Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Burling on the Uses and Abuses of Property Rights in Saving the Environment

James S. Burling (Pacific Legal Foundation) has posted The Uses and Abuses of Property Rights in Saving the Environment, 1 Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Conference Journal 373 (2012).  The abstract:

While freedom and property may be inseparable, the temptation to sacrifice one or the other to seemingly more critical societal goals is ever present. In the past century, the environmental-related limitations on property have progressed from zoning to advance the social welfare, to utilitarian conservation to preserve the human environment, and more lately to the preservation of the environment for its own sake. With each step, property rights have been impacted further. From the imposition of zoning, to regulatory restrictions on the use of property, and to the mechanism of conservation easements, the control of property by the owners of property has diminished. If freedom and property are truly interrelated, there may be troubling implications on the future of freedom.

Matt Festa

October 30, 2012 in Conferences, Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Johnson on the Economic Crisis, Homeownership, and Race

Marcia Johnson (Texas Southern) has posted Will the Current Economic Crisis Fuel a Return to Racial Policies that Deny Homeownership Opportunity and Wealth to African Americans?, published in The Modern American, Volume 6, Issue 1, Spring 2010.  From the introduction:

Perhaps the greatest threat to the continued realization of the American dream is the latest economic crisis rooted in the sub-prime mortgage collapse.12 Some blame the CRA of 1977 for creating a market that they claim provided housing loans to noncreditworthy borrowers – particularly African American families – in the low and moderate income range.13 However, this charge is without direct factual support as the post-CRA period saw a decline in homeownership for African Americans but a mild increase for White homeowners.14 Illegal and fraudulent practices in property appraisals and income reporting directed program benefi ts away from those the program was meant to aid. . . .

This paper is written to examine the potential effect of the market collapse on our nation’s homeownership policies. Part I reviews America’s historical housing and homeownership policies. Part II considers the expansion of homeownership opportunities to historically non-participating communities, particularly the African American community. Part III reviews the culprits of the economic crash of 2008 and explains why sub-prime borrowers often get blamed. Part IV examines solutions to maintain America’s pro-homeownership policy, and Part V concludes that America’s homeownership policy should continue to be vigorously pursued with a goal of including African Americans who have long been excluded by government policies and sanctions from building wealth and thereby stabilizing their communities.

Matt Festa

October 19, 2012 in Federal Government, History, Housing, Houston, Race, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hirokawa on Euclid to Federal Environmental Law in Northern Ohio

Keith Hirokawa (Albany) has posted From Euclid to the Development of Federal Environmental Law: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and the Regulation of Physical Space, forthcoming in Justice and Legal Change on the Shores of Lake Erie: A History of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Paul Finkelman and Roberta Alexander, eds., (2012, Ohio University Press).  The abstract:

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River burned. Although it was not the first time that the River was in need of assistance, it was the 1969 fire that helped to compel a radical transformation in the way that we interact with the environment. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio was not called upon to adjudicate the liabilities resulting from this pivotal event. But in the years preceding the Cuyahoga fire, the district court was asked to navigate conflicting jurisprudential approaches to the use of land, air, and water. This chapter explores a handful of these cases in order to illustrate the nation's struggle over suspicious conceptions of economic advantage and fairness, flexible distinctions of private and public property, and evolving ideas of nature and health. The chapter begins with the 1924 decision in Ambler Realty Corporation v. Village of Euclid, which remains the most famous challenge to the constitutionality of zoning regulations. It then turns to the 1930 decision in Swetland v. Curtiss Airports Corporation, where the district court addressed the inevitable limitations in property rights above land following the advancement of powered human flight. Finally, it considers an opinion released on the eve of the Cuyahoga River fire, when the court was asked to choose between saving a town and protecting railroad operations in Biechelle v. Norfolk Western Railway Company. Although the district court's decisions in these controversies do not bear the indelible character that we often attribute to law, the federal district courts for the Northern District of Ohio contributed to a legal framework in which the fire could occur and, perhaps more significantly, in which the fire could be perceived as an important event.

It's true that Northern Ohio has been at the forefront of the development of modern land use law!  Land use and legal history are more connected than might be apparent.  The entire volume looks worth reading.

