was occurring in and around Fort Greene during those years and still is. I was also intrigued by the tax benefit of preserving the facade which I had intended to do anyway. …I also wanted to benefit tax wise. I didn't know how much I would benefit, but I wanted to benefit from what I was already intended to be committed to doing."
I have been disturbed fascinated by conservation easement tax deductions that pay owners not to do things they never planned on doing. In understand that there can be some value to the conservation easements becuase perhaps future landowners would have other desires, but it is hard for me to reconcile that worth with the high value of tax deductions current landowners receive. I am glad to see the IRS and Tax Court calling these landowners out. Maybe if a landowner seeks to claim a tax decuction for a conservation easement and we see that the conservation easement increased the value of their land, they should have to pay that difference to the treasury.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Last fall I attended the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference, which was held in Spokane, Washington. Among the conference schwag was a special edition of the Trust’s Forum Journal magazine called Game Changers: Forum Journal Articles That Have Made a Difference, 1987-2012. The special edition has a number of great articles that will be an invaluable resource to anyone with a historic preservation interest. The catch is, it may be hard to get ahold of the special edition if you are not a member of the Trust or did not attend the conference because the Trust does not appear to sell single copies (or at least, I did not see a way to purchase the issue on the Trust's website). For those who may be interested, here is a list of the special edition article titles followed by the author in parentheses:
Introduction (Stephanie K. Meeks)
The Future of the National Register (Carol Shull)
The Critical Need for a Sensitive—and Sensible—National Transportation Policy (Constance E. Beaumont)
Cultual Diversity in Historic Preservation: Where We Have Been, Where We Are Going (Toni Lee)
I Can’t See It; I Don’t Understand It; And It Doesn’t Look Old To Me (Richard Longstreth)
Economics and Historic Preservation (Donovan D. Rypkema)
Are There Too Many House Museums? (Richard Moe)
The Greenest Building Is…One That Is Already Built (Carl Elefante)
If any of these articles sound interesting to you, it might be worth trying to track down the Fall, 2012 copy of Forum Journal.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Here's a story out of Arizona, where apparently a historic Frank Lloyd Wright house was under dispute. From the New York Times story by Fernanda Santos and Michael Kimmelman:
The conservancy and other organizations petitioned the city in June to consider giving the house landmark status, after they learned of the former owners’ plans to split the lot to build the new homes. Three local government bodies approved the landmark designation, but the Council, which has the final say, postponed its vote twice, in part to give the parties more time to strike some type of compromise. There was also uncertainty over how some of its members would vote, given the homeowners’ lack of consent for the landmark process.
“If ever there was a case to balance private property rights versus the public good, to save something historically important to the cultural legacy of the city, this was it,” Larry Woodin, the president of the conservancy, said in an interview.
Seems like a good result here, while communities across the nation continue to struggle with how to strike that balance.
January 2, 2013 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, Historic Preservation, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Property Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
As regular readers know, I am obsessed with fascinated by conservation easements. Lately, I have been particularly intrigued by valuation concerns. Where a landowner donates a conservation easement on her property, she can receive some favorable tax benefits at the local, state, and federal levels. On federal taxes, landowners can deduct the value of the conservation easement from their taxes in the same way they make deductions for other charitable contributions. This, of course, leads to valuation problems. Without an active conservation easement market, it is hard to figure out what their worth should be. Landowners want high appraisals because it increases the tax deductions. The IRS, however, has been increasingly skeptical of these deductions (especially following some 2003 Washington Post exposes about The Nature Conservancy).
This issue seems particularly salient where conservation easements (including historic facade easement) appear simply to replicate existing land use laws. In such cases, there is a strong argument that the value of the conservation easement should be zero and the landowner should not receive a tax break. Indeed, the landowner does not seem to have lost anything in the transaction. She does not change her behavior and property sales may not even be affected. The Tax Court seemed to agree with this reasoning in the recent Foster Case, where the IRS denied a tax deduction for a historic facade easement. The Tax Court upheld the IRS' finding because, inter alia, the restrictions on the property mirrored those already embodied in local law.
It is not uncommon for conservation easements to replicate or even to conflict with local zoning and land use laws. Proponents of conservation easements point out that conservation easements protect against future actions -- futures where land use codes or other laws could change but the restrictions would still remain in place. While I see there point, something still rubs me the wrong way when we pay people to do things they were going to do anyway. How can we figure out the best way to quantify the public benefit here?
