Monday, February 24, 2014

What if They Don't Build It and/or No One Comes?: Combating Zombie Subdivisions

Jim Holway (Sonoran Institute), along with Don Elliot and Anna Trentadue, has written Combating Zombie Subdivisions: How Three Communities Redressed Excess Development Entitlements, Land Lines Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 4-13.  Not only is the article available through the Land Lines website, but so is the larger report on which it is based.   That is called Arrested Developments:  Combating Zombie Subdivisions and Other Excess Entitlements.  Here's a summary of the magazine piece:

The Teton County Valley Advocates for Responsible Development (VARD) stepped in and petitioned the county to create a process to encourage the redesign of distressed subdivisions and facilitate replatting. VARD realized that a plat redesign could reduce intrusion into sensitive natural areas of the county, reduce governmental costs associated with scattered development, and potentially reduce the number of vacant lots by working with landowners and developers to expedite changes to recorded plats.

On November 22, 2010, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously adopted a replatting ordinance that would allow the inexpensive and quick replatting of subdivisions, PUDs, and recorded development agreements. The ordinance created a solution-oriented process that allows Teton County to work with developers, landowners, lenders, and other stakeholders to untangle complicated projects with multiple ownership interests and oftentimes millions of dollars in infrastructure.

The ordinance first classifies the extent of any changes proposed by a replat into four categories: 1) major increase in scale and impact, 2) minor increase in scale and impact, 3) major decrease in scale and impact, 4) minor decrease in scale and impact. Any increases in impact may require additional public hearings and studies, whereas these requirements and agency review are waived (where possible) for decreases in impact. In addition, the ordinance waives the unnecessary duplication of studies and analyses that may have been required as part of the initial plat application and approval. Teton County also waived its fees for processing replat applications.

The first success story was the replatting of Canyon Creek Ranch Planned Unit Development, finalized in June 2013. More than 23 miles from city services, Canyon Creek Ranch was originally approved in 2009 as a 350-lot ranch-style resort on roughly 2,700 acres including approximately 25 commercial lots, a horse arena, and a lodge. After extensive negotiations between the Canyon Creek development team and the Teton County Planning Commission staff, the developer proposed a replat that dramatically scaled back the footprint and impact of this project to include only 21 lots over the 2,700 acre property. For the developer, this new design reduces the price tag for infrastructure by 97 percent, from $24 million to roughly $800,000, enabling the property to remain in the conservation reserve program and creating a source of revenue on it while reducing the property tax liability. The reduced scale and impact of this new design will help preserve this critical habitat and maintain the rural landscape, which is a public benefit to the general community.

Conclusion

While recovery from the most recent boom and bust cycle is nearly complete in some areas of the country, other communities will be impacted by vacant lots and distressed subdivisions well into the future. Future real estate booms will also inevitably result in new busts, and vulnerable communities can build a solid foundation of policies, laws, and programs now to minimize new problems stemming from the excess entitlement of land. Communities and others involved in real estate development would be well-served by ensuring they have mechanisms in place to adapt and adjust to evolving market conditions. For jurisdictions already struggling with distressed subdivisions, a willingness to reconsider past approvals and projects and to acknowledge problems is an essential ingredient to success. Communities that are able to serve as effective facilitators as well as regulators, as demonstrated in the case studies presented here, will be best prepared to prevent and then respond and treat distressed subdivisions and any problems that may arise from excess development entitlements.

Jim K.

 

February 24, 2014 in Community Design, Density, Mortgage Crisis, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Conservation Development without Conservation Biologists?

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 Regulations

SARAH E. REED, JODI A. HILTY, & DAVID M. THEOBALD

Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013

DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12136

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

 

September 20, 2013 in Community Design, Conservation Easements, Density, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Brinig & Garnett on Accessory Dwelling Unit Reforms and Local Parochialism

Margaret F. Brinig (Notre Dame) and Nicole Stelle Garnett (Notre Dame) have posted A Room of One's Own? Accessory Dwelling Unit Reforms and Local Parochialism, forthcoming in The Urban Lawyer (2013).  The abstract:

Over the past decade, a number of state and local governments have amended land use regulations to permit the accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”) on single-family lots. Measured by raw numbers of reforms, the campaign to secure legal reforms permitting ADUs appears to be a tremendous success. The question remains, however, whether these reforms overcome the well-documented land-use parochialism that has, for decades, represented a primary obstacle to increasing the supply of affordable housing. In order to understand more about their actual effects, this Article examines ADU reforms in a context which ought to predict a minimal level of local parochialism. In 2002, California enacted state-wide legislation mandating that local governments either amend their zoning laws to permit ADUs in single-family zones or accept the imposition of a state-dictated regulatory regime. We carefully examined the zoning law of all California cities with populations over 50,000 people (150 total cities) to determine how local governments actually implemented ADU reforms “on the ground” after the state legislation was enacted. Our analysis suggests that the seeming success story masks hidden local regulatory barriers. Local governments have responded to local political pressures by delaying the enactment of ADU legislation (and, in a few cases, simply refusing to do so despite the state mandate), imposing burdensome procedural requirements that are contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the state-law requirement that ADUs be permitted “as of right,” requiring multiple off-street parking spaces, and imposing substantive and procedural design requirements. Taken together, these details likely dramatically suppress the value of ADUs as a means of increasing affordable housing.

This looks really interesting.  Here in Houston we have a significant number of ADUs--so-called "granny flats" because--stop me if you've heard this before--Houston has no zoning to make it illegal, as this article shows it has been in single-family residentail neighborhoods around the country.  These ADUs provide an important supply of affordable "inside-the-Loop" (i.e. central city area) housing. 

Matt Festa

June 10, 2013 in Affordable Housing, California, History, Housing, Houston, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dispute over Yard Sign Destroys Fairfax HOA

A Virginia Homeowner's Assocation appears to have gone bankrupt due to litigation over its attempts to enforce its rules against a four-inch violation by a couple's Obama yard sign during the 2008 election.  After four years, skyrocketing assessments, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the bankrupt HOA is considering selling off the central common area.  From the Washington Post, Feud over sign could force Fairfax's Olde Belhaven to sell square.

Such HOA disputes are as suburban as cul-de-sacs and two-car garages, but few metastasize into legal battles that spend years in the courts, break legal ground and bankrupt the HOA.

Most damaging of all, though, was a move probably unprecedented in area neighborhood feuds: The common area that is the literal and metaphoric heart of Olde Belhaven was put up for sale last year to settle its debts. It appeared that “the square,” as some called the neighborhood, would no longer have a square.

“It destroyed our community,” Maria Farran said.

The litigation ranged from a challenge to the HOA's power to fine the owners, and a retaliation claim.  It made some new law:

In 2010, a county judge sided with the Farrans on the fining issue. The case set a Virginia precedent that HOAs cannot claim powers, such as fining, that are not specifically laid out in their covenants. 

 You can read the whole article for a great description of the legal issues and the story.  As HOAs trend toward more extensive sets of rules, and as not everyone buys in, you can probably finds examples of similar (if not quite so expensive) conflicts in communities around the country.  And one thing that's common to both public and private regulation: when individual property rights clash with collective restrictions regarding people's homes, passions run high--even (especially?) when the stakes are as low as four inches on a political yard sign.

Thanks to Helen Jenkins for the pointer.

Matt Festa

February 12, 2013 in Common Interest Communities, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Homeowners Associations, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

After the Zombie Apocalypse

I was mildly surprised, upon checking my mailbox a few Mondays ago, to find a zombie crawling out of it. My excitement at finally getting to use my zombie apocalypse skills quickly faded when I realized that it was just an article by Allen Best in High Country News about Teton County, Idaho and its “zombie subdivisions.”


We’ve written a lot about Teton County and similar rural or exurban areas (my own take is here), so the basic story is familiar. Beginning in about 1990, amenity-driven population growth substantially increased the value of land in many rural areas, leading to a boom in residential development that “bust” in 2007 and 2008. That bust left behind thousands of acres of partially developed subdivisions, empty houses, and roads to nowhere across rural and exurban America – Maricopa, AZ; Rio Vista, CA; Myrtle Beach, NC, and of course, Teton County, ID (and here, and here, and... well, just wander around on Google Maps yourself). To the extent the zombie subdivisions have a positive aspect, however, it is in how they make obvious the detrimental effects of particular land-use choices, and perhaps motivate new choices. Maybe we’ll emerge wiser, more careful, and better able to imagine the consequences of our choices.


So we know that part of the story. Short of an ugly photo of a zombie, what does High Country News have to add? Its contribution to the conversation is small but very significant, and it is perfectly distilled in a single quote by long-time Idaho farmer: “I see bicycle riders here, young people riding in the middle of the day!”


