Monday, May 27, 2013
The U.S. tradition of Memorial Day has a long and complex relationship with land, history, and memory. This post has some thoughts on the subject from last year.
Today was Memorial Day in the US. There are lots of land use issues that we can associate with Memorial Day, which, stripped to its essence, is designed as a day to remember the military members who died in service to the nation. There is the obvious land use issue of cemeteries, and the related legal and cultural norms governing how we memorialize the dead (check out any of the interesting blogposts or scholarship by Al Brophy and Tanya Marsh on cemeteries). It gets even more relevant when we start talking about government-owned national or veterans' cemeteries, and the attendant controversies about First Amendment and other issues. [The photo is from last year's Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery, which my daughter attended to honor fallen Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Sauer Medlicott.] Of course, there are always land use and local government issues involved with things like parades and public ceremonies, and in many communities there are specific rules that govern the "summer season" informally commenced on Memorial Day weekend.
Check out the whole post for some info about a couple of little-known and interesting events from the early history of Memorial Day and land use, including what may be the first Memorial Day celebration, by African-Americans in Charleston on the former planters' racecourse, and a U.S. Supreme Court case about eminent domain for historic preservation on Gettysburg National Battlefied.
We hope you had a safe and happy Memorial Day.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Mark Edwards (William Mitchell) has posted The Paradoxes of Restitution, forthcoming in the West Virginia Law Review. The abstract:
Restitution following mass dispossession is often considered both ideal and impossible. Why? This article identifies two previously unnamed paradoxes that undermine the possibility of restitution.
First, both dispossession and restitution depend on the social construction of rights-worthiness. Over time, people once considered unworthy of property rights ‘become’ worthy of them. However, time also corrodes the practicality and moral weight of restitution claims. By the time the dispossessed ‘become’ worthy of property rights, restitution claims are no longer practically or morally viable. This is the time-unworthiness paradox.
Second, restitution claims are undermined by the concept of collective responsibility. People are sometimes dispossessed because collective responsibility is unjustly imposed on them for wrongs committed by a few members of a group. But restitution may require the dispossession of innocent current occupiers of land – thus imposing a type of collective responsibility on them. Therefore, restitution can be seen as committing the very wrong it purports to right. This is the collective responsibility paradox.
Both paradoxes can be overcome, but only if we recognize the rights-worthiness of others before time fatally corrodes the viability of restitution. We must also draw a careful distinction between the imposition of collective rights-unworthiness, which results in the mass dispossession of others, and the voluntary acceptance of collective responsibility, which results in the restitution of others.
After developing these ideas, the article examines them in the context of a particularly difficult and intractable case of dispossession and restitution. It draws upon interviews with restitution claimants whose stories reveal the paradoxes of restitution.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Stephanie Stern (Chicago-Kent) has posted The Dark Side of Town: The Social Capital Revolution in Residential Property. Here's the abstract:
Social capital has pervaded property law, with scholars and policymakers advocating laws and property arrangements to promote social capital and relying on social capital to devolve property governance from legal institutions to resident groups. This Article challenges the prevailing view of social capital’s salutary effects with a more skeptical account that examines the dark side of residential social capital — its capacity to effectuate local factions and promote restraints and inegalitarianism that close off property. I introduce a set of claims about social capital’s dark side in residential property and explore these points through the examples of local racial purging, land cartels, and residential self-governance. First, contrary to the assumption of a social capital deficit, residential racial segregation and land cartelization, perhaps the deepest imprints on the American property landscape today, suggest an abundance of local social capital and possible unintended consequences of interventions to build social capital. Second, “governing by social capital,” or relying on social capital for property self-governance, may empower factions, breed conflict, and increase the demand for residential homogeneity as a proxy for cooperation. In light of the mixed evidence for social capital’s benefits and its sizable dark side, the more pressing and productive role for property law is not to promote social capital, but to address its negative spillovers and illiberal effects.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Carol Rose (Yale & Arizona) has posted Property Law and the Rise, Life, and Demise of Racially Restrictive Covenants, which is available in the 2013 edition of Powell on Real Property. Here's the abstract:
