June 15, 2013
Stahl on Neighborhood Empowerment
Land Use Prof's own Ken Stahl (Chapman) has posted the final version of Neighborhood Empowerment and the Future of the City, 161 U. Pa. L. Rev. 939 (2013). (Who says Zoning can't go Ivy?!?) Matt notified us when the piece first was uploaded. Here's the abstract for the finished piece:
In any given metropolitan region,
scores of municipalities are locked in a zero-sum struggle for mobile sources
of jobs and tax revenue. This competition appears to benefit small, homogeneous
suburbs that can directly enact the uniform will of the electorate over large,
diverse cities that are often ensnarled in conflict between competing interest
groups. Cities can level the playing field with suburbs, however, by devolving
municipal power to smaller, more homogeneous subgroups, such as neighborhoods.
Indeed, many commentators have identified one such effort at neighborhood
empowerment, the “business improvement district” (BID), as a key factor in the
recent revitalization of many cities. The BID and the related “special
assessment district” devolve the financing of infrastructure and services to
landowners within a territorially designated area. Courts have widely upheld
BIDs and special assessment districts against constitutional challenges.
Cities remain hamstrung in competing with suburbs, however, because courts prohibit cities from delegating what is perhaps the most coveted power of all to neighborhood groups: zoning. Since an unusual series of Supreme Court cases in the early twentieth century, it has been largely settled that cities may not constitutionally delegate the zoning power to sub-municipal groups, at least where the power is delegated specifically to landowners within a certain distance from a proposed land use change (a scheme I designate a “neighborhood zoning district”).
This Article argues that the judicial prohibition on neighborhood zoning districts is inconsistent with the judiciary’s permissive attitude toward BIDs and special assessment districts. As I demonstrate, the neighborhood zoning district is conceptually identical to the special assessment district/BID. Both devices are designed to enable large, diverse cities to capture some of the governance advantages of small, homogeneous suburbs by providing landowners with the direct ability to manage local externalities. This Article attempts to make sense of the disparate treatment accorded these devices by examining several grounds upon which they could potentially be, and have been, distinguished. I find, however, that the only meaningful distinction between these mechanisms is that special assessment districts/BIDs actually raise far more troubling public policy concerns than neighborhood zoning districts, thus calling into question why the judiciary has been so much more deferential toward the former than the latter. I conclude that courts should broadly defer to municipal delegations of power to sub-local groups, so that cities can work out their own strategies for surviving in an era of intense interlocal competition.
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.
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
April 17, 2013
Fennell on Crowdsourcing Land Use
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.
February 13, 2013
Anderson, MacDonald, Bluthenthal, & Ashwood on an Empirical Study of Reducing Crime with Zoning
James M. Anderson (RAND Corp.), John MacDonald (Penn--Criminology), Ricky Bluthenthal (Southern Cal--Medicine), and J. Scott Ashwood (RAND Corp.) have posted Reducing Crime by Shaping the Built Environment with Zoning: An Empirical Study of Los Angeles, 161 University of Pennsylvania Law Review 699 (2013). The abstract:
The idea of using law to change the built environment in ways that reduce opportunities to commit crimes has a long history. Unfortunately, this idea has received relatively little attention in the legal academy and only limited rigorous empirical scrutiny. In this Article, we review the considerable literature on the relationship between zoning, the built environment, and crime. We then report the results of two empirical studies on these relationships. First, we conducted a study of the effect of zoning on crime using 205 blocks selected in eight different relatively high crime neighborhoods in Los Angeles that have similar demographic character- istics but different forms of zoned land use. We find that mixed commercial- and residential-zoned areas are associated with lower crime than are commercial-only zoned areas. Second, we matched neighborhoods undergoing zoning changes between 2006 and 2010 with neighborhoods that underwent no zoning changes during this period but had similar preexisting crime trajectories between 1994 and 2005. The primary zoning change in these neighborhoods was to convert parcels to residential uses. We find that neighborhoods in which there was a zoning change experienced a significant decline in crime. Our results suggest that mixing residential-only zoning into commercial blocks may be a promising means of reducing crime.
Looks like a fascinating interdisciplinary collaboration.
February 08, 2013
Zasloff: Has New Urbanism Killed Land Use Law?
