Thursday, January 22, 2015
For those of you who have not already figured out exactly how land use planning officials are expected to proceed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, Lee Fennell (Chicago) and Eduardo Peñalver (Cornell) have posted Exactions Creep, __ Sup. Ct. Rev. ___ (forthcoming). Rather than deny that the Court has aggravated the uncertainty faced by local governments, Lee and Eduardo explore the nature of the confusion in the Court's exactions jurisprudence and call for a significant revision. Here's the abstract:
How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.
January 22, 2015 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Development, Impact Fees, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, January 9, 2015
First, I'm delighted to be a guest blogger on the Land Use Prof Blog. Since I am getting a late start (and that's totally my fault), I may blog into February as well. As Steve's introduction stated, I am the Lead Land Use Attorney at the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic at West Virginia University College of Law. Future blog posts will describe what the clinic does in greater detail. I am also and Associate Professor and teach Land Use and Reslience Law, as well as Water Law.
Although this post is tardy in many ways, the date is appropriate. One year ago today the Elk River chemical spill occurred in Charleston, West Virginia. In the past year, much in the state has focused on the impacts of the spill and possible ways to prevent future spills. Most notably, the West Virginia legislature quickly passed new above ground storage tank statute. January 1 was the deadline for registration and reporting of many of these tanks. Yesterday, the West Virginia Attorney General released a report on his investigation of the spill http://www.statejournal.com/story/27795961/wv-attorney-general-morrisey-releases-chemical-spill-investigation-report
If you are still reading, you may be asking yourself "What does this have to do with land use law?". As I say about almost anything, it has everything to do with land use law! Below is an essay that I wrote that appeared in the WVU Law Magazine that was published early in the Fall Semester. Thanks in part to the wonderful work being done at the Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, the vision that I described in the last paragraph is beginning to become reality.
Although much of the focus in the aftermath of the spill has been on Freedom Industries, and rightfully so, I am equally concerned about the lack of planning and foresight by West Virginia American Water. I have asked "which was there first, Freedom Industries, or West Virginia American Water?" and few, if anyone seems to really know or to have even asked the question. Although both entities failed to take due care, the one the located on the river last should, in my mind, bear the bigger burden. If, for example, West Virginia American Water (WVAW) "came to the nuisance" and located shortly downstream of a company that stores chemicals along the river, what were they thinking?
Even if WVAW was there first, how could they not have back-up plan if the river is contaminated? Accidents happen and WVAW should have a contingency plan to assure that clean water can be delivered to customers in emergency situations.
These reactions doubtless arise due to the land use law lens through which I view the world. Does WVAW have a valid nuisance claim against Freedom Industries? Does Freedom Industries have a valid nuisance claim against WVAW? The situation brings to mind my favorite United States Supreme Court case, Miller v. Schoene, 276 U.S. 272 (1928). In that case, the Virginia state entomologist ordered ornamental cedar trees near apple orchards be destroyed to prevent the spread of cedar rust to the apple trees. But cedar trees with cedar rust do no harm unless they are close to apple trees and apple trees are no threat to surrounding landowners unless that landowner has infected cedar trees (cedar rust does not prove fatal to cedar trees, but it is fatal to apple trees). Both the chemical company and the water provider, standing alone, are valid land uses, but like oil and water, the two do not do well together.
Another issue that comes to mind is the lack of planning by the county (and Freedom Industries for that matter). Companies should not store hazardous substances along a waterway. The location of the storage facilities and the plant meant that the impact of any accident would be magnified many fold. The locations of both parties are doubtless artifacts of history, but the county should have drawn the community together to discuss the potential implications and plan to minimize the hazards. That's called land use planning.
The chemical spill in the Elk River is a horrible incident that has caused damage to the environment and to many citizens of West Virginia. The implications cannot and should not be minimized, and I do not intend to do so. However, some good may come from this horrible incident. My hope is that the spill will prompt the community to engage in a public land use planning process that will prevent some future incidents from occurring and will prepare the community in the case that an accident occurs in the future. Planning for disasters can both minimize the chance of the disasters from occurring and minimize the damages from future accidents that occur. I see signs of citizens mobilizing for such an effort. Although we should never forget the horrors of the chemical spill, planning efforts can ensure a brighter, and safer, future for the citizens of West Virginia.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
For my last guest post this month, I want to return to my primary area of research to date: American Indian land tenure. As I’ve written about here already, one of my primary interests is in thinking broadly about the many varied factors that influence landowners’ decision-making about how they use their lands. Our essential land tenure institutions are foundational in this sense and directly impact land use decision-making before anything like zoning or other direct regulation of land use even has a chance to take effect. Nowhere is the influence of the design of foundational property rights more apparent than in the land tenure relationships in the modern American Indian reservation, where significant swaths of Indian-owned lands are currently not used by Indian landowners themselves but instead sit idle or are leased to non-Indian users. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a property system better designed to discourage Indian prosperity on Indian land than the top-down system of property imposed on indigenous people in this country today.
In this post, I want to give at least an overview of some of what I think are the most important and influential aspects of American Indian land tenure and then talk just a bit about why I think further scholarly engagement in this arena would be incredibly valuable in a range of settings.
I. The Indian Land Tenure Challenge
To start, I appreciate that there is a wide spectrum of knowledge regarding the nuances of modern American Indian land tenure. For some of us, it’s just a mystery how land is owned and held within reservation boundaries. For others, the system is so complex that once we start to study it at all, conversations and work regarding indigenous land rights devolve into a level of generality that isn’t as productive as it could be. Thus, a significant part of my current research agenda is trying to do the deep work required to develop a really rigorous understanding of the modern property rights framework within this very complex reservation setting. This post won’t be able to do all of this work justice. Nonetheless, here is a brief overview.
Two of the biggest and most widely recognized challenges for Indian landowners are the federal trust status on many Indian-owned lands and the fractionation (or extreme co-ownership) conditions within many of those same properties.
Many, but not all, Indian-owned lands within federal Indian reservations are held in a special trust status over which the federal government acts as trustee for the benefit of the individual or tribal landowner. This trust status’s history is complex, but the important point for this purpose is that the trust status has been extended indefinitely and, to many eyes, appears to be perpetual.
This federal trust status certainly has some legal advantages—as evidenced, for example, by ongoing efforts by many Indian tribes to have additional lands taken into trust. The primary benefits include cementing a stronger case for exclusive federal/tribal (as opposed to state) jurisdiction over the space and also clarifying that state property taxes may not be imposed on that trust land. (The property tax issue is not quite that black and white. Many tribes still make special payments in lieu of taxes to state and local government in exchange for services and to help eliminate conflicts over fee-to-trust conversions.)
The trust status, however, also has significant disadvantages for Indian landowners. It is restrictive and extremely bureaucratic. The federal government exercises significant land management control, and most Indian-owned trust lands cannot be sold, mortgaged, leased, or otherwise developed or used without a formal approval from the Department of Interior after a cumbersome process of appraisals, oversight, and multi-level review. This trust system very dramatically increases the transaction costs for any land use and is often inefficient and even demoralizing for Indian landowners (not to mention extremely expensive for the federal government to maintain).
The second problem, fractionation, is closely related to the trust status issues. Fractionation refers to the fact that many individually owned Indian trust lands (often called allotments) are now jointly owned by many, many co-owners—sometimes as many as several hundred or more. Fractionation makes any kind of coordinated decision-making among all of these co-owners practically difficult and, as an individual co-owner’s interest size diminishes, reduces the likelihood that the co-owners will so cooperate. This then increases co-owners’ reliance on the federal government’s ongoing trust management role over these lands. All of these tiny interests, in turn, overwhelm the federal trust system, as evidenced by the recent Cobell class action litigation which uncovered the federal government’s gross inability even to account accurately for all of these small interests.
The federal government has explicitly acknowledged that this fractionation problem is a direct consequence of its own failed federal policies on Indian lands. For example, historic prohibitions on will writing for Indian landowners and the modern alienation restraints on Indian trust land have all exacerbated fractionation. Implementing any kind of solution to consolidate these small interests has been exceedingly difficult. This is true both because of the general idea that it’s much harder to reassemble property than it is to disassemble it and because of a host of other political, legal, economic, and even moral issues. Possible solutions do exist, and part of the Cobell settlement funds are currently going to fund a limited buy-back program that will purchase some individual small interests from willing sellers and re-consolidate them in tribal ownership. However, the general trend has been that any such effort at a solution moves so slowly and addresses such a small proportion of the problem that new tiers of fractionation outpace any improvements, with exponentially more small interests continually being created through further subdivision of already small interests over new generations of heirs.