Rural geographers (and others) speak of a concept they characterize as “re-territorialization”—the reassignment of resource access rights, and local or regional cultural hegemony, to a new population or interest group. In the public lands West, we see it in changing notions of the purpose of federally-managed lands, e.g., from resource extraction to amenity consumption. But it is no less important in the changing power structures and community visions that allocate rights in private lands.

The Idaho farmer’s bewilderment that people might be able to ride bicycles during the middle of the day, rather than be driving a tractor, represents a persistent understanding about place and what that place should look like. It is also an understanding increasingly overwhelmed, and perhaps disrespected, by emerging majorities. Our choices to formalize cultural transitions into law necessarily oppress reasonable perspectives about land, the appropriate allocation of particular interests in land, and the “sense” of a community. But in many cases these perspectives are fundamental aspects of a place’s cultural history. They are also fundamental aspects of what the rest of us understand as, and love about, rurality.


So while this insight isn’t particularly earth-shattering, it does seem that the zombie apocalypse forces us to focus more carefully on a specific question: To what extent should our new choices respect the cultural understandings that gave rise to the old choices we want to undo? Put another way, can we both love and protect the old rural while simultaneously eradicating the perspectives that created it?

Jerry Long

April 4, 2012 in Community Design, Exurbs, Planning, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mandelker on the Design Problem in Planned Communities

Here's another new SSRN paper from Daniel R. Mandelker (Washington U): The Design Problem in Planned Communities.  The abstract:

Planned communities are a dominant form of development, both in suburban areas and as infill in urban settings. Planned communities can be clusters of homes with common open space or master-planned communities covering thousands of acres, but in any form they provide opportunities for excellent design. This is the first chapter in a book that reviews the concepts and ideas that go into the design of planned communities, and explores how local governments can encourage and provide for their good design through land-use regulation.

The book is Designing Planned Communities, which Chad posted about last year.  It's a concise, highly-readable introduction to the issues with lots of really helpful maps, diagrams, and images. 

Matt Festa

March 7, 2012 in Books, Community Design, Development, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ostrow on Land Law Federalism

Ashira Ostrow (Hofstra) has posted Land Law Federalism, 61 Emory L.J. ___ (forthcoming 2012). A must-read, this foundational work explores the theoretical framework for appropriate federal intervention in the state/local-dominated area of land use regulation. Here's the abstract:

In modern society, capital, information and resources pass seamlessly across increasingly porous jurisdictional boundaries; land does not. Perhaps because of its immobility, the dominant descriptive and normative account of land use law is premised upon local control. Yet, land exhibits a unique duality. Each parcel is at once absolutely fixed in location but inextricably linked to a complex array of interconnected systems, natural and man-made. Ecosystems spanning vast geographic areas sustain human life; interstate highways, railways and airports physically connect remote areas; networks of buildings, homes, offices and factories, create communities and provide the physical context in which most human interaction takes place.

Given the traditional commitment to localism, scholars and policymakers often reflexively dismiss the potential for an increased federal role in land use law. Yet, modern land use law already involves a significant federal dimension resulting, in part, from the enactment of federal statutes that have varying degrees of preemptive effect on local authority. Moreover, this Article maintains that federal intervention in land use law is warranted where the cumulative impact of local land use decisions interferes with national regulatory objectives (such as developing nationwide energy or telecommunications infrastructure).

Finally, this Article advances an interjurisdictional framework for federal land law that harnesses (a) the capacity of the federal government, with its distance from local politics and economic pressures, to coordinate land use on a national scale and (b) the capacity of local officials, who have detailed knowledge of the land and are politically accountable to the local community, to implement land use policies.

Jim K.

 

October 11, 2011 in Climate, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Green Building, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, NIMBY, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Sustainability, Transportation, Wetlands, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Martinez on Judicial Takings for Private Necessity

John Martinez (Utah) has posted No More Free Easements: Judicial Takings for Private Necessity.  The abstract:

This article bridges the fields of constitutional judicial takings and the common law of easements that arise because of private necessity. The article suggests that the law of takings requires payment when a court declares that an easement should be established because of private necessity.