Jonathan Zasloff (UCLA) has a piece on Legal Planet: The Environmental Law and Policy Blog (Berkeley/UCLA) called Has New Urbanism Killed Land Use Law?
My Land Use casebook, like most of them, mentions New Urbanist zoning and planning techniques, but does not dwell on them. In order to teach New Urbanist concepts such as Form-Based Codes, SmartCode, and the Transect, I had to develop my own materials, as well as shamelessly stealing a couple of Powerpoint presentations from a friend who works at Smart Growth America.
What’s the cause of this gap? Is it because land use professors have a thing about Euclidean zoning?
I doubt it. A quick check in the Westlaw “ALLCASES” database yields only one result for the phrase “Form-Based Code” and none of the results for “transect” has anything to do with the New Urbanist land use concept. That means that it is very difficult actually to find cases that reflect aspects of New Urbanism.
One can understand that in several ways, I suppose. You could infer that New Urbanism just leaves less room for legal disputes than traditional Euclidean zoning. For example, there is no need to worry about non-conforming uses, use variances, or conditional use permits with Form-Based Codes because those codes do not regulate uses to begin with. . . .
Now let me quibble with this a little bit: in Houston--the Unzoned City--we supposedly don't regulate uses either. But it seems we do nothing here but apply for, and fight over, variances, nonconforming uses, and special exceptions, for everything from lot sizes and setbacks to sign code and HP rules. It seems to me that people are going to want incremental exceptions for building form or site requirements at least as commonly, if not more so, than for use designations.
But overall it's a good point. Zasloff concludes that even if we do move to form based codes, we'll still probably need to keep a little zoning around:
[W]hile New Urbanism coding can serve as a replacement for a lot of Euclideanism, it cannot eliminate it entirely — not because we are addicted to Euclidean forms, and not because we are dumb, but because lots of the world is uncertain, and cities will have to grapple with that.
I also find that New Urbanism is hard to teach in a doctrinal land use law class. Zasloff concludes:
If this is right, then land use casebooks will still emphasize Euclidean zoning, because that’s where the disputes are and necessarily will be.
A problem set with form-based codes would be nice, though. Just sayin’.
I know some recent land use casebooks have moved to a problem-based approach, and some of our colleagues have created their own materials for teaching New Urbanism. Students find this stuff interesting, so we should all work towards developing these resources for teaching.
February 01, 2013
Smith on the Law of Yards
I am on the lookout for interesting scholarship that might make appropriate extra-credit reading for my Land Use Planning students. Just in time for the aesthetic regulation and First Amendment sections of the course, I found that Jim Smith (Georgia) has recently posted The Law of Yards, 33 Ecology. Q 203 (2006). Here's the abstract:
Property law regimes have a significant impact on the ability of individuals to engage in freedom of expression. Some property rules advance freedom of expression, and other rules retard freedom of expression. This Article examines the inhibiting effects on expression of public land use regulations. The focus is on two types of aesthetic regulations: (1) landscape regulations, including weed ordinances, that regulate yards; and (2) architectural regulations that regulate the exterior appearance of houses. Such regulations sometimes go too far in curtailing a homeowner's freedom of expression. Property owners' expressive conduct should be recognized as “symbolic speech” under the First Amendment. The Supreme Court developed the symbolic speech doctrine in contexts other than land use, but the rationale for the doctrine supports its extension to aesthetically based land use regulations. The clearest case of protected speech is a homeowner's conduct that conveys a political message, such as a yard display that protests a decision made by a local government. Other conduct, however, that is nonpolitical in nature can convey a particularized message, and thus can merit First Amendment protection. Examples are a homeowner's decision to plant natural landscaping, motivated by ecological concerns, or to install a nativity scene at Christmas. A regulation that restricts an owner's protected speech is unconstitutional unless the government proves both that the regulation is narrowly tailored and that it protects a substantial public interest. If the public interest is solely based on the protection of aesthetic values, ordinarily it is not substantial enough to justify the restriction on speech. The government must come up with a plausible justification other than aesthetics to prevail. When the justification consists of an interest in addition to aesthetics, the balancing rules developed by the Supreme Court for symbolic speech should apply. If the regulation restricts expressive conduct, it may survive scrutiny only if it protects the community from conduct that causes significant economic or other non-aesthetic harm, while minimizing infringement on expression.