While these two issues—the federal trust status and the fractionated ownership patterns—are complex enough, I don’t think they give a complete picture of all of the issues going on in American Indian land tenure. For example, in a piece called No Sticks in My Bundle: Rethinking the American Indian Land Tenure Problem that I’m currently wrapping up edits on for the Kansas Law Review, I argue that a third significant problem for Indian land use is the gradual elimination over time of any informal use and possession right for co-owners of Indian trust land. Although co-owners in any non-Indian tenancy in common would have a default right to use and possess their own jointly owned land presumptively and informally and without any prior permission from their other co-owners, that is not the case in fractionated Indian lands. Modern federal regulations have recently evolved to require Indian co-owners to get permission or a formal lease from co-owners before taking possession of their own land and also to pay those co-owners rent. I think preserving some route for direct owner’s use of jointly owned land is important and valuable, even in highly fractionated properties, and as noted, I am writing about this more here.
In addition, in another piece I’m currently writing and calling Emulsified Property, I am exploring the problem of uncertain and sometimes overlapping jurisdictional authorities within Indian Country as it relates to land use. This piece explores new dimensions of these property-related jurisdictional issues, but at a high level, the fact is that modern Indian reservation are uniquely plagued by a mind boggling array of unsettled, case-specific, or otherwise unresolved jurisdictional questions. Part of this stems from the fact that most reservations include not only Indian-owned trust lands but also fee lands, which might be owned by non-Indians, Indians of another tribe, tribal citizens, or the governing tribe itself. The state or local government is likely to assert jurisdiction at least over the non-Indian fee properties, but where that state and local jurisdiction ends, and when and if it overlaps with tribal or federal jurisdiction as well, turns on a complex balancing of multiple factors, depending on the type of jurisdiction being asserted. It continually shocks me (and my research assistants) how many unresolved questions there are in terms of who governs what in Indian Country. In my property law class, we often talk about the importance of certainty in property rules. So many of our social and economic institutions rely on having clearly established, easily communicated entitlements and responsibilities with respect to a given thing. In Indian law, there is often very, very little of that certainty.
This just scratches the surface of the American Indian land tenure paradigm, but it is already easy to see why land use is such a challenge in Indian Country. Despite significant reserved lands and natural resources, Indian people suffer some of the worst poverty in the United States.
II. Why It Matters
Now for my plug for why I think more of us should be engaging in this important work around Indian property and land use. Of course, immediately and most importantly, there is the compelling problem of justice and fairness for indigenous people, who suffer the consequences of these failed property systems most directly. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development has found repeatedly that Indian people having the power and the liberty to make their own decisions with respect to their resources and their futures is the best and most effective solution to the persistent problems, including persistent poverty, in Indian Country. In many respects, it is the law that stands most in the way of this, and it will take legal minds to dismantle the current ineffective system. And legal minds who are uniquely interested in the transformative potential of property institutions are especially well suited to begin this task.
On another practical note, the problem of American Indian land tenure also matters economically for all of us. The federal government has acknowledged again and again that it using (wasting) incredible resources continuing to maintain this broken property system.
However, as land use legal scholars, there are other important reasons to work in this rich area. I believe a sustained and careful understanding of these unique Indian property institutions, and the evolution of these property relationships through various federal land reforms over time, can help us address property and land use challenges not only in Indian Country but in other venues as well. Other scholars have sometimes analogized to Indian land tenure issues for this kind of purpose, but that work has sometimes lacked a real detailed and deep understanding of how complex Indian land tenure issues actually are. However, with more careful analysis, there could be very fruitful comparative work. Let me give just two immediate examples, both of which I'm just beginning to work on.
First, the co-ownership institutions in Indian Country are unique, but the fractionation (or heir property) issues are not. Paying attention to the default co-ownership rules for individually owned Indian lands can help us learn about and address co-ownership challenges in other settings—such as the role of default co-tenancy rules in balancing flexible use arrangements with land preservation strategies for at-risk communities. It can also inform property theory and practice on how co-ownership institutions can best be designed to promote coowner cooperation and efficient use of resources more generally, how anticommons properties actually work, and what methods are most useful to re-aggregate overly fractionated property rights.
Second, I am also excited about how learning from indigenous land planning practices across multiple potential stakeholder jurisdictions within a given reservation (i.e., local municipalities and county governments, state governments, federal governments, and the tribe itself) may translate to inform other work on moving land use planning more generally to more regional, cross-jurisdictional models. Cooperation among multiple levels of government is a persistent challenge in efforts to plan more broadly on a regional, resource-based, or ecosystem level, and yet almost any natural resources or planning person would tell us that this is the kind of decision-making we must do. These kinds of jurisdictional conflicts are being addressed at the reservation level on an ongoing basis, and work on indigenous planning may teach us a lot about how we can plan across jurisdictional boundaries in wider settings. (This is not to suggest that there is a broad literature on indigenous planning or land use issues within reservation legal settings that already exists. There is not. However, for anyone looking to start to review the literature, I recently read an interesting dissertation on comprehensive planning on American Indian reservations and on the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin specifically by Dr. Rebecca Webster, a former law school classmate of mine, that provides a nice place to start and can be found here.) The challenges of planning within a reservation are different and, in some ways, arguably even more complex than the challenges of regional planning generally. Notably, within reservation boundaries, jurisdictional uncertainty may increase concerns about any decision that would jeopardize a future case for asserting jurisdiction, and there are long conflicted histories between neighboring sovereigns. Still, it is a comparison I hope to continue to explore.
This long post only barely skims the surface of all the rich and fascinating land use issues at play in American Indian land tenure. Please consider this an invitation to reach out any time for further discussions on this subject. I would love to continue to engage with more colleagues in this critical subject area and to build more critical learning connections across subject areas and disciplines.
Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss this and other issues here this month.
- Jessica A. Shoemaker
November 30, 2014 in Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Economic Development, Federal Government, History, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Race, State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
On this theme of public participation in land use planning and creating community-driven solutions to ecosystem-level challenges, I want to take this post to share a bit more about a particular tool that I have been working on developing called Plainsopoly. Plainsopoly is a land use simulation “game.” Participants engage around a large game board made up of an image of a hypothetical landscape that looks similar to, but is not exactly, a real space within the Great Plains region. We call the hypothetical space of the game the “State of Plains.” The State of Plains is depicted on the board by an amalgamation of aerial images including the edge of a large city, several small towns, both irrigated and dryland farming areas, the foothills of a larger mountain range, sensitive sandhills habitat, a winding river, and a recognized federal Indian reservation. Participants play the game in small, randomly assigned groups of four to six people and are assisted by a table facilitator. Players roll the dice, move the game piece to a correspondingly numbered geographic square on the game board, and then answer and discuss an open-ended question that poses a specific land use challenge for that particular space.
The questions are intentionally wide-ranging. I developed the question set last year with invaluable input and feedback from a great and generous interdisciplinary group of law students, graduate students, professors, and other experts from across the University and beyond. We incorporated a range of disciplines, including law, planning, natural resources, applied ecology, business, and economics, and as a group, we worked hard to make sure the most difficult and provocative current land use challenges in the Great Plains are incorporated into the game. (Two of my students, Jerry Jefferson and Preston Peterson, were particularly instrumental in this process.) In the current question set, there are questions and challenges relating to urban growth; rural depopulation; infrastructure needs; drought and other climate issues; tourism; new energy siting, including fracking, renewables, and transmission line expansion; invasive species control; water quality and quantity; jurisdictional conflicts; and many other topics.
In addition to covering a wide spectrum of substantive issues, the questions are designed to touch on four bigger themes: (1) Values (values choices as reflected in land use), (2) Making Connections (who should make decisions about land use and land use planning and at what level), (3) Ecosystem Services (how public benefits from private land, especially environmental benefits, are valued and accounted for in land use ordering and landowner decision-making), and (4) Temporal Perspectives (which timeframe land use planners and landowners should consider in assessing the consequences of any land use decision). These four themes are not explicitly addressed during game play; however, the questions are designed implicitly to provoke thinking and dialogue around these larger issues.