Matt Festa

October 16, 2012 in Environmental Law, Federal Government, History, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ellickson on the Law and Economics of Street Layouts

Robert C. Ellickson (Yale) has posted The Law and Economics of Street Layouts: How a Grid Pattern Benefits a Downtown, forthcoming in the Alabama Law Review from its lecture series on boundaries.  The abstract:

People congregate in cities to improve their prospects for social and economic interactions. As Jane Jacobs recognized, the layout of streets in a city’s central business district can significantly affect individuals’ ability to obtain the agglomeration benefits that they seek. The costs and benefits of alternative street designs are capitalized into the value of abutting lots. A planner of a street layout, as a rule of thumb, should seek to maximize the market value of the private lots within the layout. By this criterion, the street grid characteristic of the downtowns of most U.S. cities is largely successful. Although a grid layout has aesthetic shortcomings, it helps those who frequent a downtown to orient themselves and move about. A grid also is conducive to the creation of rectangular lots, which are ideal for siting structures and minimizing disputes between abutting landowners. Major changes in street layouts, such as those accomplished by Baron Haussmann in Paris and Robert Moses in New York City, are unusual and typically occur in bursts. Surprisingly, the aftermath of a disaster that has destroyed much of a city is not a propitious occasion for the revamping of street locations.

Highly recommended, with lots of interesting planning-type details in addition to the larger importance to land use theories and approaches.

Matt Festa

October 2, 2012 in Aesthetic Regulation, Architecture, History, Housing, Lectures, Local Government, New York, Planning, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pomeroy on the Case for Standardized Vesting Documents

Chad Pomeroy (St. Mary's) has posted A Theoretical Case for Standardized Vesting Documents.  The abstract:

Practitioners, real estate professionals, and lay people throughout the country rely on the recording system to provide critical information regarding ownership rights and claims. Indeed, the recording system acts as a virtually mandatory repository and disseminator of all potential parties’ claims. This system, in turn, relies on these claimants and their agents to publicize their claims: property purchasers, lenders, lien-claimants, title companies, attorneys - these parties interact, make deals, make claims, order their affairs, and then record. The information system available to us, then, is only as good as what we make of it and what we put into it.

As such, it is surprising how little thought has been put into exactly what it is that we record. Should the mortgage of a lender in Ohio look like that of a lender in Florida? Should a deed from an individual in Texas differ from that of a corporation in Nevada? As it stands now, no one familiar with real estate law or commerce would expect different parties in different jurisdictions to record identical, or even similar, instruments. In an immediate sense, this heterogeneity of the recorded documents (“vesting heterogeneity”) does not seem a good thing: parties utilizing the recording system generally seek to make known, or to discern, the same generic type of information – that is, evidence of claims upon property – so why are different forms and types of documents utilized all over the country?

This article analyzes this vesting heterogeneity from a new perspective and concludes that it is, in fact, cause for significant concern. Vesting heterogeneity has arisen organically, growing with the recording system as they both evolved over time. This historical explanation does not, however, excuse the cost associated with such a lack of uniformity. Anyone seeking information with respect to any piece of property must navigate the complexities and uncertainties that arise because all such information is heterogeneous and, as a consequence, difficult to understand and utilize. This represents both a immediate transactional cost and an increased risk of ill-informed behavior.

This is particularly troublesome because this sort of cost-based concern arising from variability has a well-established analogue in property law that the law clearly desires to avoid. That analogue is the cost that would arise if property law were to permit unlimited property forms and gives rise to what is known as the numerus clausus theory. This theory explains the law’s hostility toward new, or different, types of property and holds that such heterogeneity is not generally permitted because of the extremely high informational costs associated with such creativity.

This article suggests that this common law concept can, and should, inform our analysis of vesting heterogeneity and that it precipitates strongly against such lack of uniformity. This is because the costs that drive the numerus clausus to hold that variability should be limited are strikingly similar to those created by variability of vesting documents. As such, this theory is relevant here such that the same analysis should be applied to vesting heterogeneity by asking whether a different (or “new”) document is helpful enough to outweigh the informational costs inherent therein.

Based on this reasoning, this article concludes that the law is wrong to systematically ignore heterogeneity in vesting documents. Instead, a numerus clausus type of analysis should be applied to new or different vesting documents to determine whether any inherent lack of uniformity is defensible. Where it is not, uniformity should be imposed.

Matt Festa

September 5, 2012 in Contracts, Finance, History, Mortgages, Property, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Man Fights to Keep Wife's Remains Buried in Front Yard

If you've been reading the work of some of our colleagues at Property Prof like Tanya Marsh and Al Brophy, you know that cemeteries, memorials, and burial rules can be important issues in law and historical memory.  Here's a more quotidian case in point, from the Huffington Post: James Davis, Alabama Man, Fights To Keep Remains Of Wife Buried In Front Yard.  From the article:

Davis said he was only abiding by Patsy Ruth Davis' wishes when he buried her outside their log home in 2009, yet the city sued to move the body elsewhere. A county judge ordered Davis to disinter his wife, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge.

