Monday, January 12, 2015
West Virginia University's Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic
The Land Use and Sustainable Development (LUSD) Law Clinic at West Virginia University's College of Law has been at full strength for a little over two years. One of only a handful of land use law clinics in the country, the LUSD Clinic staff includes five attorneys (one of whom is an AICP land use planner), and an additional AICP land use planner. We are also fortunate to have our first LLM Fellow this year, Ann Eisenberg, a Cornell Law School graduate. West Virginia University College of Law established a LLM degree program in Energy and Sustainable Development Law in the Fall of 2014. The LUSD Law Clinic class includes 6-12 J.D. students each year, and the students work with the staff and clients across the state.
Three main areas form of the focus of the clinic. The clinic director, Katherine Garvey, formerly with the Environmental Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, heads up the wastewater portion of the clinic. Nathan Fetty, the Managing Attorney, and Jason Walls, Land Conservation Attorney, spearhead the land conservation work conducted by the clinic. Last, and certainly not least, Jared Anderson, J.D., AICP, Supporting Land Use Attorney, Christy DeMuth, AICP, and I, as the Lead Land Use Attorney, guide the land use law activities of the clinic. The land use mission of the clinic includes, in addition to representing local governments across the state, education of local land use leaders in West Virginia. Although this education takes many forms, the clinic's Mountain State Land Use Academy holds two major educational workshops each semester. Although the clinic staff includes these three teams, the clinic as a whole operates as one team, working together to address these interrelated issues.
The clinic was established, in part, to aid in putting West Virginia on equal footing with surrounding states in terms of the land use and land conservation issues. West Virginia has lacked such a resource for a very long time. The LUSD Law Clinic seeks to remedy that long-standing lack of resources and has already helped many communities in the state make incredible progress.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, the clinic worked with with 18 local government clients, helping develop comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances, and facilitating over 50 public meetings. For example, the City of Wellsburg successfully adopted a comprehensive plan written by Clinic planners, attorneys and students. The next step is for the LUSD Law Clinic to assist the Wellsburg Urban Redevelopment Authority with redevelopment plans for identified slum and blighted areas in the community.
In the area of land conservation, the LUSD Law Clinic worked with non-profits and government agencies on land transactions aimed at protecting over 25 different properties. For example, the Clinic helped permanently protect 665 acres of land which fronts six miles of the Gauley River. Working in five counties, legal services included title examinations, contract drafting, drafting of title opinions and negotiations.
In partnership with the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center, the LUSD Law Clinic started a program to provide legal resources to local governments to address abandoned and neglected properties. The Clinic interviewed stakeholders such as building inspectors and municipal attorneys throughout the state to identify local concerns. A future blog post will provide more information on this exciting and transformative initiative.
I look forward to continuing to work with my wonderful colleagues, professionals across the country and the wonderful citizens of the great state of West Virginia for many years to come. West Virginia is a beautiful state with a committed and dedicated citizenry. I am very priviledged indeed to have the opportunity to work here.