This Plainsopoly project came about only because of Professor Alister Scott and his group’s original idea for a land use planning, decision-making, and visioning game that they call Rufopoly. Rufopoly is a game focused on the unique landscapes of the rural-urban fringe spaces of Europe, and the themes of our questions grew out of Professor Scott’s work with stakeholders in this context. In developing Plainsopoly, we collaborated closely with Professor Scott of the Birmingham School of the Built Environment in the United Kingdom and Professor Richard Wakeford, who is currently directing the Kazan Centre in Russia and was previously the Chair of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Rural Working Party.
As many readers of this blog may know, the use of games or other simulation exercises is an area of increasing scholarly interest in a range of disciplines, including public engagement and political science studies, natural resource management and applied ecology, psychology, business, and behavioral economics. (For a few brief examples, particularly in the natural resources sector, you might look here and even here.) Although our Plainsopoly tool has been used purely for informal discussion facilitating at invited events to date, it may also have broader potential. My sense is that the game could be used to speed participants’ learning about complex land use interactions and may provoke a valuable period of self-reflection regarding resource and planning challenges across the region. As one participant in one of the Plainsopoly games at the Rural Futures Conference last year said, the game forced him to think not only about his “little piece of land” but also about everyone else’s lands around him: “I was forced to give opinions on what somebody else should do with their little piece of land. You have to challenge yourself at that point and say, if it’s good for them, maybe I have to relook at my opinion about others giving opinions about my land. It’s a very interesting way of taking a landowner and suddenly forcing me to reevaluate my position regarding my piece of ground.”
I have also found that the experience of engaging in a shared, civil dialogue around the game table on hypothetical (but still very realistic) topics that are otherwise highly charged and sometimes difficult to discuss (like private property rights, community planning, and actual land use conflicts) may have significant value in and of itself. There is something very provocative about talking about these actual resources issues in the context of just a slightly modified hypothetical game setting that seems to really liberate people to have a much more open and comfortable conversation on these issues. If we could effectively shape and harness this, I think games like Plainsopoly and Rufopoly could have very useful applications in assisting particular groups in solving real-world problems or developing consensus around specific planning challenges, and in an action-research model, these games might be used to help inform future policy making.
I’ve noticed two big themes in the few times we have played Plainsopoly to date. First, overwhelmingly, participants envision a land use future focused on a very long-term view of sustainability and a vast appreciation for the non-economic values of natural resources. At least in this hypothetical space, a vast majority of participants seem to prefer decisions that are not made based on short-term economic gains and that consider not just one square parcel of property but rather look to an entire region’s interlocking resource dynamics. Of course, in this game space, immediate things like grocery bills and retirement savings accounts do not exist, and the transaction costs of considering issues at a regional level are dramatically reduced. But still, how do we, or could we, translate what appear to be relatively broadly shared values like this into more actual community action?
The second major notable point of interest for me, so far, is implicit in how we designed the game, but it also comes up very often in participants’ reactions to the questions. This relates to the extreme breadth of the range of factors that potentially influence an individual landowner’s decision-making about how he or she uses his or her land. Often, we might think more simply of land use planning and zoning as the relevant forces; however, the game reminds us that so many different law and policy instruments influence landowners—including, as just a few examples, our crop insurance structures, property tax systems, and energy markets. A much harder issue is not only how do we develop a shared vision for the future of these shared spaces but, more importantly, how do we execute it? A persistent theme emerging anecdotally from the game play to date is the way in which top-down strategies have a host of unintended and mix-matched interactions that complicate decision-making and implementation at the ground level. How do we better coordinate these influences?
Happily, we have the opportunity to explore the potential of games like Plainsopoly and Rufopoly to address these and other issues in a more concentrated way over the next year or so. We are just embarking on a new partnership with Professor Scott and several others on a Knowledge Exchange Opportunities grant that we just recently learned has been approved from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK. The goal of the new grant is to learn from the existing models of Rufopoly and Plainsopoly and another sister game in Sweden and think intentionally about all of the possibilities of this kind of planning, visioning, and decision-making tool. One end goal is to try to develop a flexible resource kit that maximizes the potential of these tools to assist in planning processes and that hopefully is adaptable to a range of settings.
As I am entering this new work, I’ve become an eager student of some new areas of scholarship. For example, I’ve been doing some great reading on critical planning theory as it relates to whether we currently include all of the relevant voices in our typical planning processes and how, if we did achieve greater inclusiveness, such careful collective decision-making about the future of our shared spaces may be powerfully transformative. I have also been looking at the work of others on effective and innovative new governance models. This list includes, for example, Professor Beth Noveck and The Governance Lab at NYU; the procedural justice and group engagement work of Professor Tom Tyler; and the thinking on deliberative democracies and the capacity for informed “bottoms up” decision-making by Professor James Fishkin and the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford. It’s all fascinating stuff, which I also read with a healthy and growing awareness of the potential framing influence of the person who poses the questions – as reflected, for example, in the “nudge” work of Professors Cass Sunstein, Richard Thaler, and others.
I would more than welcome any other thoughts, comments, or ideas as we embark on further work on this endeavor. I’m eager to see where it takes us.
(This last picture has nothing to do with the game, per se, but it's my little girls running in a preserved prairie not too far from our house. One of many special places in the Great Plains worthy of some intentional thinking for its future.)
- Jessica A. Shoemaker
The municipal elections concluded in British Columbia on Saturday night. As I watched the results roll in for my region of Greater Victoria where we have 13 municipalities and a large unincorporated rural area I was unconsciously tallying what kind of leadership would be at the table over the next four years (this will be the first four year local government election cycle in B.C.) to champion the adoption and implementation of the new Regional Growth Strategy (RGS). The current regional plan, renamed for the current process as the Regional Sustainability Strategy, has been surprisingly successful over the past decade - over 90 percent of new development has occurred within the awkwardly named Regional Urban Containment and Servicing Area - due to a number of factors that include a relatively low rate of growth (just over 1 percent), a provincial agricultural land protection regime that limits development on farmland, rural areas that want to stay rural, urban areas that agree to densify to an extent, and available land within the urban containment boundary for a variety of new uses. Metro Vancouver's Livable Region Strategic Plan and new plan Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future mirrors this success in a much faster growing region that is more significantly geographically constrained by oceans, mountains and the agricultural land reserve.
Part 25 of the Local Government Act, enables the local government growth management regime in B.C., the centrepiece of which are these RGS's. As I describe the purpose and effect of RGS I am sure you have heard if before: a regional board may adopt a RGS to guide decisions on growth, change and development. The purpose of a RGS is to “promote human settlement that is socially, economically, and environmentally healthy and make efficient use of public facilities and services, land and other resources” (section 849). A RGS must cover a twenty-year period and must include a comprehensive statement on the future of the region, including the economic, social, and environmental objectives of the governing board in relation to projected population requirements for housing, transportation, regional district services, parks and natural areas, and economic development. It is an agreement between the local governments (municipal and regional) in a region and should work towards a wish list of smart growth goals: avoiding urban sprawl, ensuring development takes place where adequate facilities exist, settlement patterns that minimize the use of the automobile and encourage walking, bicycling and public transit, protecting environmentally sensitive areas, etc. (s.849). Individual municipalities bring their comprehensive plans, called official community plans (OCP), into conformance with a RGS by including a regional context statement in the OCP stating how it will become consistent with the RGS over time (s.866). The bottom line is that these are voluntary plans that have a circuitous impact on local comprehensive plans, which means they are tenuously binding. [And I will not go into the courts' recent treatment of whether or not bylaws are consistent with local and regional plans in this post. I will save that for my next post on the Death of Community Plans].
However, interestingly last time I looked all RGS' in B.C. have urban growth boundaries. They may not be in the right place from a planning perspective, they may simply follow the lines of our provincial agricultural land protection zone, or they may mirror the jurisdictional boundary between private and Crown land, but it seems that the language of urban containment is alive and well in B.C. A line on the regional map that is adopted into each municipal official community plan is also the best type of policy to have in the RGS because it is clear and there is no discretion in its interpretation. Municipalities agree not to extend water or sewer service beyond that urban containment line except where needed to address public health or fire suppression needs.
In contrast, the relatively recent Ontario regime called "Places to Grow" involves provincially-imposed land use plans that were motivated by untenable increases in infrastructure, primarily road, costs in the Greater Toronto region around Lake Ontario. The foundation is the Places to Grow Act, 2005 that allows for the identification and designation of growth plan areas and the development of strategic growth plans. The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe 2006 establishes the modest goal of 40 percent of all residential development occurring annually within designated built up areas, and meeting intensification targets for density based on predicted growth rates for each municipality. Municipalities must achieve intensification and meet intensification targets through their official plans and other documents. The Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal has established a built boundary for each municipality, and urban growth centres are identified to take much of the new growth.