While state health officials say family burial plots aren't uncommon in Alabama, city officials worry about the precedent set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on one of the main streets through town. They say state law gives the city some control over where people bury their loved ones and have cited concerns about long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of some neighbors.

But even some of the objecting neighbors are still concerned with the individual property-rights aspect of this situation:

A strong libertarian streak runs through northeast Alabama, which has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property. Even a neighbor who got into a fight with Davis over the gravesite – Davis said he punched the man – isn't comfortable with limiting what a homeowner can do with his property.

"I don't think it's right, but it's not my place to tell him he can't do it," said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. "I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about."

The article profits from the analysis of Samford law prof Joseph Snoe (invoking Mahon (which I just taught) and other important precedents):

A law professor who is familiar with the case said it's squarely at the intersection of personal rights and government's power to regulate private property. While disputes over graves in peoples' yards might be rare, lawsuits over the use of eminent domain actions and zoning restrictions are becoming more common as the U.S. population grows, said Joseph Snoe, who teaches property law at Samford University in suburban Birmingham.

While it's a quirky fact pattern, this sort of case is intensely personal, and goes to show the broad range of issues that can end up in disputes over land use law.  Thanks to Troy Covington for the pointer.

Matt Festa

August 24, 2012 in Caselaw, History, Humorous, Property Rights, State Government, Sun Belt, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who Owns Land Created by a Volcanic Eruption?

During my just-completed trip to Hawaii, I spent some time in the wonderful Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  The volcanic eruptions in the park continue to add new land to Hawaii’s youngest and largest island.  In fact, over 500 acres of new land have been added since 1983 alone.

This led me to wonder who owned this new land.  It turns out that the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory provided a helpful answer to this question a while back.  The Hawaii Supreme Court, in the 1977 case State by Kobayashi v. Zimring, 566 P.2d 725, decided the issue.  Granted this is not an issue of broad relevance, but I found their resolution of the question interesting.

In Zimring, the State of Hawaii sought to quiet title over 7.9 acres of new land added after a 1955 eruption extended the shoreline.  This new land, which was termed a “lava extension,” was adjacent to land purchased by the Zimrings in 1960, after the eruption.  The lava flowed over the purchased land and into the ocean, forming the new 7.9 acres of land.  After purchasing the adjacent land the Zimrings entered onto the new land, bulldozing it and planting trees.  The State even assessed the land and collected taxes from the Zimrings on it.  Nonetheless, the court found in favor of the State of Hawaii and in doing so distinguished lava flows from the common law doctrine regarding accretion of land.

The court first reviewed the history of Hawaiian law regarding private property ownership, concluding that it made clear that “land in its original state is public land and if not awarded or granted, such land remains in the public domain.”  It then considered whether there was a relevant doctrine from the common law or traditional Hawaiian usage that applied in the case.  It concluded that there were too few similar lava flows over private land to have established a usage. 

It then considered the common law, first declaring that “[n]o court sitting at common law has had occasion to deal with the question of lava extensions.”  The court distinguished the common law regarding accretion, the gradual increase of land through the deposit of soil.  Under the common law, owners of contiguous land take title to land formed by accretion.  In contrast, the court declared, “in cases where there have been rapid, easily perceived and sometimes violent shifts of land (avulsion) incident to floods, storms or channel breakthroughs, preexisting legal boundaries are retained notwithstanding the fact that former riparian owners may have lost their access to the water.”  Similarly, it noted that under California law if an accretion is caused by artificial means, the newly created land does not belong to the upland property owner.  The court concluded that “[r]ather than allowing only a few of the many lava victims the windfall of lava extensions, this court believes that equity and sound public policy demand that such land inure to the benefit of all the people of Hawaii, in whose behalf the government acts as trustee.”

It can be expected that the Loihi Seamount, which is being formed by volcanoes southeast of the Big Island, will similarly fall under control of the state when and if it emerges some thousands of years into the future.