January 24, 2013
Food Truck Wars: Dispatches from the Front(s)
For more than two years, a number of us (Ken, Jamie, Matt, and Chad) have blogged about food trucks (usually just around lunchtime). Here are some articles updating the situation in Chicago and other cities.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune published a story on dissatisfaction among the portable vendors with the food truck ordinance Chicago enacted last year.
January 22, 2013
Garnett on Redeeming Transect Zoning
NDLS colleague and super-mom Nicole Stelle Garnett (Notre Dame) has recently posted Redeeming Transect Zoning?, 78 Brook. L. Rev. ____ (forthcoming). In it, she continues the skeptical evaluation of New Urbanists as successors to Jane Jacobs' response to bad planning that she set out in her book Ordering the City (2010). This brief article takes a look at actual form-based zoning code reforms gaining currency in U.S. localities. Here's the abstract:
Thanks to the growing influence of the new urbanists, transect zoning” is becoming the zoning reform du jour. This alternative to zoning traces its origins to architect Andrés Duany’s 2003 SmartCode, which proceeds upon the assumption that urban development naturally proceeds from more-dense areas to less-dense ones. Duany calls this progression the “transect” and urges cities to replace traditional use zoning with regulations on building form appropriate to the various “transect zones” along the progression. Over the last decade, increasing numbers of jurisdictions (large and small) have adopted “transect zoning” laws and the “form-based” codes that accompany and supplement them. Theoretically, transect zoning embraces a relatively simple conception of how to regulate urban development: buildings that are appropriate for the city center should go in the city center (regardless of their use), and suburban buildings should look suburban (again, regardless of their use). In its implementation, however, transect zoning is anything but simple. As a practical matter, the new urbanists favor meticulous and exhaustive aesthetic regulations, found in the form-based codes that represent the ubiquitous gap-fillers in transect-zoning regimes. This Essay begins by briefly describing the rapidly evolving phenomenon of transect zoning and its companion, form-based coding. It then discusses four concerns raised by the current uses of both devices as public land-use-regulatory devices. The Essay concludes by suggesting that form-based codes may be most appropriate in situations approximating the private-development context rather than as a public regulatory.
January 16, 2013
MacLeod on Values in Land Use Regulation
I just received in the mail yesterday a copy of the first issue of Vol. 101 of the Kentucky Law Journal. It features a great new article by former LUP guest blogger Adam MacLeod (Faulkner). Adam is a Visiting Fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Insitutions at Princeton for the current academic year. Adam's article is entited "Identifying Values in Land Use Regulation". Here's a selection from the abstract:
The rules governing the lawfulness of land use decisions are a mess. State enabling acts elide distinguishable and plural objectives of the police powers. Courts—especially state courts—generally fail to distinguish between different types of challenges and different types of land use regulatory actions. As a result, courts typically resort to the deferential position that the Supreme Court adopted in Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., even where that standard of review is wholly inappropriate.
Meanwhile, the evidence is mounting that local governments often exercise their land use regulatory authority in arbitrary, irrational, and discriminatory ways. Without meaningful judicial oversight, parties are powerless to challenge these abuses. Meaningful judicial oversight would require some comprehensive account of the police powers, and particularly which regulatory objectives are permissible in which circumstances. No comprehensive account has emerged. Courts are understandably unwilling to scrutinize the regulatory objectives of local governments. And scholars remain trapped in zero-sum warfare between individual property rights and the collective interests served by political action.
This article offers a proposal to clarify the picture. The proposal is drawn from recent insights in perfectionist jurisprudence, and seeks to ground land use governance in rational objectives, while avoiding the false individualist-collectivist dichotomy. The proposal rests upon the perfectionist claim that there exist some basic human goods in which people participate communally, for the benefit of all, and that rights can and should be derived from these goods. States would do well to identify the connections between the police powers and these goods, and to require local governments to act rationally by preserving the conditions in which these common goods are realized by members of the community.
I am very excited about Adam's neo-Aristotelian project here. I am developing a piece on Catholic Social Teaching's insights about the parameters of a just economic order. Trying to move beyond the narrow redistribution controveries, I am interested in CST's ramifications for those aspects of immigration, education finance and land use law that create such strongly exclusive communities in supposedly free market societies.