The growth management regimes in B.C. and Ontario are an interesting long term study in different legal approaches. In B.C. each RGS is an awkward negotiation between urban and rural municipalities that is facilitated by a regional government. One could argue that such a structure would lead to agreement on the lowest common policies. However, whether unwittingly or not, several of the RGS have proven to be remarkably effective in relation to urban containment. In Ontario the provincial government controversially imposes intensification targets and built boundaries in very large regional plans (the Greater Golden Horseshoe is many hundreds of kilometres deep and wide). Although mandatory and imposed by the provincial government, which raises the ire of local councils, the growth management targets are modest. Perhaps I am spoiled with our 90 percent urban containment rate here in Greater Victoria, but in a North American context intensification of 40 percent is seen as a gold standard as evidenced by the American Planning Association awarding the Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (apparently the first time the award has been presented to an organization outside the United States).
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Following up on my introductory post, I was fortunate to get to help facilitate the biannual summit of the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance (LPRCA) last week. The Alliance is a unique organization composed of three Natural Resource Districts and six state agencies in Nebraska. It aims to work “with people to protect the long-term vitality of the Lower Platte River Corridor” (an area that includes “the Lower Platte River, the bluffs, and adjoining public and private lands located within the floodplain” for approximately 100 miles along the river from Columbus to Plattsmouth). The Lower Platte faces both supply and water quality issues. The river traverses unique rural landscapes and also bisects the expanding Omaha-Lincoln metropolitan areas. It provides water for important agricultural and mining uses in the region, and it is also supplies drinking water for over half of Nebraska’s population. (For more information, look here.)
For me, one of the most unique and important aspects of the Alliance is its focus on supporting locally drawn solutions and strategies to protect the river and the surrounding landscape, especially in the face of great demographic changes. My experience at the summit has me thinking more about my ongoing interest in the role of public participation in complex land use and resource management issues, like planning for the long-term sustainability of this important watershed.
Getting out of the office and elbow deep into some of the real-world debates about the future of the Corridor (where I not only work but also live) was invaluable to me. In many respects, I learned more in one day discussing shelter belts, crop insurance, trail development, Main Street facade improvements, property tax systems, and various potential models for valuing ecosystem services with such a diverse group of landowners, agricultural producers, conservationists, advocates, and government officials, than I probably could have from many days in a library. Somewhat unexpectedly, the primary takeaway for me was some renewed perspective about the role of legal solutions in what are often really ecosystem-level social problems. Although I spend most of my days analyzing and trying to craft legal solutions to real-world problems, back on the ground things looked a little different.
For example, Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI), started the day with a keynote about the resiliency of rural communities within the Corridor and beyond. At one point, he told a story about a small town community working hard on some marketing and revitalization efforts that had struggled to address a blighted property located right at the entrance to the downtown area. The mayor, according to Chuck, complained to two undergraduate students interns (there for the summer as part of an RFI-funded teaching grant for service learning) about this eyesore house and how all their town’s marketing efforts might be undercut if a visitor’s first impression was this dilapidated house and junk-filled yard. Chuck said the mayor and town had tried “everything” to address the house to no avail, but my ever-legal lawyer mind immediately started ticking off other possible legal solutions to the problem: nuisance claims, aesthetic zoning regulations, condemnation, code enforcement, tax enforcement, etc. My issue-spotting lawyer brain was so occupied checking off possible legal procedures that I almost missed the punchline of Chuck’s story. Although the mayor and the town had not had success communicating with the home’s owner about the issue in the past, Chuck said the two student interns took it upon themselves to walk up to the landowner’s door and offer to help him sell the stacks of tires on his lawn and recover some cash for them…. The homeowner, pleased with the result and liking the student interns who helped put some money in his pocket, then proceeded to let the interns and some other community volunteers engage in additional clean up work around the house. Problem almost immediately solved.
It’s a simple story, but for me an important reminder. In my rush to legal analysis, my instinct was not to consider first what might motivate the landowner to fix the problem himself or what may be standing in the way of him doing so. Or how public engagement in the clean up process might be the most efficient and simple solution, while also likely creating a host of other intangible community benefits.
I was also struck at the summit by how many examples there were from stakeholders actively working on land use challenges within the Corridor of the law working more as an obstacle to progress than as an opportunity or useful tool. These people who do the daily work of trying to make the Corridor a better place seemed incredibly competent and intelligent, but in many cases, they described to me very specific instances where well intentioned laws were getting in the way of actually achieving the desired results (e.g, too much bureaucracy, cumbersome procedures, agency rules that didn't make sense). I heard complaints of the persistent problem of top-down policies and priorities being implemented in ways that are not fully matched up on the ground or that create unintended inefficiencies or obstacles.
This isn’t universally the case. For example, we visited a family farm along the river outside of Omaha where an innovative conservation easement has been created in coordination with the Nebraska Land Trust. The family, at least, said they felt very satisfied that the legal tool of the easement had satisfactorily addressed their concerns in the face of “houses coming over the hills.”
(Photo: Dave Sands, Executive Director of the Nebraska Land Trust, discusses his organization’s conservation easement work within the Corridor at the site of one of these easements.)
However, the theme that there are limits on the ability of the law to respond perfectly or exclusively to the complex land use challenges in the Corridor--including how we will value and protect a range of ecosystem services in the face of growing populations and a changing climate--lingers. Of course, these watershed issues are more complex than one junked property with too many tires in the lawn and more difficult to respond to than the threat of new development around a historic farm that an entire family agrees should be preserved. However, after this summit experience, I look forward to more thinking and engagement around the issues of (1) how law and policy can be better designed with real feedback from, and attention to, the on-the-ground realities of the people working in the trenches and (2) the proper mix of legal and non-legal responses to challenges like the longterm vitality a fragile ecosystem, and especially the role of public participation in designing and implementing these varied solutions.
- Jessica A. Shoemaker
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Thank you for the chance to guest post here on the Land Use Prof Blog. As Jessie mentioned, my current research agenda is focused primarily on the intersection of property law and federal Indian law. I’m actively exploring how the unique property frameworks that have been applied in a top-down fashion to American Indian lands over the years have disproportionately limited the abilities of Indian landowners and tribal governments to make flexible and efficient uses of their own resources and how this, in turn, is negatively impacting the health and vibrancy of many indigenous communities today. I’m really looking forward to sharing more of my work on these American Indian land tenure issues and how this all relates to the broader land use theme of this blog over the next month.
In the meantime, though, I’m also just this week participating in some real boots-to-the-ground land use planning work here in Nebraska that may also be of interest to this group (and that I would love comments and feedback on as we go). As Jessie also mentioned, in addition to my more traditional law professor responsibilities at Nebraska, I get to participate in some outreach-oriented work with an actively expanding university-wide effort here called the Rural Futures Institute ("RFI" or the “Institute”). This Institute, though new, has done some really interesting things in a short time (see, for example, recent grant awards and conference proceedings) and is working to be a local, state, regional, and even global leader “for increasing community capacity as well as the confidence of rural people to address their challenges and opportunities, resulting in resilient and sustainable rural futures.” You can read more about RFI’s official mission, vision, and core values here. In my own words, though, I see the Institute as charting new territory in really re-committing to the University’s original land grant purpose and working to create a two-way bridge between the resources of the University as a powerful teaching and research institution and the resources of rural communities, with their own invaluable local knowledge and expertise about both challenges in need of innovative solutions and opportunities that may be expanded and from which important learning can come. RFI focuses on being as community-driven as possible and defines community success broadly (i.e., not just economic indicators but also looking to other critical elements of community life, such as art, culture, health, education, and longterm security and sustainability).
My own view is that land use—and all the complex factors that influence how individual landowners make decisions about using their land and natural resources—is at the crux of a lot of the issues around how we create positive futures for rural landscapes and rural communities. This week I will be exploring that theme directly as I moderate a plenary panel at the Lower Platte River Summit, an event sponsored biannually by the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance, on Thursday. The theme this year is “Urban Grown – Rural Resiliency.” I’m looking forward to talking to a variety of experts about balancing growth and sustainability along the Lower Platte, with its unique resource issues and mix of urban and rural places. The panel includes local landowners, a water quality and public health professor, a real estate developer, agricultural producers, and a National Park Service program director who helps communities develop recreational trails in places like the Lower Platte River Corridor. I'm also looking forward to the Summit's afternoon bus tour of real properties along the Corridor that raise interesting land use issues, including a farm with a unique set of conservation easements in place and a small town doing its best to bridge its historical traditions with modern development in light of some encroachment pressure from the Omaha metro.