John Infranca

August 22, 2012 in Beaches, History, Property, Property Rights, State Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Flammable Cities

Flammable CitiesGreg Bankoff (History--University of Hull), Ewe Lubken (Rachel Carson Center, Munich), and Jordan Sand (History--Georgetown) have published Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagration and the Making of the Modern World (U. Wisconsin Press, 2012), an edited volume of essays on the role of fires in the history of urban development.  The blurb:

In most cities today, fire has been reduced to a sporadic and isolated threat. But throughout history the constant risk of fire has left a deep and lasting imprint on almost every dimension of urban society. This volume, the first truly global study of urban conflagration, shows how fire has shaped cities throughout the modern world, from Europe to the imperial colonies, major trade entrepôts, and non-European capitals, right up to such present-day megacities as Lagos and Jakarta. Urban fire may hinder commerce or even spur it; it may break down or reinforce barriers of race, class, and ethnicity; it may serve as a pretext for state violence or provide an opportunity for displays of state benevolence. As this volume demonstrates, the many and varied attempts to master, marginalize, or manipulate fire can turn a natural and human hazard into a highly useful social and political tool.

Over at The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger has a review called The Uncomfortable Politics Behind the History of Urban Fires.  She notes how fires played a role in the contested theories and policies behind land use, property, and government:

In the United States, we’ve come to think of forest fires this way, as we spar over the rights of wealthy people to build their vacation homes in flammable places like Malibu. But the history of urban fires is similarly political, in large part because it reflects the story of how governments came to view and value property.

"Fire is, of course, this threat to human life, but conspicuously it’s about the destruction of property," Sand says. "Is it the obligation of the city fathers or [government] to prevent peoples' private property from being destroyed?"

Badger's review and the book have a lot of interesting observations.

Matt Festa

August 22, 2012 in Books, History, Local Government, Politics, Property, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bauer on Age-Restricted Communities and Civil Rights Laws & Regulation

Mark D. Bauer (Stetson) has posted ‘Peter Pan’ as Public Policy: Should Fifty-Five-Plus Age-Restricted Communities Continue to Be Exempt from Civil Rights Laws and Substantive Federal Regulation?  The abstract:

Although millions of Americans live in 55-plus age-restricted housing, little research has been done to determine whether these communities benefit their residents, or the nation as a whole. This is particularly ironic because these communities exist in contravention to anti-discrimination laws by virtue of a specific exemption granted to real estate developers by an Act of Congress. Ordinarily age discrimination is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Successful lobbying by special interest groups carved out an exemption for 55-plus housing.

The original exemption required developers to offer elders special services and facilities in these communities in return for the exemption. Over time, those requirements were eliminated and now the only requirement is that these communities exclude families and children.

While lifestyles focused on golf and tennis may be attractive to younger retirees, older Americans often find themselves in communities bereft of the services and facilities they need for basic life activities and safety. The very nature of these communities result in elders left with depreciating homes, and many are without the financial means to retrofit their 55-plus home or to move into a community better adapted for their needs. This Article explores a popular form of “senior housing” that is unsuitable for most older Americans.

Matt Festa

August 19, 2012 in Community Design, Constitutional Law, Development, Federal Government, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, HUD, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Sun Belt | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fascinating 21st Century Real Estate Cases

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.

John Infranca

August 15, 2012 in Architecture, Caselaw, Development, Eminent Domain, Historic Preservation, History, Humorous, New York, Real Estate Transactions, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Krakoff & Rosser book on Tribes, Land, & the Environment

Sarah Krakoff (Colorado) and Ezra Rosser (American U) have posted Tribes, Land, and the Environment (Introduction), the intro to their new book TRIBES, LAND, AND THE ENVIRONMENT, Sarah Krakoff & Ezra Rosser eds., Published by Ashgate, ISBN 978-1-4094-2062-0, 2012.  The abstract:

About the book: Legal and environmental concerns related to Indian law and tribal lands remain an understudied branch of both indigenous law and environmental law. Native American tribes have a far more complex relationship with the environment than is captured by the stereotype of Indians as environmental stewards. Meaningful tribal sovereignty requires that non-Indians recognize the right of Indians to determine their own relationship to the land and the environment. But tribes do not exist in a vacuum: in fact they are deeply affected by off-reservation activities and, similarly, tribal choices often have effects on nearby communities. This book brings together diverse essays by leading Indian law scholars across the disciplines of indigenous and environmental law. The chapters reveal the difficulties encountered by Native American tribes in attempts to establish their own environmental standards within federal Indian law and environmental law structures. Gleaning new insights from a focus on tribal land and property law, the collection studies the practice of tribal sovereignty as experienced by Indians and non-Indians, with an emphasis on the development and regulatory challenges these tribes face in the wake of climate change. This volume will advance the reader's knowledge and understanding of these challenging issues.