This article was given as the 6th Annual Wolf Family Lecture on the American Law of Real Property, University of Florida Levin College of Law (2013). It draws on property law discussions in Richard R.W. Brooks and Carol M. Rose, Saving the Neighborhood: Racially Restrictive Covenants, Law, and Social Norms (Harvard Univ. Press 2013). The article outlines the ways in which constitutional law and property law engaged in a dialog about white-only racial covenants from their early twentieth-century origins to the middle of the twentieth century and beyond. After a shaky beginning, both constitutional law and property law became relatively permissive about racial covenants by the 1920s. But proponents of racial covenants had to work around property law doctrines — including seemingly arcane doctrines like the Rule Against Perpetuities, disfavor to restraints on alienation, "horizontal privity," and "touch and concern." Moreover, property law weaknesses gave leverage to civil rights opponents of covenants, long before Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), the major constitutional case that made these covenants unenforceable in courts. Even after Shelley's constitutional decision, property law continued to be a contested area for racial covenants, with echoes even today.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Lee Fennell (Chicago) has posted Crowdsourcing Land Use, 78 Brook. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2013). In it she looks ahead to the possibilities for emerging information technology to provide platforms for sharing data about land use impacts and preferences as well as landowner intentions. The last of these involves a proposal for the creation of publicly facilitated options markets in land use rights, an idea she previously outlined in her 2011 piece Property and Precaution (Journal of Tort Law, 2011). Here's the abstract for the Crowdsourcing article:
Land use conflicts arise from information shortfalls, and avoiding them requires obtaining and using information. Yet traditional forms of land use control operate in relative ignorance about landowner intentions, about preferences for patterns of land use that do not presently exist, and, more fundamentally, about land use impacts as they are experienced on the ground. Because information is expensive to gather and use, this ignorance may be rational. New technological and theoretical advances, however, offer powerful ways to harness and deploy information that lies dispersed in the hands of the public. In this symposium essay, I assess the prospects for an increased role for crowdsourcing in managing land use, as well as the limits on this approach. Governments must do more than elicit, aggregate, coordinate, and channel the preferences, intentions, and experiences of current and potential land users; they must also set normative side constraints, manage agendas, and construct appropriately scaled platforms for compiling and using information.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Nestor Davidson (Fordham) has posted New Formalism in the Aftermath of the Housing Crisis, Boston University Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 389, 2013. The abstract:
The housing crisis has left in its wake an ongoing legal crisis. After housing markets began to collapse across the country in 2007, foreclosures and housing-related bankruptcies surged significantly and have barely begun to abate more than six years later. As the legal system has confronted this aftermath, courts have increasingly accepted claims by borrowers that lenders and other entities involved in securitizing mortgages failed to follow requirements related to perfecting and transferring their security interests. These cases – which focus variously on issues such as standing, real party in interest, chains of assignment, the negotiability of mortgage notes, and the like – signal renewed formality in nearly every aspect of the resolution of mortgage distress. This new formalism in the aftermath of the housing crisis represents something of an ironic turn in the jurisprudence. From the earliest history of the mortgage, lenders have had a tendency to invoke the clear, sharp edges of law, while borrowers in distress have often resorted to equity for forbearance. The post-crisis caselaw thus upends the historical valence of lender-side formalism and borrower-side flexibility.
Building on this insight, this Article makes a normative and a theoretical claim. Normatively, while scholars have largely embraced the new formalism for the accountability it augurs, this consensus ignores the trend’s potential negative consequences. Lenders have greater resources than consumers to manage the technical aspects of mortgage distress litigation over the long run, and focusing on formal requirements may distract from responding to deeper substantive and structural questions that still remain largely unaddressed more than a half decade into the crisis. Equally telling, from a theoretical perspective, the new formalism sheds light on the perennial tension between law’s supposed certainty and equity’s flexibility. The emerging jurisprudence underscores the contingency of property and thus reinforces – again, ironically – pluralist conceptions of property even in the crucible of hard-edged formalism.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Lee Anne Fennell (Chicago) has posted Property in Housing, 12 Academia Sinica Law Journal 31 (2013). The abstract:
The question of how to structure and package the residential experience is a deeply interesting and difficult one. How physically large or small should residential holdings be? How densely should they be clustered? Should spaces for working, recreating, cooking, and bathing be contained within the private residential unit, shared with other households, or procured a la carte? How permanent should the connection be between a household and a living space? How much control should households have over the environment surrounding the dwelling unit? Answers to these and many other queries differ both within and between societies. This keynote address, delivered at Academia Sinica’s Fourth Conference on Law and Economic Analysis in June 2012, shows how a law and economics perspective that emphasizes problems of scale can illuminate the task of configuring residential property optimally.