November 16, 2012
The Quiet Revolution Symposium Issue--John Marshall Law Review
Last year we blogged about the then-upcoming Kratovil Conference on the 40th Anniversary of The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control, the seminal 1971 book by Fred Bosselman and David Callies. The conference was hosted by the Center for Real Estate Law and Practice at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, and the Symposium Issue has just come out in the John Marshall Law Review. The Conference blurb:
In 1971, the President's Council on Environmental Quality published The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control. The book described in detail the innovative land use laws in nine states which returned the control of land use to a state or regional level, largely at the expense of local zoning. This constituted the "quiet revolution." The Kratovil Quiet Revolution Conference [brought] together national scholars and experts in land use to analyze the lasting impact of The Quiet Revolution in several jurisdictions around the country and examine the future of land use policy.
We've posted some of the individual articles as they came out on SSRN, but just last week I received the hard copy symposium issue in the mail. As you can see from the program, this excellent issue includes a foreword by Celeste Hammond, center director, and pieces by leading land use experts Bosselman, Callies, Patricia Salkin, Daniel Mandelker, Edward J. Sullivan, Nancy Stroud, and John S. Banta.
The whole issue is worth getting a hold of if you haven't already. But wait, there's more! Prof. Hammond notes in her cover letter that the entire conference is now available to watch on video! Here's a link to the conference page with videos on the Center's website. Check it out if you couldn't be there and are looking for a great excuse for end-of-semester procrastination!
November 02, 2012
Hirokawa & Rosenbloom on Land Use Planning in a Climate Change Context
Keith H. Hirokawa (Albany) and Jonathan D. Rosenbloom (Drake) have posted Land Use Planning in a Climate Change Context, forthcoming in RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON CLIMATE ADAPTATION LAW, Jonathan Verschuuren, ed., 2013. The abstract:
Although local governance is an experiment in adaptation (and often lauded for being so), climate change is distinct from traditional challenges to local governance. Nonetheless, many local governments are directing agencies to utilize existing and traditional local government tools to adapt to climate change. Local governments, for example, are adopting regulatory rules that require consideration of potential climate impacts in public-sector decisions with the goal of improving local adaptive capacity. Throughout these efforts, it is becoming clear that one of the most effective adaptation tools used by local governments is the power to plan communities. Through land use planning, local governments can increase resiliency to major climate shifts and ensure that our communities are equipped with built-in mechanisms to face and mitigate such changes. This essay identifies some of the most innovative planning tools available to local governments that illustrate the potential to plan for community resiliency. The essay begins by identifying some of the severe impacts local governments will experience from climate change. This part recognizes that not all local governments will experience climate change impacts the same, and that climate change adaptation is contextual. Part II provides an overview and inventory of traditional local governance tools, paying particular attention to zoning and nuisance laws. Part III looks more closely at specific structural tools that form the basic foundation for a wide variety of land use planning adaptation approaches and goals. The final part expands on the structural tools and explores specific mechanisms that can help local governments achieve adaptation goals and avoid catastrophic unpreparedness through proper land use planning in the climate change arena.
This piece, by two productive scholars who are also friends of this blog (Jonathan served as a guest blogger as well), should serve as a terrific introduction to the intersection of land use and climate change. The volume looks like good reading for students, scholars, and practitioners.
October 30, 2012
Burling on the Uses and Abuses of Property Rights in Saving the Environment
James S. Burling (Pacific Legal Foundation) has posted The Uses and Abuses of Property Rights in Saving the Environment, 1 Brigham-Kanner Property Rights Conference Journal 373 (2012). The abstract:
While freedom and property may be inseparable, the temptation to sacrifice one or the other to seemingly more critical societal goals is ever present. In the past century, the environmental-related limitations on property have progressed from zoning to advance the social welfare, to utilitarian conservation to preserve the human environment, and more lately to the preservation of the environment for its own sake. With each step, property rights have been impacted further. From the imposition of zoning, to regulatory restrictions on the use of property, and to the mechanism of conservation easements, the control of property by the owners of property has diminished. If freedom and property are truly interrelated, there may be troubling implications on the future of freedom.
September 21, 2012
Martinez on Cognitive Reconstruction of Local Government Authority
John Martinez (Utah) has posted From Pyramids to Stories: Cognitive Reconstruction of Local Government Authority. The abstract:
This article describes a cognitive science approach to law, uses it to critically evaluate conventional "pyramid" legal analysis of local government authority, and suggests stories as alternative models for defining such authority. The article suggests that stories better reveal what is at stake in regard to local government authority and thus helps us to arrive at better solutions. The article illustrates the storytelling analytical approach in three situations: a local government's condemnation of private property for resale to a private developer, the delegation of land use control authority to neighborhood groups, and local government attempts to zone out nontraditional families.