Prof. Rosser also sends along the links to the Ashgate publisher's page and to the Table of Contents.  There are a lot of land use issues involved here and it's definitely a book worth checking out.  Contributions include essays by the two editors and our own Jessica Owley, among other thoughtful writers.

Matt Festa

August 12, 2012 in Books, Environmental Law, Federal Government, History, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Penalver on Progressive Lessons from DeSoto

DeSotoEduardo M. Penalver (Cornell) has posted The Costs of Regulation or the Consequences of Poverty? Progressive Lessons from De Soto, which is a chapter from the book Hernando de Soto and Property in a Market Economy, (D. Benjamin Barros ed.), Ashgate, 2010.  Penalver's abstract:

Commentators have often characterized Hernando de Soto's advocacy of formalization of title for landless squatters as right-wing. And de Soto seems to understand himself as an advocate of individual property rights and free markets. But his analysis of informality and redistribution has a subtext with potentially progressive implications. Although de Soto sometimes reflexively attributes informality to overregulation, informality can always also be characterized as the consequence of being too poor to afford regulated goods. Indeed, for any particular regulation that puts the regulated good out of reach of the poor, we can either attribute this consequence to the cost of the regulation or to the consequences of a distribution of wealth that makes the regulated good unaffordable to those at the bottom. Thus, if the regulation is a good one, its effect on price, and therefore on informality, may argue in favor of keeping the regulation but redistributing purchasing power to blunt its pernicious impact on informality. What we need is a way of evaluating regulations that goes beyond merely observing their impact on the cost of goods and, indirectly, on the prevalence of informality. Specifically, we need to be able to evaluate four different possibilities: (1) regulation with redistribution to offset the impact of the regulation on the poor; (2) regulation without redistribution with its attendant increase in informality; (3) redistribution without regulation; and (4) no redistribution and no regulation. Choosing among these options is the domain of applied political theory. The choice is a far more complicated and demanding task than merely observing that regulation without redistribution increases informality.

All of the contributions to the 2010 Barros-edited volume on DeSoto are extremely interesting and thought-provoking.  Penalver's essay, just now posted on SSRN, pushes us to consider the property theory beyond the traditional political characterizations of DeSoto's ideas. 

Matt Festa

August 12, 2012 in Books, Comparative Land Use, Economic Development, History, Politics, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bronin & Byrne Casebook on Historic Preservation Law

Bronin byrne HPSara 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.

Matt Festa

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)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Police Powers, Free Speech, and the Chick-fil-A Land Use Controversy

The Chick-fil-A land use controversy has mostly focused on freedom of speech, but I think there is a larger point about the police-power basis of land use regulation that has been overlooked.  In the wake of the Chick-fil-A CEO's comments on gay marriage, and the subsequent statements of public officials in Chicago and Boston indicating their opposition to building new Chick-fil-A franchises in their jurisdictions, there seems to be a general agreement that it would be illegal to deny building rights on the basis of the CEO's speech.  Ken Stahl and Stephen Miller have offered additional insights on the political, tax, and other potential motivations behind this controversy, with which I completely agree.  In this post, I want to expand on Ken's point about a potential Fourteenth Amendment violation of basing a land use decision on "animus" against the owner, and to peel back the onion a little bit and consider what might be the primary legal basis to a challenge to such a land use denial.

The general agreement seems to focus on the First Amendment free speech issue.  Eugene Volokh seems to have the definitive analysis that, whether or not one agrees with the CEO's opinions, it would be a First Amendment violation to deny a building permit on that basis (h/t Property Prof).  Viewed through the general prism of free speech and the Bill of Rights, this is entirely correct, and is probably sufficient for the public understanding of the issue.  As Prof. Volokh's caselaw indicates, there can be a First Amendment violation in denying a permit based on the property owner's speech.  But I think that's actually a secondary issue when it comes down to hypothetical litigation here.  What's really the primary issue, as I see it, is whether or not such a denial would be a violation of the police power itself.

The Chick-fil-A hypothetical permit denial does not on its face regulate speech: neither the CEO's personal remarks, nor the official speech of the corporation are being suppressed.  While there is a colorable as-applied claim of retaliation through the land use process in this hypo, the way I see it is that the primary cause of action would be that the permit denial was a violation of the statutory zoning/regulatory power itself.  In other words, Chick-fil-A would start by arguing that the city's denial of permission to build is not legitimately related to the purposes for which the state legislature granted the power to regulate.