- Jessie Owley
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
The New York Observer has a list of the 15 Most Fascinating NY Real Estate Cases of the 21st Century, based on a survey of NYC real estate lawyers. Although most involve contracts or financing gone awry, a few involve zoning and land use disputes. They also make use of Sherlock Holmes-esque titles, like "The Case of the Mischievous Mall Developer."
Of particular interest are "The Case of the Masterpiece & The Condo Ad," involving a dispute over advertising, public art, and landmarking. The "Case of the Museum and the Architect" involves a building designed by Jean Nouvel next to MOMA, as well as zoning, landmarking and air rights issues. "The Case of the Brooklyn Basketball Arena" gives a very truncated summary of the series of legal battles over eminent domain and the construction of a new arena for the Brooklyn Nets. (For a more detailed account in response from critics of the development see the Atlantic Yards Report). And "The Case of the Abused J-51" details the legal battles over rent regulation following the $5.4 billion purchase of Stuyvesant Town.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Following up on Matt's post about the rise of historic preservation in land use planning, and also the excellent new casebook by Bronin and Byrne on the subject, I thought it was worth noting that the National Trust for Historic Preservation annual conference will be in Spokane, Washington, this October 31 - November 3. While this is typically a "practitioners" conference, I don't see why we shouldn't have more professors in the mix there, too. (And for those of us in the inland Northwest, like myself, this will be a rare chance to catch this conference on our home turf.) To wit, I will be moderating a panel at the conference on Thursday, November 1 at 1:30 entitled "Bridging Preservation & Environmentalism." Here is the session description:
This session will offer tools to resolve gaps and conflicts between preservation and conservation. From the local level, panelist Hillary Gitelman, Planning Director of Napa County (CA), will discuss an issue in Napa involving landmarks on agricultural lands that were destined to demolition by neglect due to restrictive zoning. The issue created a conflict between preservationists, who supported narrowly crafted ordinances that allow reasonable reuse of the landmarks, and some environmentalists, who were concerned with development on rural lands. Attorney Sara K. Hayden, who represented Napa County Landmarks, a non-profit preservation group that supported the ordinances, will discuss legal aspects of the matter, and of other case studies from across the United States where communities, through effective ordinances and policies, resolved apparent conflicts between preservation and conservation. Earthjustice attorney Melanie Kay will provide a federal view on bridging the gap between Section 106 and NEPA reviews and compliance. Stephen R. Miller, associate professor of law at the University of Idaho, College of Law, will moderate.
There are many other interesting panels that I think land use lawyers would enjoy, practitioner and professor alike, so check out the schedule at the link above. Registration is much cheaper now than if you wait till later, which is another reason I'm posting about this now.
Incidentally, if you go, I hear you MUST stay at the historic Davenport. Hope to see you there!
Stephen R. Miller
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Sara C. Bronin (Connecticut) and J. Peter Byrne (Georgetown) recently published a new casebook called Historic Preservation Law, Foundation Press 2012. HP is quickly becoming a central part of land use planning, as the authors make clear in this excerpt from the Preface:
This book was written for anyone interested in the increasingly important area of historic preservation law. With this book, we hope to advance and encourage the teaching of preservation law, shape the way the field is conceived, and create a practical resource that will be consulted by attorneys and other preservation professionals.
Our approach to the subject is reasonably straightforward. We present the most significant legal issues in preservation and place them in a contemporary context, identifying contested questions and areas of reform. The format of the book is traditional: edited leading cases with notes that provide explanation, extension, and issues for discussion. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, we belive that the legal issues can only be understood in light of historical, aesthetic, political, and administrative issues that make up the larger realm of preservation. Accordingly, we provide secondary materials, both legal and non-legal.
Because we focus on preservation of buildings and sites, we present preservation as part of land use or urban development law. Thus, we provide extensive treatment of local preservation law, which regulates private property, as well as relevant issues in real estate finance and project development. We also provide comprehensive treatment of federal law, including the National Historical Preservation Act and related statutes. In addition, we explore federal laws that address preservation vis-a-vis cultural property issues, particularly regarding Native American and archaelogical sites. Preservation has also generated important and interesting constitutional questions related to takings, religious freedoms, and free speech rights, which we address.
This is the first, or at least the most recent, major casebook on the law of historic preservation that I know of. Professors Bronin and Byrne, who are also accomplished scholars in the land use field generally, have provided us a major contribution with this book, which looks to be *the* significant text in HP law. Land use scholars and professionals should definitely have this one on their shelves.
August 9, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Development, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, History, Local Government, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)