The paper offers an alternative approach to classic local government questions about land use. Interesting ideas to ponder while some of us are here at the Local Government Law Workshop in Milwaukee.
September 18, 2012
Hirokawa on Urban Forests as Green Infrastructure
Keith Hirokawa (Albany) has posted his latest interesting piece, Urban Forests as Green Infrastructure, a chapter from his book with Patricia Salkin GREENING LOCAL GOVERNMENT: LEGAL STRATEGIES FOR PROMOTING SUSTAINABILITY, EFFICIENCY, AND FISCAL SAVINGS, p. 257, Keith H. Hirokawa and Patricia Salkin, eds., American Bar Association, 2012. The abstract:
Urban forests capture air and water pollutants as they provide shade, habitat, and social value. The health and character of urban forests are determined by the priorities that communities place on them, the local regulations that direct land use choices, and the extent to which local governments address resource shortages through zoning, resource planning, and resource regulation. Local governments can plan and regulate urban forests to benefit (economically, socially, and environmentally) from the services that trees can provide to communities. This essay explores the role of urban forests in the local provision of local green infrastructure and the ways that local governments capture of the benefits of urban forests by planning and implementing tree protections.
September 06, 2012
Salkin on Small Scale Renewable Energy and Local Land Use Regulation
Patricia Salkin (Touro Law Center) has posted Key to Unlocking the Power of Small Scale Renewable Energy: Local Land Use Regulation, Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law No. 27 (2012). The abstract:
This article provides an overview of some of the strategies that have been used to increase the use of small-scale renewables, focusing on non-commercial renewable energy systems installed at the home or business level. The article begins in Part II with a discussion of various renewable energy incentives offered by the federal and state governments to promote the use of these alternative sources of electricity, including financial and permitting incentives. Part III continues with a detailed examination of how the land use regulatory system can be used to promote small-scale renewable energy by employing traditional zoning techniques, asserting that without an appropriate local land use regime, the incentives reviewed in Part II cannot be effectively utilized. Part IV concludes with a warning to local governments that if they fail to accommodate the emerging federal and state policies supporting the siting of renewable energy sources, they may face preemptive statutory measures in the area of land use regulation. This creates perhaps the greatest incentive for local governments to plan and regulate responsibly for promoting the appropriate use of small-scale renewable energy.
August 30, 2012
Singer on the Rule of Reason in Property Law
Joseph Singer (Harvard) has posted The Rule of Reason in Property Law (UC Davis Law Review, 2013). The abstract:
rights cannot work if they are not clear, and scholars generally assume
that the best way to attain this goal is to define property rights by
relatively rigid rules. However, recent evidence suggests that the
intuitive view may be mistaken. The subprime crisis shows that clear
rules do not produce clear titles if owners do not follow those rules.
And during the twentieth century property law moved dramatically away
from rigid rules toward flexible standards. Standards turn out to be
crucial to property law, as well as increasingly important in property
Empirical evidence and historical experience alike demonstrate that rules cannot be applied without being supplemented by standards to determine the scope of those rules. Conversely, standards achieve predictability through core exemplars, precedent, and presumptions. Thus rules and standards are less distinct from each other than one might imagine. Standards perform crucial functions for property law. They perform systemic functions to shape the infrastructure and the outer contours of the property system by (1) setting minimum standards compatible with the norms of a free and democratic society, (2) protecting the justified expectations of consumers, and (3) responding to externalities and systemic effects of the exercise of property rights. Standards also determine the scope of property rights by (4) distinguishing cases; (5) resolving conflicting norms; (6) excusing mistakes; (7) escaping the "dead hand" of the past; and (8) deterring the "bad man" from abusing property rights.
A few pages of the article discuss land use regulation and the shift from relatively rigid early zoning to a world in which "[n]egotiated zoning is now the norm." The core of the argument is that:
On the surface, negotiated zoning is less predictable than Euclidean zoning. One either was or was not entitled to build a certain type of structure under the old rules. But of course the predictability of traditional zoning rules was always a bit of an illusion. One could always seek a rezoning of the property by the city council, for example, or sue to obtain a variance. Since zoning boards are political creatures, they tend to grant variances if no one objects.
