Wednesday, 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.

Matt Festa

February 13, 2013 in Crime, Scholarship, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 8, 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.

Matt Festa

February 8, 2013 in Books, Form-Based Codes, Historic Preservation, Houston, New Urbanism, Teaching, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 1, 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.

Jim K.

February 1, 2013 in Aesthetic Regulation, First Amendment, Property Rights, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 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.

The Wall Street Journal reported on legislation and reponsive litigation involving food trucks back in August:  Food Trucks vs. Restaurants (if paywall prevents access, try this Lexis link

and again yesterday, focusing on legal advocacy efforts by the Institute for Justice: Street Vendors Battle Limits (Lexis link)


Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune published a story on dissatisfaction among the portable vendors with the food truck ordinance Chicago enacted last year.

"Nothing cooking on food trucks \ Since legalization in July, no one has met city's standard" (Lexis link)

 Hat tip to Chris O'Byrne, who passed on this blog post.

 JIm K.

January 24, 2013 in Constitutional Law, Downtown, Food, Parking, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 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.

Jim K.

January 22, 2013 in Form-Based Codes, New Urbanism, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 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. 

Jim K.

January 16, 2013 in Property Theory, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 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!

Matt Festa

November 16, 2012 in Chicago, Conferences, History, Local Government, Scholarship, State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 2, 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.

Matt Festa

November 2, 2012 in Books, Climate, Environmental Law, Local Government, Nuisance, Planning, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Friday, 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. 

Matt Festa

September 21, 2012 in Eminent Domain, Local Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 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.

Matt Festa

September 18, 2012 in Books, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 6, 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.

Matt Festa

September 6, 2012 in Clean Energy, Environmental Law, Finance, Local Government, Property, Scholarship, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 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:

Property 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 doctrine.

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."

John Infranca

August 30, 2012 in Property, Property Theory, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 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.

John Infranca

 

August 27, 2012 in Local Government, New York, Nuisance, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, 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.

John Infranca

August 25, 2012 in Density, Development, Downtown, Local Government, Planning, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fascinating 21st Century Real Estate Cases

The New York Observer has a list of the 15 Most Fascinating NY Real Estate Cases of the 21st Century, based on a survey of NYC real estate lawyers.  Although most involve contracts or financing gone awry, a few involve zoning and land use disputes.  They also make use of Sherlock Holmes-esque titles, like "The Case of the Mischievous Mall Developer." 

Of particular interest are "The Case of the Masterpiece & The Condo Ad," involving a dispute over advertising, public art, and landmarking.  The "Case of the Museum and the Architect" involves a building designed by Jean Nouvel next to MOMA, as well as zoning, landmarking and air rights issues. "The Case of the Brooklyn Basketball Arena" gives a very truncated summary of the series of legal battles over eminent domain and the construction of a new arena for the Brooklyn Nets.  (For a more detailed account in response from critics of the development see the Atlantic Yards Report).  And "The Case of the Abused J-51" details the legal battles over rent regulation following the $5.4 billion purchase of Stuyvesant Town.

John Infranca

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

Monday, August 6, 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.

John Infranca  

August 6, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Local Government, State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting Set of Interviews with Staff of New York City Planning, and a Note on Pruitt-Igoe

Over at Next American City there is a five-part series of interviews being conducted with staffers from New York City’s Department of City Planning, discussing changes to city zoning.  The first two installments provide some interesting insights into two innovations to the zoning code.

The first installment looks at the FRESH program, a combination of zoning and tax incentives that are intended to encourage the entry of grocery stores into underserved neighborhoods throughout the city.  The zoning incentives include a bonus allowing the construction of a larger mixed-use building if a developer includes a ground-floor grocery store as well as the easing of parking requirements.

The second installment looks at Zone Green, a set of changes to the zoning code that relax barriers to adding more environmentally friendly features to new and existing buildings.  Installing such features can often require lengthy approval processes to allow elements not permitted by the building code.  Both posts are worth checking out. 

On an unrelated note, following up on Stephen’s recommendation of the Pruitt-Igoe Myth, which I strongly second, I wanted to mention a proposed design for the current site, much of which remains empty, that I came across a while back.  It offers a neo-classical approach that tries to link the site back with the surrounding grid.  

John Infranca

August 6, 2012 in Economic Development, Environmentalism, New Urbanism, New York, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is Smaller Always Better?