The power of local governments to engage in planning, zoning, and building regulations comes from the police powers--the state legislature's plenary authority to regulate.  The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, promulgated by Secretary Hoover's Commerce Department in 1926, starts with the standard description of the police-power font of authority for all modern land use regulation, which is "[f]or the purpose of promoting health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community . . . ."  This means that in theory, as long as there is a legitimate reason for regulating on those broad bases, a local government can be empowered to regulate land use in its political discretion.  Therefore there is a "presumption of constitutionality" granted to land use regulations (see Mandelker & Tarlock 1992 for a nuanced analysis of the presumption in judicial review).  Judicial review--again, in theory--has generally centered on whether the regulation itself (whether a use restriction, site requirement, etc.) is legitimately related to one of the police-power purposes.  A classic Euclidean example would be restriction of industrial uses from a residential area, for health and safety purposes.  

While the courts have given broad interpretation to the police power justifications of land use regulations, the outer limit is supposed to be--again, in theory--that the nature of the restriction is itself somehow related to the objective.  What it can't be is an arbitrary and capricious restriction based on considerations outside the police power. It's very similar to the "rational basis" standard of scrutinty that all lawyers learn about in consitutional law.

The reason this is important is because the presumption of constitutionality usually holds, the police powers usually win, and "arbitrary and capricious" challenges to land use decisions are hard to prove and usually lose.  Steve Clowney noted Matt Yglesias' insight that almost any seemingly-legitimate content-neutral reason could give a police-power justification to regulate despte ulterior motives (though I think his example of a Sunday-opening requirement isn't the best one--just about anything involving traffic, for example, would be much easier to justify), and this is obviously a longstanding issue in land use law.  But if I were trying to prove that a negative land use decision was outside the bounds of the police power basis of government regulation, I couldn't ask for a better piece of evidence than a published statement by a City Alderman like this:

"Because of this man's ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward."

(emphasis added).  In other words, the primary reason for the negative land use decision does not have anything to do with the actual use of the land itself, but instead is based primarily on the government official's opinion about the property owner's opinions about topics extraneous to the land use (again, the decision is not based on any discriminatory practice, or on speech taking place on the site).  This may in fact be a decision that is not rationally related to the police power basis for regulation, and could be struck down for that reason alone.  This is important because while the First Amendment angle that had dominated the discussion of the issue could apply "strict scrutiny" to the decision, this situation could be the much rarer case where a court could find a government decision to be arbitrary and capricous, and therefore to flunk the rational basis test itself.   Which means that this is potentially much more than just a case of an individual right trumping the regulatory power; it means that the city didn't have the power to do it in the first place.

This way of looking at the controversy allows us to consider the larger issue of what are the outer bounds of legitimate land use regulation, in a way that we don't often get to see in the real world.  I'm still no fan of the substance of the CEO's remarks on gay marriage, but as a land use specialist, I'm also very disturbed by what Ken identified as an attitude of "entitlement" to near-absolute discretion over land use decisions by government officials in informal systems such as Chicago's traditional "aldermanic privilege," which is apparently so ingrained that it can lead an elected official to say things like:

"You have the right to say what you want to say, but zoning is not a right."

Well, maybe not, but the latter certainly can't depend on what a government official thinks of the former.  Zoning still has to comport with the rule of law.

Matt Festa

August 4, 2012 in Chicago, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, History, Judicial Review, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 30, 2012

Salkin on the Quiet Revolution and Federalism

Patricia Salkin (Touro Law Center) has posted The Quiet Revolution and Federalism: Into the Future, 45 John Marshall Law Review (2012).  The abstract:

This Article offers an examination of the federal role in land use planning and regulation set in the context of varying theories of federalism by presenting a historical and modern overview of the increasing federal influence in local land use planning and regulation, specifically highlighting how federal statutes and programs impact local municipal decision making in the area of land use planning. Part II provides a brief introduction into theories of federalism and their application to local land use regulation in the United States. Part III provides a brief overview of federal legislation in the United States which affected local land use across three time periods: first, that which existed before the publication of THE QUIET REVOLUTION; second, legislation that emerged a quarter century after the publication of THE QUIET REVOLUTION; and third, more recent federal programmatic and legislative approaches. Part IV provides analysis of the future of federalism in land use regulation, noting the increasing trend of the federal programmatic influence and the potential future influence on local land use controls. The Article concludes with a warning to local governments to be vigilant and to rethink the paradigm of land use regulation to regain control in certain areas to prevent further encroachment by the federal government into matters of local concern.