Monday, March 25, 2013
Marc Poirier (Seton Hall) has posted Brazilian Regularization of Title in Light of Moradia, Compared to the United States’ Understandings of Homeownership and Homelessness, __ U. Miami Inter-Am. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming). Here's the abstract:
This Essay considers the cultural resonances of regularization of title (regularização) for homeownership in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. It compares those resonances to the cultural meaning of homeownership in the United States. Brazil’s approach is informed by an understanding of moradia, a right to dwell someplace, that is a far cry from its typical English translation as a right to housing. Brazil also draws on constitutional provisions and a long Latin American tradition concerning the social function of property, as well as a general theoretical understanding of the right to the city and of cidadania, a certain kind of citizenship. All of these frames construct homeownership as a gateway to interconnection and full participation in the life of the city. This is distinctly different from the individualistic cast of the prevailing understanding of homeownership in the United States, as personal success and the achievement of wealth, status, and a private castle.
The Essay also considers the standard United States construction of homelessness, which again tends to frame the issue in terms of individual responsibility or blame or of the role of institutional structures as they affect individuals, and typically fails to recognize the effect of having no property on relationships and interconnectedness and ultimately citizenship. The Essay advances five reason for the differences between Brazilian and United States understandings of homeownership. These include very different histories concerning the distribution of public lands; the absence in United States property jurisprudence of anything like the notion of a social function of property; the physical invisibility of informal communities in the United States; United States jurisprudence’s rejection of vague, aspirational human rights claims as law; and an insistence in United States jurisprudence on legal monism and an abstract, universalizing account of property ownership that valorizes one-size-fits-all law rather than case-by-case accounts of how land and dwellings are managed by various local communities.
Finally, the Essay observes a recent groundswell of United States scholarship that debunks “A own Blackacre” as an adequate account of the ownership of land and homes, insisting on a more race- and class-informed account as to both the history of homeownership and possible solutions for providing secure dwelling for the poor. The Essay recommends a convergence of studies of informal communities worldwide with a more nuanced, race- and class-informed understanding of homeownership.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Dave Owen (Maine) has posted Taking Groundwater. The abstract:
In February, 2012, in a case called Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day, the Texas Supreme Court held that landowners hold property rights to the groundwater beneath their land, and that a regulatory restriction on groundwater use could constitute a taking of private property. The decision provoked strong reactions, both positive and negative, throughout the world of water law, for it signaled the possibility of severe restrictions on governmental ability to regulate groundwater use.
This Article considers the deeper issue that confronted the Texas Supreme Court, and that has confronted other courts across the country: how should the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and parallel clauses of state constitutions, apply to groundwater use regulation? Initially, this Article explains why this issue is exceedingly and increasingly important. It then reviews all of the groundwater/takings decisions from federal and state courts in the United States. Finally, the Article considers the implications of foundational property theories for the application of takings doctrine to groundwater use.
The analysis supports two key conclusions. First, it undermines arguments against treating water rights as “constitutional property” — that is, property protected by federal and state takings clauses. Proponents of those arguments generally assert that treating water rights as property has uneven support from prior caselaw and that such treatment will be prevent sensible governance. A review of groundwater caselaw demonstrates that the former assertion runs counter to the weight of authority, and that the fears underlying the latter argument are overstated. Second, and more importantly, the analysis undermines arguments for granting groundwater use rights heightened protection against regulatory takings. Recently, litigants and commentators skeptical of government regulatory authority have widely advanced those arguments. But they find no support in past groundwater/takings caselaw, and no property theory justifies adopting such an approach.
An important issue, and a reminder that state supreme courts continue to play a crucial role in shaping modern property law.
March 7, 2013 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Takings, Texas, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
The Association for Law, Property, & Society (ALPS) annual meeting is coming up, and the deadline to register and/or submit paper or panel proposals has been extended to Friday, March 15. From the CFP:
The ALPS 4th Annual Meeting, http://www.alps.syr.edu/meetingsandconferences.aspx, will be held at University of Minnesota Law School, April 26-27, 2013. Our annual meetings attract over 100 participants, approximately one third of whom come from outside of North America and a number of whom do interdisciplinary work.