As I mentioned in my first post, I want to use some of my time as a guest-blogger here to introduce a few projects I am current working on through the Furman Center.  Today I want to talk about a fairly new project examining regulatory barriers to the construction of smaller housing units.

There has been significant discussion recently of the benefits of allowing the construction of very small apartments.  In Boston, Mayor Menino has advocated the development of micro-units, smaller than those permitted by current regulations, targeted at young professionals.  As reported on the PropertyProf Blog, San Francisco is exploring ways to reduce existing unit size minimums from 290 square feet to 220 square feet.  In New York, Mayor Bloomberg announced a request for proposals to build an apartment building with units measuring between 275 and 300 square feet (currently units must be at least 400 square feet).  The associated request for proposals for the project has already been downloaded over 1,000 times by interested parties throughout the world. 

Parallel with this discussion of micro-units, a number of municipalities, both large and small, are rethinking regulations governing the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single family neighborhoods.  Some communities, such as Santa Cruz, California, have gone further and actively encourage the construction of accessory dwelling units by providing technical assistance to prospective landlords, pre-approved designs, low-interest loan programs, and other resources.  These units, which may be located over a garage or in a basement, offer opportunities for encouraging denser development and urban infill.  They also are seen by some as a way to help seniors maintain their homes or “age in place.”  

Efforts to encourage construction of smaller housing are motivated in part by the recognition that changing demographics and household composition have created a mismatch between demand and existing housing supply.  A recent book, Going Solo:  The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, explored the increasing prevalence of single urban dwellers.  New York City’s Citizens Housing Planning Council raised attention to this issue through a recent project called “Making Room,” which enlisted a set of architects to propose different designs for innovative housing types that would meet these changing needs, but would demand regulatory changes in order to be built.  The project recognized that many individuals, who cannot find housing that meets their needs, currently live in unregulated apartments within an underground housing market.  These illegal conversions and other sources of affordable housing can create dangerous living conditions for occupants. 

Smaller units – both in the form of micro-units in a multifamily development and accessory dwelling units in a single-family residential area – hold promise for serving a variety of needs:  providing affordable housing, fostering greater density and more sustainable development patterns, increasing demand for mass transit in an area, and, as championed in Boston and New York, making expensive cities more attractive to young professionals who spend little time at home. 

One supporter of the micro-unit proposal in New York was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that “the city should ‘not be charged with regulating people’s preferences.’”  This is, of course, the deeper question raised by changing the regulatory landscape to permit smaller housing units.  Are these changes simply a matter of removing a (perhaps, to some, anachronistic or paternalistic) constraint on individual preferences?  Or do the laws restricting this housing continue to serve an essential public purpose related to the health, safety, and welfare of residents?  Commentators have noted that the zoning regulations that will be waived to allow the micro-unit prototypes in New York City were instituted in the early 20th Century to provide more humane living conditions, particularly through greater access to light and air.  But modern construction methods and technology may provide news means to address these same health and safety issues, without returning to dreary and dangerous tenement living.

The discussion about changing regulations to allow smaller housing units is really just one piece of a broader question:  do changes in living patterns, family composition, and technology demand a radical rethinking of the legal framework that governs urban life?  Should the presence of vast amounts of currently illegal housing be seen as an indication that existing regulation is too strict and prevents the market from meeting demand?  Are some regulations championed as serving goals related to health, safety and welfare, really more about the aesthetic or other preferences of existing residents?

To address the narrower regulatory questions raised by compact housing units, the Furman Center has begun a project, in partnership with CHPC, looking at a number of cities throughout the United States and examining regulatory barriers to smaller housing units, as well as efforts currently underway to change regulations or build these forms of housing.  We are planning to study New York; Washington, DC; Austin; Denver; and Seattle, a mix of cities with varying degrees of interest and progress related to these issues.  We will be examining a broad range of existing regulations, including zoning, building codes, accessibility laws, and occupancy regulations, that might prohibit or stymie the construction of these types of housing.  Our goal is to outline the regulatory barriers that policy makers would need to address if they wished to allow more compact housing and to frame the questions that would need to be considered in conducting a more sophisticated cost-benefit analysis of the potential tradeoffs of changing these regulations, some of which may still serve a vital role in making cities more safe and livable. 

John Infranca

August 2, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Development, Housing, New York, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)