. . .
In some ways the modern system is more predictable. All one has to do is to obtain agreement among relevant actors within a regulatory framework. Determining whether one can or cannot successfully complete a planned development requires a prediction about whether one can convince relevant audiences that it is a good idea. Experienced developers are likely to be more accurate in guessing whether this is the case than in predicting the outcome of a lawsuit determining whether a rezoning is or is not "inconsistent with the general plan."
August 27, 2012
New York Times on Home Businesses
The NY Times has a recent article on home businesses in New York City, some of which operate in violation of zoning rules. The businesses discussed include one-room hotels, children's used-clothing shops, personal training, and a vegan cookie business. Operating a business from home is of course, partly motivated by high commercial rents. The article notes that the number of these businesses in New York is unclear:
Because so many home businesses operate under the radar, it is hard to say just how many there are. Complaints to the city’s 311 telephone system about illegal commercial use in a residential area have been decreasing. In 2011, the tally was roughly 2,150, down from about 2,450 in 2008. Even so, the data may not accurately reflect the full range of complaints about businesses, because annoyed tenants who call 311 to carp about ungodly noise may not know about zoning rules.
Not every home business is legal, but the prohibited businesses are not always obvious:
Not surprisingly, kennels and veterinary practices aren’t allowed to operate from homes. Zoning rules also prohibit a curious mix of other businesses, including advertising and public relations. Stock brokerages and offices for real estate, insurance and interior design aren’t supposed to operate from a desk in the bedroom. Running a commercial kitchen at home isn’t permitted, either — “home processors” like Mr. Semosh cannot use commercial-size equipment.
New York City's Zoning Resolution, at Section 12-10, expressly includes “fine arts studios,” “professional offices,” and “teaching of not more than four pupils simultaneously” within the definition of permitted “home occupation.” It expressly does not include, among others, advertising or public relations, barber shops and beauty parlors, interior decorators’ offices, stockbrokers, ophthalmic dispensing, and real estate or insurance offices. In addition, the code prohibits the sale of articles produced elsewhere and exterior displays. One person who does not reside at the unit may be employed “in connection with the practice of a profession.” Finally, the home occupation must not “produce offensive noise, vibration, smoke, dust or other particulate matter, odorous matter, heat, humidity, glare, or other objectionable effects.”
It is not clear that the prohibited occupations are more likely to produce these nuisances or would cause more traffic or related negative externalities in a neighborhood than the permitted home occupations. It is worth considering whether the categorical acceptability of "professional offices" and the outright prohibition on "beauty parlors," without regard to a specific uses' impact on neighboring properties, reflects a class-conscious determination of what is desirable and should be replaced by a more careful consideration of specific factors that affect residential neighborhood character.
For a discussion of how home occupation regulations might be modernized, see this publication from a few years ago by Patricia Salkin.
August 25, 2012
Philadelphia's New Zoning Code
The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article providing an overview of the city's new zoning code, which replaces its 1962 code. The new code allows high-rises to be built more easily in the city's central commercial district and along its waterfront as-of-right. (See map of new zoning districts.) It also "assumes the city's population will grow in the future, and it encourages higher density buildings to accommodate the newcomers." (Note: Philly's population has declined from slightly over 2 million in 1960 to slightly over 1.5 million today.)
According to the article:
Because the previous code was so outmoded, the Zoning Board of Adjustment had gotten in the habit of handing out variances almost at whim, even when a project deviated dramatically from the neighborhood context. The haphazard process invited abuse from powerful gatekeepers, most of them Council members. It often seemed you only needed to make a campaign contribution to obtain a variance in Philadelphia.
Developers advocated for a more predictable development process, which would enable the city to better compete for residents and jobs. The new code is approximately 200 pages shorter than its predecessor.
Two thoughts come to mind after reading this article. First, the discussion surrounding the new zoning code echoes the considerations raised in relation to tax reform, particularly the desire for simplicity and predictability and the concern that a code laden with amendments, overlays, and other complexities favors sophisticated actors. Second, as Philadelphia pushes greater density and potential population growth in Center City, what will become of outlying city neighborhoods, which have seen substantial population declines (and a significant number of vacant properties) in recent decades? In May the city launched a website mapping its inventory of 9,000 vacant properties, approximately one-quarter of the estimated 40,000 abandoned buildings in the city.