A couple of additional draws this year: first, Professor Carol Rose will be the honoree and keynote speaker; second, the ALPS conference is immediately following a related conference in energy/environmental law onsite:
The Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment & the Life Sciences will be hosting a conference on Legal and Policy Pathways for Energy Innovation on April 24 and 25,
So, as someone on the listserv said, it's a Minnesotapalooza! UM prof and ALPS leader Hari Osofsky is overseeing both.
Remember, ALPS takes pride in hosting a collegial, accessible conference for scholars at all career stages and with various disciplinary interests. Including, but not limited to . . .
· Civil Rights & Inequality (including Race, Gender, Religion, Income, Disability, etc)/Critical Legal Studies
· Economics and Property Law
· Energy/Environment/Climate Change
· History of Property
· Housing/Urban Development/Mortgages and Foreclosure
· Indian Law/Indigenous Rights Law
· Intellectual Property
· International Property Law/Human Rights and Property/Cultural Property
· Land Use Planning/Real Estate/Entrepreneurship
· Property and Personhood/Concept of Home
· Property Theory
· Takings and Eminent Domain
· Teaching Property
So if you haven't submitted or registered yet, now's the time to sign up for ALPS in Minnesota this April.
We are pleased to share with you our latest fact brief: Sandy's Effects on Housing in New York City (PDF) Our report is the first independent, comprehensive analysis of the Superstorm's impact on housing in New York City.
The study revealed some surprising insights into the impacts of the Superstorm Sandy. It found that low-income renters were disproportionately impacted by the storm's surge; over half of the victims were renters, 61 percent of whom make less than $60,000 per year, instead of middle-class homeowners. It also exposed the age of the housing stock affected by the surge; 82% of the properties hit by Sandy were built before 1980, before the latest flood maps and building standards were established.
The report also summarizes newly available information about the characteristics of properties in the area in New York City flooded by Sandy's storm surge, as well as demographic characteristics of households that have registered to receive assistance from FEMA. The study was released in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, who provided a similar analysis on Long Island and New Jersey.
Lots of interesting maps and data in this report, which should be of interest to anyone researching law, land, housing, and disaster planning
March 7, 2013 in Affordable Housing, Beaches, Coastal Regulation, Community Economic Development, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Housing, Local Government, New York, Property, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
[Registration here]. Many of you know that the annual meeting of the Association for Law, Property, and Society (ALPS) has quickly become THE place to be for academic discussions in property, land use, real estate, IP, and local government and environmental law--in short, everything that is considered to be in the universe of "property" is more than welcome at ALPS. It's been a really interesting, rewarding, and collegial conference in its first few years, and again, it's almost immediately become the central annual confab for property and land use profs. To wit:
We welcome papers on any subject related to property law and from a diversity of viewpoints. Property related topics areas can include but are not limited to:
Civil Rights & Inequality (including Race, Gender, Religion, Income, Disability, etc)/Critical Legal Studies
Economics and Property Law
History of Property
Housing/Urban Development/Mortgages and Foreclosure
Indian Law/Indigenous Rights Law
Intellectual Property • International Property Law/Human Rights and Property/Cultural Property
Land Use Planning/Real Estate/Entrepreneurship
Property Theory • Property and Personhood/Concept of Home
Takings and Eminent Domain • Teaching Property
The deadline for paper proposals is this Friday, March 1. This year there is also the option to register to attend without a proposal, which makes participation even more accesible to everyone in the field.
I have to clear a couple of calendar items myself too, but I really hope to see all of you In Minneapolis on April 26-27 for ALPS. And on behalf of the ALPS Membership & Outreach Committee, feel free to contact me with any questions.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Christopher Serkin (Brooklyn) has posted Affirmative Constitutional Commitments: The State's Obligations to Property Owners, Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Conference Journal, Forthcoming. The abstract:
This Essay, prepared for the 2012 Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Conference, argues that social obligation theories in property generate previously unrecognized obligations on the State. Leading property scholars, like Hanoch Dagan, Greg Alexander, and Eduardo Peñalver, have argued that the institution of property contains affirmative duties to the community as well as negative rights. This Essay argues that those affirmative duties are two-way streets, and that moral bases for social obligations also generate reciprocal obligations on the State to protect property owners. The social obligation theories rely upon a dynamic not static vision of property rights. The community’s needs change, the conditions of ownership change, and the appropriate allocation of benefits and burdens within a society changes over time. Therefore, a legal obligation that is justified and permissible at the time it is enacted because it is consistent with moral obligations may become impermissible over time, even if the content of the legal obligation does not change. At the extreme, the State’s failure to respond to certain kinds of changes in the world can lead to a regulatory taking.