This article comes from last year's excellent Kratovil Conference retrospective on The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control (David Callies & Fred Bosselman (Council on Environmental Quality, 1971)), hosted by John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

Matt Festa

July 30, 2012 in Federal Government, History, Local Government, RLUIPA, Scholarship, State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The London Olympics & Land Use--The Atlantic Cities' Coverage

As Jessie noted in her post on the Olympic Villages, there are many land use issues involved when a city hosts the Olympic Games.  For a fantastic overview of these issues, with numerous in-depth stories, there's no better place to start than The Atlantic Cities' "Special Report" Olympics 2012: London Gets Ready for the Summer Games.  Feargus O'Sullivan has been reporting from London for months, and in the past couple of weeks many of their other writers have contributed excellent stories on a slew of land-use-related Olympic issues.  Here are just a few examples of the wide range of topics they've addressed:

Whether hosting the Olypmic "boondoggle" is good or bad for your city; homelessness and tourism; security issues; public attitudes--politicians telling "whingers" to "put a sock in it"; transportation concerns; architecture; planning for post-Games facilities use; affordable housing; the always-controversial of building new stadiums (stadia?); and many, many other important issues that come up when a big city offers to play host to the world. 

The British media, of course, have lots of excellent coverage.  But for a more specific focus on land use, local government, and urban planning issues, I highly recommend starting with The Atlantic Cities' Olympics 2012 page.  They're posting several new stories each day. 

In the meantime, I hope you all enjoy watching that important land use event known as the Olympic Games!

Matt Festa

July 26, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Architecture, Comparative Land Use, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Redevelopment, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Clowney on Landscape Fairness and Discrimination in the Built Environment

Stephen Clowney (Kentucky), our colleague over at Property Prof, has posted his latest piece, called Landscape Fairness: Removing Discrimination from the Built Environment, forthcoming in the Utah Law Review (2012).  It looks very interesting.  The abstract:

At its core, this Article argues that the everyday landscape is one of the most overlooked instruments of modern race-making. Drawing on evidence from geography and sociology, the paper begins by demonstrating that the built environment inscribes selective and misleading versions of the past in solid, material forms. These narratives — told through street renamings, parks, monuments, and buildings — ultimately marginalize African-American communities and transmit ideas about racial power across generations.

After demonstrating that the landscape remains the agar upon which racial hierarchies replicate themselves, the Article then pivots and examines current efforts to rid the built environment of discriminatory spaces. I put forth that contemporary attacks on the landscape are doomed to fail. The approaches suggested by academics in law and geography either turn a blind eye to the political economy of local decision-making or fail to consider entrenched legal precedent.

The final section of the manuscript lays out a policy proposal that could spark a new focus on issues of “landscape fairness.” I argue in favor of a set of basic procedural requirements that would force jurisdictions to reconsider the discriminatory places within their borders. Procedural mandates would force government to internalize values it might otherwise ignore, allow citizen-critics to challenge dominant historical narratives, and push communities to view the past (and future) in much more diverse terms.

This article touches on one of the most important but least discussed aspects of land use and the community landscape, and it builds on some of Steve's earlier work.  Check it out.

Matt Festa

July 17, 2012 in Community Design, History, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Race, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Land Use Travels: Kyrgyzstan

Greetings from the Kyrgyz Republic, also known as Kyrgyzstan! 800px-Flag_of_Kyrgyzstan.svg

Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian republic halfway around the globe.  It's a fascinating place, and my third trip here in the past 12 months.  I'm not here doing land use; actually I'm on a federal government mission relating to international law.  But you know me: I'm always on the lookout for interesting land use issues.  So I'm planning to keep my eyes open and hopefully share some thoughts and observations about land use in Kyrgyzstan.  I'll start today with an intro to the country and some preliminary thoughts.

Kg_large_locatorKyrgyzstan is a small Central Asian republic tucked in between China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan (map thanks to Nations Online Project).  It has a long history at the crossroads of empire.  From its position on the ancient Silk Road to the 19th Century "Great Game" to the Soviet Union to today, this little-known country has long had a strategic importance globally.