I expect it will all be fantastic fodder for further work and thought, and I look forward to sharing some observations and reactions to the discussions around land use at the Summit this week. However, I also plan to tell you about one other project that I’ve been doing with RFI and that I’ll be using as a discussion tool and interactive exercise at the Summit: a land use simulation “game” we’ve developed called Plainsopoly. Plainsopoly is experienced truly as a game in which participants engage around a large game board image of a hypothetical landscape and roll dice to answer a series of real-world (but still hypothetical) land use visioning challenges. An interdisciplinary group of students and professors from across the University, including from law, natural resources, applied ecology, business, and agricultural economics, helped me develop this as a discussion tool last year, and we worked in conjunction with a group from Birmingham City University in the United Kingdom to adapt Professor Alister Scott's original idea for this kind of planning game (what they call RUFopoly for its focus on the Rural Urban Fringe (i.e., RUF) space in Europe). So far, I’ve only piloted Plainsopoly for the purpose it will be used again this Thursday: as a discussion facilitator at conference-type events. However, it has gotten very positive feedback for its potential to improve stakeholders’ engagement around land use issues, open civil dialogue, and speed participants’ learning around land use management challenges and opportunities. Like my colleagues in the UK, I'm interested in thinking further about whether this kind of tool may have future applications for conflict resolution, consensus building, or even real-world planning and policy development.
I’ll look forward to telling you more about the Summit and about this Plainsopoly exercise over the next week or so and then also to turning to the Indian land tenure issues later in the month.
- Jessica A. Shoemaker
Land Use in Canada - Where "Extensive and Restrictive Land Use Regulation is the Norm" by Deborah Curran
Greetings from Canada where most of the water flows north and there is no Canadian equivalent to the Fifth Amendment. Arguably the biggest difference in land use law between Canada and the U.S. is that we have no constitutionally protected property rights in Canada. Of suprise to many of you and, indeed, to many landowners in Canada, this approach to land use regulation allows provincial and local governments to restrict virtually all use of land without compensating the property rights holder for loss of land value as long as the regulation is in the public interest. As Justice Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada reasoned in Mariner Real Estate Ltd. v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), (1999) 177 D.L.R. (4th) 696, 178 N.S.R.(2d) 294 (NSCA) when he was a judge of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in a judgment that thoroughly canvassed this area of law (at paras. 41-42):
These U.S. and Australian constitutional cases concern constitutional limits on legislative power in relation to private property. As O'Connor, J. said in the Unites States Supreme Court case of Eastern Enterprises v Apfel 118 S. Ct. 2131 (U.S. Mass. 1998), the purpose of the U.S. constitutional provision (referred to as the "takings clause") is to prevent the government from "...forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be born by the public as a whole." Candian courts have no similar broad mandate to review and vary legislative judgments about the appropriate distribution of burdens and benefits flowing from environmental or other land use controls. In Canada, the courts' task is to determine whether the regulation in question entitles the respondents to compensation under the Expropriation Act, not to pass judgment on the way the Leiglature apportions the burdens flowing from land use regulation.
In this country, extensive and restrictive land use regulation is the norm. Such regulation has, almost without exception, been found not to consitute compensable expropriation.
However, the principle that a government or expropriating entity must pay compensation when expropriating an interest in property is alive and well in Canada. Its foundation rests in the royal perogative, powers bestowed on the Crown or government from the common law, and the common law principle that unless a statute explicitly provides, it is not to be construed as taking away property without just compensation (Attorney General v DeKeyser's Royal Hotel  A.C. 508 H.L.). As a common law principle for which the courts have set a high bar when testing whether regulatory behaviour equals regulatory or de facto expropriation. The claimant must prove that:
1. The legislation or government action must so restrict a landowner's enjoyment of property as to constitute confiscation an interest in property; and
2. That interest in property must be acquired by the Crown (government).
It is the second part of the test that is the hardest to meet. Courts have found that simply benefitting Crown land such as a park is not sufficient to prove acquisition by the Crown.
In many provinces this common law rule is codified in a modified form in provincial land use law. For example, sections 914 of the Local Government Act in British Columbia and 621 of the Alberta Municipal Government Act state that no compensation will be paid for changes in the value of land caused by specified decisions made under a land use bylaw or permitting function. It is only when regulation takes away virtually all incidents of private ownership that the regulation will be found to be improper. The precise wording in British Columbia under s.914 is:
(1) Compensation is not payable to any person for any reduction in the value of that person's interest in land, or for any loss or damages that result from
(a) the adoption of an official community plan or a bylaw under this Division [zoning and other development regulation] or the issue of a permit under Division 9 [development permit] of this part,
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply where the bylaw under this Division rstricts the use of land to a public use.
These regulatory or de facto expropriations are few and far between in Canada. Although we hear about successfully argued "takings" cases in the U.S. courts, in Canada a court has never found land use regulation by a local government to result in a regulatory expropriation for which compensation is owed. See Mariner Real Estate Ltd. v Nova Scotia (Attorney General) 1999 CanLII 7241 (NSCA) for an excellent discussion of this area of law, and Canadian Pacific Railway Co. v Vancouver (City)  1 SCR 227, 2006 SCC 5 for the most recent Supreme Court of Canada discussion in the municipal land use context. Courts have ruled that significantly curtailing development on land that is environmentally sensitive, freezing development, development moratoria, and requirements to plant a vegetated buffer adjacent to a watercourse to protect a drinking water source do not require compensation.
The cases where courts have awarded compensation for loss of an interest in property centre around federal or provincial regulation that essentially prohibits an otherwise existing lawful activity or prevents access to a property right. Several cases in British Columbia award compensation for mineral rights that the provincial government rendered inaccessible upon creating a provincial park [R v Tener [1985 1 SCR 533; Casamiro Resource Corp. v British Columbia (Attorney General), 1991 CanLII 211 (BCCA)]. The classic case is Manitoba Fisheries v The Queen  1 SCR 101 where the court found a de facto expropriation by the federal government when it enacted legislation that created a monopoly in favour of a Crown corporation dealing with a freshwater fishery that removed all economic viability, including the goodwill, of one business.
Before I seal your view of Canada as the quiet socialist neighbour to the north ("What? No constitutionally protected property rights?") I must add that in practice land use regulation by local governments works much the same in Canada as in most parts of the U.S. Zoning typically awards development potential or development rights, and once an application is submitted to a local government that zoning and other regulations vest. Few local governments attempt to curb growth in any comprehensive way. There is little coordination at a regional scale about where new development will occur, and most cities are challenged with revitalization of a formerly industrialized water front or downtown core that has to compete with the big box periphery. Proposals for a slight increase in residential density in existing neighbourhoods result in an eight hour public hearing, and there is, of course, no accounting for municipal bad taste in what was kind of development council believes is in the public interest. Although we have somehow resisted building freeways through most of our urban centres and do have a few somewhat successful provincial growth management or agricultural land protection law in place (more on that this month), the local politics of land use law often favours individual property rights.
If we conducted a poll I would be willing to wager that most Canadians and, in particular, municipal elected officials believe that compensation is owed if development "rights" are taken away by regulation. Most intersting is the fact that the Canadian law of regulatory expropriation has remained unchanged since land use regulation came into vogue yet it is popularly trumped by the law of eminent domain from the U.S. Perhaps telecommunications law has more impact on land use than land use regulation itself.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
This is (hopefully) the last in a series of three posts, again cross-posted from Concurring Opinions. In the first, I asked why more land use professors are not libertarians, considering the strong leftist critique of local government. In the second, I suggested that one reason for the leftist commitment to local government (and specifically to local government land use control, albeit often in the guise of “regionalism”) is that the relevant libertarian alternatives – namely, the marketplace and the common law of nuisance – are far worse. Nevertheless, I conceded that this answer was unsatisfactory, considering that many leftists – myself included – betray a Tocquevillian optimism about local government that is difficult to square with the position that local governments are merely the least bad of all the alternatives. So I am left here, in this third post, with the hardest question: How can left-leaning local government scholars have any optimism about local government in light of the abusive local government practices we have witnessed (and documented)?