An interesting and important take on some of the implications of progressive property theory. Especially interesting is Serkin's appreciation for the changing social notions of property over time, and how that challenges static notions of property rights and obligations.
Elizabeth Plummer (Texas Christian) has posted The Effects of Property Tax Protests on the Assessment Uniformity of Residential Properties, forthcoming in Real Estate Economics. The abstract:
This study examines whether the appeals process improves assessment uniformity for residential properties. The sample includes all single family residential properties in Harris County, Texas, for 2006-2008. I use a hedonic pricing model and Heckman’s two stage approach to explain the assessed values of all properties before and after the appeals adjustments. Full sample results suggest that the appeals process increased assessment uniformity and that the value adjustments were appropriate in amount. I also present results across properties of different values (low, medium, high). The first stage probit model provides evidence on the factors that affect the likelihood that an owner will protest.
I'm personally excited to see this study of real estate value effects in my own backyard, here in The Unzoned City.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Robin Kundis Craig (Utah) has posted Treating Offshore Submerged Lands as Public Lands: An Historical Perspective, forthcoming in Public Land & Resources Review (2013). The abstract:
When President Harry Truman proclaimed federal control over the United States’s continental shelf in 1945, he did so primarily to secure the energy resources — oil and gas — embedded in those submerged lands. Nevertheless, the mineral wealth of the continental shelf spurred two critical legal battles over their control and disposition: First, whether the federal government had any interest in the first three miles of continental shelf; and second, if so, whether the federal government had authority to regulate the continental shelf under traditional federal public land laws, such as the Minerals Leasing Act. Congress’s reactions to federal courts’ resolutions of these questions, embodied in 1953 in the Submerged Lands Act and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, continue to provide the foundations for state and federal management of the nation’s continental shelf and its energy resources.
Nevertheless, the Outer Continental Shelf’s status as federal public lands remains ambiguous. This
Article takes an historical approach to assessing that issue, reviewing the traditional definition of federal “public lands” and the historical context of the public lands issues that arose for the Outer Continental Shelf. It concludes that the Outer Continental Shelf, from a natural resources perspective, qualifies as the newest of the federal public lands, but it also acknowledges that — unlike for many other public lands — federal statutes repeatedly and consistently exclude the states from gaining ownership of those submerged lands.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Yesterday, Case Western Reserve University School of Law hosted a symposium called The Law and Policy of Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing the Issues of the Natural Gas Boom. As Steve noted on Property Prof, Professor Thomas Merrill (Columbia) was slated to give the keynote. Case Western's Jonathan Adler was part of the event, and he posted an extensive commentary on Merrill's remarks over on the Volokh Conspiracy. Looks like it was a fascinating talk with lots of observations on how to deal with the potential environmental impacts of fracking, and a perhaps counterintuitive suggestion on the possible upside of the gas boom with respect to climate change. But here, I'll focus on some of Merrill's observations on why fracking developed in the U.S., because it may have a lot to do with property law and land use regulation. As Adler describes:
Why did fracking arise in the United States? Contrary to some analysts, Professor Merrill does not believe it is attributable to federally funded research and development. . . .
Professor Merrill also doubts industry structure has much to do with fracking’s rise either. . . .
A more likely factor is the way U.S. law treats subsurface rights. The U.S. is something of an outlier in that subsurface minerals are the property of the landowner, and not the government. This results in decentralized ownership and control over subsurface rights facilitates experimentation and innovation in figuring out how to exploit and manage subsurface resources.
Further decentralization, and experimentation, results from the federalist regulatory structure. Different states have different regulatory approaches than others, creating opportunities for further innovation and the opportunity for jurisdictions to learn from one another. The existence of a few jurisdictions that will allow a new technology to be tried provides a laboratory from which others may learn, whereas under a more centralized regulatory structure such innovation is unlikely to get off the ground.
The existence of a relatively open infrastructure network – a pipeline system that is subject to common-carrier rules – also plays a role in facilitating entry into the market. These factors have a common theme: decentralization. Taken together, Merrill suggests, they are the most likely source of fracking’s rise in the United States.