Kyrgyzstan has been independent since the USSR dissolved in 1991.  It has a population of about 5.5 million.  The majority is ethnic Kyrgyz, with a substantial Uzbek minority, as well as Russian and other groups.  The population is majority Muslim but the government is secular.  It has a capital city, Bishkek--where I've spent most of my time here--and a few other smaller cities, notably Osh in the southern region.  Its geography is 90% mountainous, located in the Tien Shan Mountains and the Fergana Valley.  This makes it a stunningly beautiful place, but it is poor in natural resources and its economy relies heavily on the agricultural areas.  It is a poor country but has maintained a relatively democratic society, at least compared to other countries in the region; however it has had two revolutions and ethnic riots in the past several years.  For more information on Kyrgyzstan see the State Department's Background Notes and the CIA World Factbook.  

There are many potential land use issues in Kyrgyzstan.  It has a long geostrategic history based on its location, terrain, and people.  It has a capital city that was completely planned and built from scratch by the Soviets.  It has a post-Soviet economy that is reflected in the maintenance of the city.  It has some serious local governance issues.  There is an urban-rural divide that impacts national politics.  And there are of course land issues of environment, natural resources, and climate. 

If you aren't familiar with this part of the world, the name may sound like a fictional place, but Kyrgyzstan is quite real and very interesting.  If I have more land-use related observations from Bishkek, I'll try to share them here.  In the meantime, Саламатсызбы!

Matt Festa

July 11, 2012 in Comparative Land Use, History, Planning, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Scottish "Frankenstein" Mummies and Land Rights

I probably should save this one for Halloween, but there's breaking news out of Scotland, where archaeologists have discovered a pair of 3,000-year-old mummified bodies . . . but it appears that there are more than two persons involved.  From Yahoo News, 3,000-year-old ‘Frankenstein’ mummies discovered in Scotland:

Researchers say that a pair of 3,000-year-old mummified corpses that were recently discovered in Scotland are actually composed of body parts originating from six different people. . . .

National Geographic reports that isotopic dating and DNA experiments revealed the unusual pairing of body parts. The tests also revealed that the body parts were assembled and buried together more than 600 years after death, meaning that the assemblage was almost certainly deliberate.

Why would they spend centuries assembling these composite cadavers?  It's not clear, but one of the researchers has a theory in land use law:

Meanwhile, fellow researcher and University of Sheffield professor Mike Parker Pearson tells LiveScience the parts could have been more specifically put together to show the connected lineage between families other time.

"Rights to land would have depended on ancestral claims, so perhaps having the ancestors around 'in the flesh' was their prehistoric equivalent of a legal document," Parker Pearson said.

"Merging different body parts of ancestors into a single person could represent the merging of different families and their lines of descent," Parker Pearson said. "Perhaps this was a prelude to building the row of houses in which numerous different families are likely to have lived."

A little morbid, a little amusing, and also a reminder that issues of land ownership aren't just historical, they might be prehistorical as well. Thanks to William Bozeman for the pointer.

Matt Festa

July 11, 2012 in Comparative Land Use, History, Humorous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kearney & Merrill on Private Rights in Public Lands

Joseph D. Kearney (Marquette) and Thomas W. Merrill (Columbia) have posted Private Rights in Public Lands: The Chicago Lakefront, Montgomery Ward, and the Public Dedication Doctrine, 105 Northwestern University Law Review (2011).  The abstract:

The Chicago Lakefront, along Grant Park, is internationally regarded as an urban gem. Its development - or, perhaps more accurately, lack of development - has been the result of a series of legal challenges and court rulings, most famously involving the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Illinois Central R.R. v. Illinois (1892), and four decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court, from 1897 to 1910, involving Aaron Montgomery Ward. The former invented the modern public trust doctrine, which continues as much the favorite of environmental groups; the latter involved the now largely forgotten public dedication doctrine.

This article begins with a description of the evolution of what is now known as Grant Park. After tracing the origins of the public dedication doctrine in the nineteenth century, the article describes how the doctrine was invoked in controversies over the use of the Chicago lakefront before Montgomery Ward came on the scene. The article then details Ward’s remarkable crusade to save Grant Park as an unencumbered open space, which created a powerful body of precedent having a lasting impact on the use of the park. Next, the article describes the limits of the public dedication doctrine that was recognized in the Ward precedents. The article concludes with some brief observations about why the public trust doctrine eclipsed the public dedication doctrine, a comparison of the efficacy of the two doctrines in the context of the Chicago lakefront, and by offering general reflections about what this history tells us about the promises and pitfalls of recognizing 'antiproperty' rights to contest development of public spaces.

A terrific example of how legal history and land use case studies can illuminate important issues of legal doctrine.

Matt Festa

June 13, 2012 in Chicago, Constitutional Law, Development, Environmentalism, History, Planning, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)