State Structuring of Local Governments
Alright, here goes… While there is no denying the manifold abuses of which local governments are guilty (see my initial post), the blame for these abuses really falls upon state governments, not local governments. The reason local governments act in the parochial fashion they do is because states have empowered and constrained local governments in such a way that effectively forces local governments to be parochial. In a variety of ways, states have facilitated and encouraged the proliferation of small local governments within metropolitan regions, each of which is thus coerced into a zero-sum competition with the others for scarce revenues. States have, at the same time, dumped all kinds of unfunded and underfunded mandates on local governments, which they must meet with whatever revenue they raise locally. Yet, there is one saving grace for local governments: states have given them an awesome power — the land use power. Is it any surprise that local governments use the biggest power states have given them to solve the biggest problem states have saddled them with –an ongoing obligation to provide costly services with limited funds? The local government abuses I mentioned in my initial post, including the “fiscalization” of land use, exclusion of undesirable land uses (and users), strategic annexation and incorporation efforts, and sprawl are thus not things local governments do because they are inherently corrupt; they do so because the state has structured local government law so as to make these abuses inevitable.
That’s not even the interesting part. This is: Why have the states created a system in which local governments have such perverse incentives? According to Jerry Frug, states created the modern system of local government law because they were threatened by cities. Cities’ openness and spirit of participation stood in contrast to the bureaucratizing tendencies of the state. States created a system of local government law designed specifically to emasculate and frustrate cities’ ambitions. In other words, local government represents a vital aspect of human experience that has been actively suppressed by the state. Frug and many others have argued ever since that in order to recover the essence of the local, we need to recalibrate local power and change cities’ incentive structures.
Local Governments and Participatory Democracy
Frug wrote in the tradition of the New Left, with its emphasis on participatory democracy, and in the aftermath of a period in which cities had been devastated by riots, white flight, urban renewal, disinvestment, and outright hostility from state and national political figures. During the late 1960s, there had been a moment when cities appeared to be on the brink of realizing their potential as fora for public participation – a heady time of citizens’ councils and “maximum feasible participation” – but this potential was quickly squashed by nervous elites.
Frug’s argument echoes theorists of participatory democracy such as Hannah Arendt. Arendt writes that, despite the bureaucratization of modern life, there periodically erupt spontaneous displays of citizen activism that demonstrate a latent human desire for political participation. These moments, of which she includes the Paris Commune of 1871, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and others, are quickly snuffed out when powerful interests feel threatened. Nevertheless, Arendt sees participatory democracy as lying at the core of the human condition, and the quest to recover the lost tradition of spontaneous citizen activism as a noble calling, which she refers to as “pearl diving.” This “pearl diving,” this quest to recover the vital potentiality of the local, is I think what motivates many leftist local government scholars, and fuels our optimism.
A False Utopia?
Before we all choke on the sentimentality of the last paragraph, I should note that the nostalgia for the pre-Progressive era city is somewhat discomfiting. The Gilded Age city was no enlightened democracy; even before the political machines turned cities into cesspools of corruption, as legal historian Robin Einhorn writes, cities were highly privatized, “segmented” entities that almost exclusively served the will of propertied interests. Going back further in history, certainly very few of us would like to live in the “free” cities of the middle ages, which were basically totalitarian communes, or the Athenian polis, which was rooted in the exploitation of slave and female labor.
Moreover, it is hard for cities to fulfill their potential as fora for participation when they are so embroiled in the quotidian business of governing at the local level. While states have the freedom to delegate hard decisions and devote their energies to ideological struggles, cities have to deal with the pragmatic daily chore of picking up the garbage, literally and figuratively. On a nearly daily basis, cities must address intractable issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, climate change, education, health care, security, immigration, and more, issues that, in an era of globalization, are only likely to intensify the pressure on cities as states and national governments recede in influence. Managing all these issues will require shortcuts, and city governments will be forced to make unpopular decisions that are sure to anger significant segments of the community; these issues cannot possibly be addressed if we see urban politics as merely, or even principally, a forum for democratic deliberation.
But everything I have just said also explains why we leftists insist on putting all our eggs in the local government basket. Like it or not, cities are, and for the foreseeable future will be, the primary means of dealing with the messy everyday problems we confront. In some cases, as with the provision of clean water (see my earlier post on cities in the developing world) they have succeeded spectacularly. In others, such as the provision of affordable housing, they have failed miserably. But even where they have failed, as in the case of affordable housing, we can often point the finger at the way states have empowered local governments, rather than some inherent flaw in local government. In any event, as I mentioned in my previous post, we have few viable alternatives to local government. For reasons both practical and utopian, it figures to think that cities represent our best hope for the future, and to rest our efforts on improving urban governance rather than displacing it.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
This post is, again, cross-posted fom the Concurring Opinions blog.
In my previous post, I asked why more land use/local government law professors do not identify as libertarians, considering the role many of us have played in exposing the dysfunctional workings of local government.
If there is an obvious argument in favor of the status quo in land use/local government regulation, it is that all the alternatives seem worse. Let us consider some of the candidates:
An unimpeded free market in land use development would apparently be the worst of all worlds, as there would be no way to prevent open space from being gobbled up by new housing, roads and schools becoming impossibly congested, or a refinery locating next to a single-family home (or, perhaps more likely, a landowner threatening to build a refinery in order to extort his neighbor, a common scenario in pre-zoning Chicago). In a densely populated society, we need some way of ensuring that landowners consider the impact of their land use on neighbors. The good people of Oregon realized this after an ill-advised ballot initiative a few years ago effectively wiped out zoning, and suddenly a single landowner could, for example, subdivide his parcel into 100 lots for single-family homes with no regard for the impact the development would have on local services or infrastructure. The ballot initiative was repealed by a subsequent initiative a few years later.
In my previous post, I mentioned Houston as a possible alternative to most places’ current system of land use regulation. Houston is often touted for its lack of zoning, and corresponding low home prices. I should point out, however, that Houston is not quite a free-market paradise. Houston has a full complement of land use laws, including subdivision regulations (to prevent the aforementioned 100 lot problem) billboard regulations, and the like. The city even enforces restrictions contained in private covenants. As my friend and Houstonian Matt Festa points out, Houston has a quirky city charter that prohibits zoning without a voter initiative, so the city does lots of land use regulation but simply calls it something other than zoning. And, while I’m on the subject, does anyone really think the reason Houston has lower land prices than San Jose is because of zoning?
The common law of nuisance, a favorite of libertarian land use scholars, would appear to solve some of the problems of a free-market system, such as the refinery locating near a single-family home. But what if, instead of a refinery, it’s a bowling alley? A tavern? A cemetery? Are any of these nuisances? On that note, is subdividing my property into 100 new lots a nuisance? In all of these cases, the answer is … maybe. It depends on the severity and nature of the impact on my neighbors, the existing precedent on nuisance law in the particular state, and, most importantly, how the judge assigned to the case chooses to balance the interests involved.
This, of course, is exactly the problem. If local government land use control has been criticized for subjecting landowners to uncertainty about permissible uses of their property, for forcing developers to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get permits, for picking winners and losers based on crass political concerns such as campaign contributions, the process of “judicial zoning” through nuisance law is little better. First, nuisance law is, if anything, more uncertain and expensive than local government land use control. Nuisance doctrine is so ambiguous that no landowner can ever know with certainty what his or her rights are without resorting to a highly fact-intensive litigation, which will inevitably involve a massive expenditure of time and money. (And Coasean bargaining won’t work if people don’t know their rights.) Second, judges inevitably pick winners and losers in nuisance cases, and while we might expect a judge – even an elected one – to rule on the legal merits of a nuisance case rather than political considerations, the nuisance inquiry is so vague and policy-driven (e.g., harm v. utility) that judges necessarily end up making value judgments about what land uses they find desirable and undesirable. Moreover, though judges – again, even elected judges – are surely less influenced than legislators by political concerns like campaign contributions, public choice research has shown that the judicial decision-making process shares many of the abuses that plague the political process – such as the dominance of repeat players and the ability of small, well-organized interests to exercise disproportionate influence.
To go a step further, the fact that local government decisionmaking is “political” whereas judicial decisionmaking is not (at least in principle) is precisely what makes local government land use control superior. When local officials make land use decisions, members of the community will at least have the opportunity to influence them through the political process. By contrast, a judge hearing a nuisance case is likely to be far less sensitive to the full array of interests affected by its decision, both because the adversarial nature of common-law litigation precludes anyone but the parties from being heard, and because judges, even when elected, are generally (and hopefully!) less amenable to pressure from voters than are local politicians.