Matt Festa

March 28, 2011 in Houston, Property, Scholarship, Servitudes, Subdivision Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Long on Sustainability v. Sprawl in the Post-Public-Lands West

Jerry Long (Idaho) explores the causes of and reasons for a community's commitment to sustainable land-use planning in his recently posted Private Lands, Conflict, and Institutional Evolution in the Post-Public-Lands West, 28 Pace Env. L. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2011).  Here's the abstract:

As rural communities face amenity-driven population growth and globalizing culture and economic systems, the process by which those communities imagine and implement desired futures grows increasingly complex. Globalization- and technology-facilitated and amenity-driven population growth increases the value of place-bound benefit streams – including land – promoting increased levels of physical development and a changed built environment. At the same time, globalizing culture and evolving local demographics might alter local land-use ideologies, yielding a preference for resource protection and more sustainable local land-use regimes. This article engages in a theoretical and empirical exploration that seeks to answer a single question: Why, in the face of competing land-use ideologies, might a community choose to adopt a more resource-protective, or resource-sustaining, land-use regime? Ultimately, it is only upon witnessing the actual effects of previous choices on the ground – including most significant, real harm to valued social or natural amenities – that a community is able to imagine and implement a land-use regime that can protect the amenities that community values.

Jim K.

March 2, 2011 in Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Conservation Easements, Density, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Land Trust, Las Vegas, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Urbanism, Water, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Three Dimensional Master Plan?

Helsinki Underground 
Hello all and thanks for the welcome, Matt.

For years cities, such as Montreal (the RESO), have been developing space underground.  In what CNN reports as a "first," Helsinki has developed an Underground Master Plan.  The plan designates a diverse group of uses for the underground area, ranging from industrial to recreation uses, such as an existing swimming pool (which, fortunately, doubles as a bunker when necessary).  According to the report, Helsinki sits on bedrock strong enough to support the existing streetscape even when space is carved out for the lower levels.  The CNN report claims a host of environmental benefits from the action, many of which are disputed in the comments.

As cities such as Helsinki start to think about the relationship between the street level and the subsurface (as inhabitable space), the next step may be to craft a three dimensional master plan.  And who knows, this may be Seattle's chance to recommission its underground, although "[w]hen your dreams tire, they go underground and out of kindness that's where they stay." (Margaret Fuller).

Jon Rosenbloom

March 1, 2011 in Architecture, California, Common Interest Communities, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Panel on "Premature Subdivisions" for New Partners Conference

As I previously posted, the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference is happening in Charlotte, NC February 3-5.  Here's an announcement from the Lincoln Institute about their panel at the conference.

Call them the new ghost towns - "premature" subdivisions that have been laid out in anticipation of a continuing housing boom and unfettered growth at the periphery. In many areas there is a large surplus of already platted lots, improperly located to foster smart growth. Teton County, Idaho has granted development entitlements in the rural countryside sufficient to quadruple their population. Most of these lots have non-existent or poor services.

Even in areas that expect large increases in population, these premature subdivisions are in the wrong location to foster smart growth patterns. In Arizona's Sun Corridor, approximately one million undeveloped lots, many not even platted yet, have been entitled and would lead to further sprawl.

The current economic downturn provides an opportunity to address past impacts, better anticipate and prepare for future growth and improve property values, says senior fellow Armando Carbonell, who will be moderating a panel, Reshaping Development Patterns, at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Charlotte Feb. 3.

Carbonell sees an opportunity to redesign communities to transfer development pressure from previously approved development areas to foster more sustainable development. For example, in the suburbs of the Northeast, there are projects that remake the suburban highway, turning "edge city" districts into compact mixed-use centers, and using green infrastructure strategies for shaping new communities at the metropolitan fringe."There's a sponge-like capacity to accommodate population growth without any further peripheral development," says Carbonell.

The panelists exploring these issues will be Arthur "Chris" Nelson, Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah, on demographic and population trends; Jim Holway, head of Western Land and Communities, the Lincoln Institute-Sonoran Institute joint venture; and Thomas Wright, executive director of the Regional Plan Association of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey.

New Partners for Smart Growth this year marks its 10th anniversary as a collaboration of the Loal Government Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Premature subdivisions" aren't just a western or northeastern problem - we've seen a fair number of them here in Georgia as well.  If any of our readers attend this session, or any other session at the New Partners conference, please send us a report!

Jamie Baker Roskie

January 26, 2011 in Conferences, Development, Exurbs, Lectures, New York, Planning, Property, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)