August 15, 2012
Fascinating 21st Century Real Estate Cases
The New York Observer has a list of the 15 Most Fascinating NY Real Estate Cases of the 21st Century, based on a survey of NYC real estate lawyers. Although most involve contracts or financing gone awry, a few involve zoning and land use disputes. They also make use of Sherlock Holmes-esque titles, like "The Case of the Mischievous Mall Developer."
Of particular interest are "The Case of the Masterpiece & The Condo Ad," involving a dispute over advertising, public art, and landmarking. The "Case of the Museum and the Architect" involves a building designed by Jean Nouvel next to MOMA, as well as zoning, landmarking and air rights issues. "The Case of the Brooklyn Basketball Arena" gives a very truncated summary of the series of legal battles over eminent domain and the construction of a new arena for the Brooklyn Nets. (For a more detailed account in response from critics of the development see the Atlantic Yards Report). And "The Case of the Abused J-51" details the legal battles over rent regulation following the $5.4 billion purchase of Stuyvesant Town.
August 06, 2012
New Jersey Seeks to Take Back Affordable Housing Funds
An article in this Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer discusses New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's demand that towns in New Jersey turn over to the state money that has been in their affordable-housing trust funds for more than four years, a total of $141.2 million. A state law (N.J.S.A. 52:27D-329.2) requires that this money, which towns receive from fees paid by developers, be committed within four years. The state recently sent letters to 372 town outlining how much each one is being asked to transfer to the state's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. (NJ's Fair Share Housing Center posted a copy of one of these letters.)
Christie's effort, as the Inquirer article notes, is just the latest episode in New Jersey's battles over zoning and affordable housing regulation, battles made famous by the Mount Laurel decision. Christie previously sought to eliminate the state's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), which enforces the judicial requirements regarding how much housing must be built in each town. However, NJ's Supreme Court rejected his attempt. (For an interesting perspective on Christie's "War Against the Mount Laurel Doctrine," see this piece by Rick Hills from a while back on PrawfsBlawg).
Now, critics claim Christie is seeking the money to fill holes in the state budget, while the Governor's camp responds that the money will be used for housing programs at the state level. Local officials assert their failure to spend the money is largely due to the state's confusing guidelines, particularly regarding what it means to have, as the law requires, "committed" funds to fulfill their affordable housing obligations.
When Christie first announced his plans to seize the funds, the Fair Share Housing Center filed a motion seeking to enjoin the state's actions, arguing that COAH failed to promulgate standards outlining what municipalities must do to "commit" the funds. The Appellate Division of the NJ Superior Court refused to issue an injunction, but did require that municipalities receive written notice of the amount they owed and how it was calculated. This notice came in the form of the subsequent letters stating the amount due and demanding that towns transfer the funds - or dispute the amount calculated - by August 13, 2012. The Fair Share Housing Center, joined by the NJ State League of Municipalities, now contend that the letter sent to municipalities fails to comply with the requirement that municipalities be informed regarding how the amount was calculated.
To my mind, it seems the challenge to the state's actions will be an uphill battle for the municipalities. The statute the state is relying upon in seizing the funds states:
"The council shall establish a time by which all development fees collected within a calendar year shall be expended; provided, however, that all fees shall be committed for expenditure within four years from the date of collection. A municipality that fails to commit to expend the balance required in the development fee trust fund by the time set forth in this section shall be required by the council to transfer the remaining unspent balance at the end of the four-year period to the “New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund" . . . to be used in the housing region of the transferring municipality for the authorized purposes of that fund."
In its Order denying the request for an injunction, the court declared that "[t]he ambiguity, if any, concerning the term commit has not precluded municipalities from seeking COAH's approval of particular housing projects on a case-by-case basis." The court's chief concern, as noted, was that the municipalities receive notice and an opportunity to contest the transfer. It is likely this battle will continue to drag out, largely focused on the process through which the state is seeking to take back the funds, but it seems difficult to envision a strong legal basis for the municipalities ultimately stopping the seizure of the funds. It may be more likely that political pressure, from local municipalities and residents who will still need to fulfill their affordable housing obligations, but will be forced to find new sources of funding, may stop the state's efforts.