The question, as my favorite economist Bill Fischel puts it, is whether we would rather be ruled by judges or by legislators. Though the choice, as I have presented it here, is an unpleasant one, the balance of the evidence seems to favor legislators. Judges have long understood this, and they have consciously assumed a passive and deferential role in the land use process from the beginning (Indeed, it is notable that the foundational 1926 case upholding the constitutionality of zoning, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926), was authored by perhaps the most libertarian justice of all time, George Sutherland. Sutherland’s opinion made a point that zoning was necessary because nuisance law had become an inadequate means of dealing with modern land use problems.)
Nevertheless, there is something unsatisfying about this justification for local government land use control, even for leftists. The leftist vision for local government is an optimistic one, rooted in the belief that local government offers an opportunity to realize our highest aspirations for democratic self-government. The local-government-as-least-of-all-evils argument is for us an unacceptably pessimistic view of government, and its insistence on a merely quantitative accounting of the relative demerits of various systems of land use control invites every armchair empiricist to place a thumb on the scale in favor of his or her own preferred arrangement. On the other hand, given the unsparing descriptive account of local government detailed in my previous post, how can leftists be so optimistic? I will address that question in my next post.
Monday, October 6, 2014
In case you missed it, I am cross-posting something I initially posted to Concurring Opinions, that may be of interest to our readers here. Parts II and III to follow:
Many professors who study land use and local government law, myself included, consider ourselves leftists rather than libertarians. That is, we have some confidence in the ability of government to solve social problems. Nevertheless, were you to pick up a randomly selected piece of left-leaning land use or local government scholarship (including my own) you would likely witness a searing indictment of the way local governments operate. You would read that the land use decisionmaking process is usually a conflict between deep-pocketed developers who use campaign contributions to elect pro-growth politicians and affluent homeowners who use their ample resources to resist change that might negatively affect their property values. Land use “planning” – never a great success to begin with – has largely been displaced by the “fiscalization” of land use, in which land use decisions are based primarily on a proposed land use’s anticipated contribution to (or drain upon) a municipality’s revenues. Public schools in suburban areas have essentially been privatized due to exclusionary zoning practices, and thus placed off limits to the urban poor, whereas public schools in cities have been plundered by ravenous teachers’ unions.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Check out EPA's Greening The Apple blog, which reported today on a collaboration between Touro Law Center's Land Use & Sustainable Development Institute and the Long Island Smart Growth and Resiliency Partnership (LISGRP): Turning Lemons into Lemonade: Resilience, Smart Growth and Equitable Development on Long Island | Greening The Apple. LISGRP is partnership of EPA, FEMA, New York State Department of State, Suffolk County, Nassau County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) formed shortly after Super Storm Sandy to help Long Island rebuild in a smarter, stronger and more resilient fashion.
Among other projects that focus on the intersection of climate resiliency and smart growth, LISGRP is working with Touro Law Center to place law students with the City of Long Beach to support sustainable rebuilding. Consistent with priorities identified in the City's recently completed NY Rising Community Reconstruction Plan, the City is implementing recommendations from a Global Green Technical Assistance project (funded through a grant from EPA’s Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities program) and a New York University study on green infrastructure and storm water management.
Thus, according EPA Greening the Apple bloggers Joe Siegel and Rabi Kieber, LISGRP and its collaborators are "turning lemons into lemonade" in the wake of the devestation of Super Storm Sandy.
...Long Island Smart Growth Resiliency Partnership has turned lemons into lemonade by incorporating not only climate change resilience but smart growth and equitable development into long term planning on Long Island. The groundbreaking work of the Partnership will no doubt serve as a model for other recovery efforts in Region 2 and beyond.
Posted by Professor Sarah J. Adams-Schoen, Director of Touro Law's Land Use & Sustainable Development Law Institute. You can follow the Institute's blog here, and contact Professor Adams-Schoen by email or phone (firstname.lastname@example.org, (631)761-7137).
September 26, 2014 in Beaches, Climate, Coastal Regulation, Community Economic Development, Federal Government, Green Building, Local Government, Planning, Smart Growth, State Government, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
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".
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Last week, Buffalo hosted the 22nd Congress for New Urbanism. With a constrained conference budget, I was planning on just scoping out the (numerous) public events. Then conference funding came through from a surprising source. I actually won free conference registration via Yelp! (yes it pays to be elite). I am not sure what it says about academia when we have to look to social media to help with our research funding but I was happy to get in the door!
CNU 22 was a mixture of the inspirational and the mundane. It was amazing to see people from all over the country (and particularly so many from Buffalo) coming together to think about how to improve your communities. I bathed in the local pride (feeling the Buffalove as we say around here) and heard inspiring tales about efforts in Toronto, Minneapolis, DC, and Milwaukee. But nothing was actually radical. In some ways this is an encouraging story. It no longer seems crazy to argue that suburban sprawl is destroying community. I really didn't need convincing that we should have more walkable or bikable cities. There seems to be general agreement on what elements make for a thriving urban environment and largely agreement from the attendees on how to get there (community involvement, form based codes, economic development). Thus, while I enjoyed myself and met some fascinating folks I left the conference with an empty notebook. Maybe I just attended the wrong sessions, but I wonder what types of legal changes we might need, what type of property tools we can use, and of course who is gonna fund it all. Any suggestions?
June 11, 2014 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Conferences, Downtown, Economic Development, Form-Based Codes, New Urbanism, Pedestrian, Planning, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (2)
Thursday, November 21, 2013
In the discourse of local government law, the idea that a mobile populace can “vote with its feet” has long served as a justification for devolution and decentralization. Tracing to Charles Tiebout’s seminal work in public finance, the legal-structural prescription that follows is that a diversity of independent and empowered local governments can best satisfy the varied preferences of residents metaphorically shopping for bundles of public services, regulatory environment, and tax burden.
This localist paradigm generally presumes that fragmented governments are competing for residents within a given metropolitan area. Contemporary patterns of mobility, however, call into question this foundational assumption. People today move between — and not just within — metropolitan regions, domestically and even internationally. This is particularly so for a subset of residents — high human-capital knowledge workers and the so-called “creative class” — that is prominently coveted in this interregional competition. These modern mobile residents tend to evaluate the policy bundles that drive their locational decisions on a regional scale, weighing the comparative merits of metropolitan areas against each other. And local governments are increasingly recognizing that they need to work together at a regional scale to compete for these residents.
This Article argues that this intermetropolitan mobility provides a novel justification for regionalism that counterbalances the strong localist tendency of the traditional Tieboutian view of local governance. Contrary to the predominant assumption in the legal literature, competition for mobile residents is as much an argument for regionalism as it has been for devolution and decentralization. In an era of global cities vying for talent, the mobility case for regionalism has significant doctrinal consequences for debates in local government law and public finance, including the scope of local authority, the nature of regional equity, and the structure of metropolitan collaboration.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I no longer follow Georgia news closely, but recently my Facebook feed lit up with multiple article postings and opinions about the Atlanta Braves' plan to build a new stadium in suburban Cobb County, abandoning Turner Field, which they've occupied for only 16 years. Sentiment amongst my friends is running about 20 to 1 against the move. It even merited national attention from a Huffington Post blogger. He brings up the not-unfamiliar criticism that Cobb County has no business spending $450 million on a new stadium when they're furloughing teachers:
Now it seems that Cobb County is one of the 100th wealthiest counties in America, and the 12th most educated. So $450 million must be chump change -- it's not like they're Philadelphia, slashing public school teachers in the face of massive budget cuts. Oh, wait... actually they are sort of like that: "Cobb County's school board approved a 2013-14 budget Thursday night that will result in five furlough days for all employees, the loss of 182 teachers through attrition and a slimmer central administration staff."
The cuts are the result of reduced state aid and lower property tax revenues -- although apparently the lower property tax revenues that are low enough to mean fewer teachers aren't so low that they can't BUILD A NEW BASEBALL STADIUM! For a team that already has what you and I might, sanely, consider a pretty new baseball stadium.
I'm friends with several local government lawyers, and my friend, law school classmate, and former member of the Georgia legislature Rob Teilhet rightly pointed out that building the stadium has no direct relationship to school funding. But, as Land Use Prof chief blogger Matt Festa noted in a blog post he wrote in 2009 on stadium controversies generally, claims are often made that the overall economic development caused by the stadium will benefit the community generally. This project is no exception.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
So it's been quite awhile since my last post, but I felt compelled to share the end of the story about putting a Wal-Mart in downtown Athens, Georgia. If you're a longtime reader of the blog you may remember that an Atlanta based developer proposed a mixed-use development, anchored by a Wal-Mart, in the center of Athens. (See my previous post here.) Although Wal-Mart never expressed official interest in the project, many local residents were highly opposed to the idea.