Looks like another fascinating event, with participation from a number of land use, environmental, and energy scholars on the subsequent panels. I look forward to the symposium isse in the Case Western Law Review.
November 17, 2012 in Clean Energy, Climate, Comparative Land Use, Conferences, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Lectures, Oil & Gas, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, Water | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Jonathan D. Rosenbloom (Drake), our sometime guest-blogger, has posted his latest piece, Defining Nature as a Common Pool Resource, which will be a chapter in Environmental Law and Contrasting Ideas of Nature: A Constructivist Approach (ed. Keith H. Hirokawa) (2013, Forthcoming). The abstract:
One of the many ways in which we attempt to understand our relationship with nature is to define it as a “common pool resource.” This definition incorporates several legal, behavioral, and ecological concepts that seek to capture the intricate and complex place where nature and the governance of nature collide. Once we apply the common pool resource definition to nature, we commit – for better or for worse – to accepting the pre-existing framework in which it operates. This chapter seeks to identify the commitments embodied in the common pool resource framework as it applies to nature. It is an attempt to establish a foundation for forthcoming research on how these commitments influence management of natural resources and whether the commitments are consistent with our idea of nature. The chapter begins with a short background on common pool resources and the understanding of theme in the legal literature. The chapter then turns to five conceptual commitments we make by labeling nature as a common pool resource. The goal of this chapter is to explore the intended and unintended consequences of using the common pool resource definition; and question whether it is a beneficial mechanism for understanding and sustainably managing nature.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Tanya Marsh has the details for this month's teleconference at Property Prof. As many of you know, the ABA Section on Real Property, Trust, & Estate Law has been hosting free teleconferences featuring law professors' discussions of recent cases and hot topics in the field. This month's "Professors' Corner" will focus on recent developments in title insurance and title services. Here is the info:
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
12:30 p.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. Central, 9:30 a..m. Pacific)
Call-in number: 866-646-6488
Tanya will moderate the discussion featuring Professors Joyce Palomar (Oklahoma), Barlow Burke (American), and Eileen Roberts (William Mitchell). Check it out if you are able. Some of us Land Users have had the opportunity to participate in past months' calls, and it's a great way to stay up to date.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
James S. Burling (Pacific Legal Foundation) has posted The Uses and Abuses of Property Rights in Saving the Environment, 1 Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Conference Journal 373 (2012). The abstract:
While freedom and property may be inseparable, the temptation to sacrifice one or the other to seemingly more critical societal goals is ever present. In the past century, the environmental-related limitations on property have progressed from zoning to advance the social welfare, to utilitarian conservation to preserve the human environment, and more lately to the preservation of the environment for its own sake. With each step, property rights have been impacted further. From the imposition of zoning, to regulatory restrictions on the use of property, and to the mechanism of conservation easements, the control of property by the owners of property has diminished. If freedom and property are truly interrelated, there may be troubling implications on the future of freedom.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Some of the most questionable conservation easements are those covering golf courses. A recent summary judgment ruling from the Tax Court highlights the concerns that arise. RP Golf LLC owns 277 acres in Platte County, Missouri where it has two private golf courses. It placed a conservation easement over the golf courses and claimed a $16,400,000 tax deduction (yep that’s $16.4 million to agree not to subdivide its golf courses).
To qualify for tax deductions, conservation easements must have a qualified “conservation purpose” as defined in § 170(h)(4)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code. RP Golf claims that its conservation easements meet two different purpose requirements: (1) open space and (2) natural habitat.
Deductions are allowed for conservation easements that protect open space where such preservation is pursuant to a clearly delineated Federal, State, or local governmental conservation policy. I.R.C. § 170(h)(4)(A)(iii)(II). Missouri does have a general policy to promote open space, but the policy enables counties and the state park board to acquire property rights to protect open space in counties where the population exceeds 200,000. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 67.870. As Platte County has fewer than 100,000 residents, the court concluded the golf course conservation easements were not acquired pursuant to a conservation policy.
Deductions are also permissible where conservation easements protect relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife or plants. Perhaps somewhat audaciously, RP Golf contends that its conservation easements protect “relatively natural habitat.” It is always a challenge to determine what is “natural” these days and the court found that there disputed material facts on this issue (thus making it inappropriate for summary judgment).
This little cases raises a lot of issues regarding what we protect for whom along with what we consider natural in our increasingly developed world.
- Jessie Owley
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