Yesterday the local paper featured a story saying that the developer has now abandoned the project entirely, due to market conditions. The development featured student apartments as its residential component, and downtown Athens is already overbuilt in that category. However, the site, while topographically challenging, is prime real estate. I'm sure as market conditions improve something will eventually be built there.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, September 20, 2013
A new paper on conservation development provides oodles of information about conservation development in the western United States while pinpointing shortfalls with current ordinances. Conservation development for the uninitiated is well... pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is a land-se planning strategy that requires conservation measures for new development. It can take the form of conservation easements, cluster development, conservation-oriented planned development, etc. A common feature is setting aside some portion of land for conservation in a residential development project. Many counties and local governments have laws promoting conservation development (often pledging faster project review or bestowing density bonuses).
Although not yet available in print, you can get an early view of an article in the upcoming issue of Conservation Biology by Sarah Reed, Jodi Hilty, and David Theobald that examines conservation development ordinances in 11 western states. The authors did an impressive job of reviewing ordinance for 402 counties (97% response rate-- wowzers). As conservation biologists, the authors were interested to see if the county ordinances promoted sound ecological principles. A few interesting things coming out of the study:
- over 30% of the counties actually had conservation development ordinances
- most required protection in perpetuity, but not all
- most required conservation of some portion of the land, but set no minimum sizes on protected area, rarely required connection with other protected lands or even other lands within the site
- very few ordinances required ecological analysis
- only 8% required some type of consultation with an ecologist or conservation biologist
- few required management plans
These are just a few of the points that they make, and I recommend getting the full article to learn more. This is a good article for lawyers and planners to read because it highlights some of the problems we have communicating with each other. One thing they don't answer but I wondered about is how many conservation biologists were consulted when the counties actually wrote the ordinance.
Here is the full title and abstract:
Guidelines and Incentives for Conservation Development in Local Land-Use RegulationsSARAH E. REED, JODI A. HILTY, & DAVID M. THEOBALD
Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013
Effective conservation of biological diversity on private lands will require changes in land-use policy and development practice. Conservation development (CD) is an alternative form of residential development in which homes are built on smaller lots and clustered together and the remainder of the property is permanently protected for conservation purposes. We assessed the degree to which CD is permitted and encouraged by local land-use regulations in 414 counties in the western United States. Thirty-two percent of local planning jurisdictions have adopted CD ordinances, mostly within the past 10 years. CD ordinances were adopted in counties with human population densities that were 3.0 times greater and in counties with 2.5 times more land use at urban, suburban, and exurban densities than counties without CD ordinances. Despite strong economic incentives for CD (e.g., density bonuses, which allow for a mean of 66% more homes to be built per subdivision area), several issues may limit the effectiveness of CD for biological diversity conservation. Although most CD ordinances required a greater proportion of the site area be protected than in a typical residential development, just 13% (n = 17) of the ordinances required an ecological site analysis to identify and map features that should be protected. Few CD ordinances provided guidelines regarding the design and configuration of the protected lands, including specifying a minimum size for protected land parcels or encouraging contiguity with other protected lands within or near to the site. Eight percent (n =11) of CD ordinances encouraged consultation with a biological expert or compliance with a conservation plan. We recommend that conservation scientists help to improve the effectiveness of CD by educating planning staff and government officials regarding biological diversity conservation, volunteering for their local planning boards, or consulting on development reviews.
- Jessie Owley
Saturday, August 31, 2013
John Echeverria (Vermont) has just this week posted Koontz: The Very Worst Takings Decision Ever?. In it, he takes on both of the U.S. Supreme Court's holdings in its most recent land use decision and spells out how they will inhibit development planning discussions at the local level. Here's the abstract:
This article argues that Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, the most widely discussed of the Supreme Court’s takings trilogy in the 2012-13 term, represents a major, unprincipled break from prior law and casts an unfortunate pall of confusion and uncertainty over takings doctrine, partly reversing the Court’s recent, successful effort to make takings doctrine more coherent and predictable. The Court ruled that the relatively heightened standard of judicial review established by the Supreme Court for so-called “development exactions” in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard applies both (1) when the government denies a development permit after the developer rejects a government demand for an exaction as a condition of project approval, and (2) when a permit condition requires a developer to pay or expend money to mitigate project impacts. In so ruling, the Court rejected the position that claims challenging such government orders should be evaluated under either the Court’s relatively forgiving regulatory takings analysis or deferential due process analysis. Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent for herself and three other justices, arguing that the case did not involve an actual demand triggering Nollan and Dolan and that the standards established by those cases do not apply to permit conditions requiring the expenditure of money. This article contends that the Koontz decision is one of the worst decisions, if the not the worst decision, in the pantheon of Supreme Court takings cases. In doctrinal terms, the majority opinion flagrantly contradicts or ignores established precedent, fails to acknowledge its departure from prior law, and does not attempt to offer any new, coherent justifications for its novel holdings. As a practical matter, the decision creates a perverse, wasteful incentive for local officials to decline to work cooperatively with developers in designing projects that make business sense and protect the interests of the community. Finally, the decision injects new uncertainty into takings law, setting the stage for future debates over the legitimacy and appropriate scope of intrusive judicial review of local land use decision-making, including whether local governments retain the authority to reject development proposals based on unacceptable project impacts without triggering stringent judicial review.
August 31, 2013 in Community Economic Development, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Impact Fees, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
In summer, I like to put aside an hour or so each work day to read various articles and books that I have stumbled across during the busy semester but lacked time to review. Today, the top of my stacks were an article from The New American and a book by Glenn Beck. It was really just coincidence that these two hit the top of my piles today, but it has made for a surreal afternoon.
First up is an article from The New American (the publication of the John Birch Society) by Tom DeWeese, entitled Conservation Easements and the Urge to Rule. You know an article is gonna be good when the first sentence mentions the Green Mafia. DeWeese's piece argues that conservation easements are the biggest threat to small family farmers out there. I don't want to spend too much time on his article, because it is just so chock full of problems and errors that it would take too long. He conflates conservation easements and zoning law and seems to rest everything on one case study whose facts are unclear in his piece. My favorite line though is where he compares land trusts to commodity traders buying and selling conservation easements at a significant profit. That sentence on page 2 is where he really lost any credibility he might have had with me. While not an adherent of the John BIrch Society, I have been a vocal critic of the uses of conservation easements. It is always surprising to me when I see them attacked from the right. In many ways, they embody fundamental conservative ideals of promoting and protecting private property rights. Instead of saying landowners can freely enter into any contract regarding their land that they like (a clear libertarian approach), DeWeese seems to be suggesting that any limitation on property rights (even voluntary ones) should not be permitted. Without giving too much credence to DeWeese's writing on this, I am just generally befuddled by the lack of consistency in the property rights movement.
I wish I could also share an interview with Becky Norton Dunlop of the Heritage Foundation on Fox News from February 2010 where she amusingly asserts conservation easements are akin to eminent domain, but the clip no longer appears available.
After zooming through that little article, I picked up Agenda 21 by Glenn Beck. Wow is this a crazy book. Now I don't have cable tv (and would unlikely be tuning into FoxNews if I did), so I have a general understanding of who Glenn Beck is but haven't really seen much more than clips. This may explain why I had no idea what I was in for. I was looking for a book to give me the conservative take on Agenda 21 conspiracy. I gave a talk at the Western New York Land Conservancy earlier this summer, and the Conservancy chose not to advertise the talk in the Buffalo News for fear of Agenda 21 protesters. I am super a bit embarrassed to admit that I was unfamiliar with the conservative Agenda 21 battle cry. My take on Agenda 21 thus far is that it is pretty toothless. Lots of big ideas with little action. So I was pretty surprised to hear that some radical right groups appear afraid of it. Clearly they must fear what it symbolizes rather than what it actually does. Enter Glenn Beck. Someone told me that Glenn Beck wrote a book about Agenda 21 and it is a fast read. What that person failed to mention is that it is a 1984-esque sci fi novel set in a future where Agenda 21 has led to a dystopia. Wanna hear my secret? I kinda love it. It is completely ridiculous, of course, but a great beach read ... if you were willing to let people see you reading it in public.