Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Online Professional Development Course in Adaptive Planning & Resilience
Land Use Prof colleagues -- please share the following information about an online self-paced course in adaptive planning and resilience as broadly as possible. It's especially relevant for professionals who are engaged in planning and would benefit from skills to make their planning processes more adaptive and resilience-oriented. Students, professors, and other professionals are welcome too. Thanks for your interest and help! All best wishes, Tony Arnold
I’m writing to let you know about an online self-paced professional development course in adaptive planning and resilience. This course is aimed at any professional who engages in planning under conditions of uncertainty, complexity, or unstable conditions, whether in the public sector, private sector, local community, or multi-stakeholder partnerships.
The course is ideal for professionals in sectors such as urban planning, community development water supply, water quality, disasters/hazards, environmental protection, land management, forestry, natural resources management, ecosystem restoration, climate change, public infrastructure, housing, sustainability, community resilience, energy, and many others. I hope that you and the employees and/or members of your organization will consider enrolling in this course.
The 12-hour course is offered by the University of Louisville for a cost of $150 and is taught by Professor Tony Arnold, a national expert in adaptive planning and resilience, and a team of professionals engaged in various aspects of adaptive planning. The online lectures are asynchronous, and the course is self-paced; this offering will last until November 22.
More information is provided below and at the registration web page: http://louisville.edu/law/flex-courses/adaptive-planning. This offering of the course begins October 12 but registration will be accepted through November 15 due to the self-pacing of the course. We are seeking AICP CM credits for the course in partnership with the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association, but cannot make any representations or promises until our application is reviewed.
Please share this blog post or information with anyone who might be interested. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions.
Adaptive Planning and Resilience
Online and self-paced
Oct. 12 – Nov. 22, 2015
Adaptive Planning and Resilience is a professional development course in which professionals will develop the knowledge and skills to design and implement planning processes that will enable their governance systems, organizations, and/or communities to adapt to changing conditions and sudden shocks or disturbances.
Adaptive planning is more flexible and continuous than conventional planning processes, yet involves a greater amount of goal and strategy development than adaptive management methods. It helps communities, organizations, and governance systems to develop resilience and adaptive capacity: the capacity to resist disturbances, bounce back from disasters, and transform themselves under changing and uncertain conditions. Adaptive planning is needed most when systems or communities are vulnerable to surprise catastrophes, unprecedented conditions, or complex and difficult-to-resolve policy choices.
The course will cover the elements of adaptive planning and resilient systems, the legal issues in adaptive planning, how to design and implement adaptive planning processes, and case studies (including guest speakers) from various communities and organizations that are employing adaptive planning methods. Enrollees will have the opportunity to design or redesign an adaptive planning process for their own professional situation and get feedback from course instructors.
The six-week course totals about 12 hours broken into 30-minute segments. It is conducted online and is asynchronous. Cost is $150.
About Professor Tony Arnold
Professor Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold is the Boehl Chair in Property and Land Use at the University of Louisville, where he teaches in both the Brandeis School of Law and the Department of Urban and Public Affairs and directs the interdisciplinary Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility. Professor Arnold is an internationally renowned and highly-cited scholar who studies how governance systems and institutions – including planning, law, policy, and resource management – can adapt to changing conditions and disturbances in order to improve social-ecological resilience. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the 2013 Trustee’s Award, the highest award for a faculty member at the University of Louisville.
Professor Arnold has clerked for a federal appellate judge on the 10th Circuit and practiced law in Texas, including serving as a city attorney and representing water districts. He served as Chairman of the Planning Commission of Anaheim, California, and on numerous government task forces and nonprofit boards. He had a land use planning internship with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, did rural poverty work in Kansas, and worked for two members of Congress. Professor Arnold received his Bachelor of Arts, with Highest Distinction, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1987 from the University of Kansas. He received his Doctor of Jurisprudence, with Distinction, in 1990 from Stanford University, where he co-founded the Stanford Law & Policy Review and was a Graduate Student Fellow in the Stanford Center for Conflict and Negotiation. He has affiliations with interdisciplinary research centers at six major universities nationwide and is a part of an interdisciplinary collaboration of scholars studying adaptive governance and resilience.
Professor Arnold will be joined in co-teaching the course by a team of his former students who are
professionals knowledgeable in adaptive planning. They include:
- Brian O’Neill, an aquatic ecologist and environmental planner in Chicago
- Heather Kenny, a local-government and land-use lawyer in California and adjunct professor at Lincoln Law School of Sacramento
- Sherry Fuller, a business manager at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in Orange County, California, and former community redevelopment project manager
- Andrew Black, who is Associate Dean of Career Planning and Applied Learning at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a former field representative for two U.S. Senators in New Mexico
- Andrea Pompei Lacy, AICP, who directs the Center for Hazards Research and Policy Development at the University of Louisville
- Jennifer-Grace Ewa, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Inequality and the Provision of Open Space at the University of Denver
- Alexandra Chase, a recent graduate of the Brandeis School of Law who has worked on watershed and urban resilience issues with the Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
October 12 – November 22, 2015,
Online, asynchronous, and self-paced
For more information
September 23, 2015 in Agriculture, Beaches, Charleston, Chicago, Coastal Regulation, Comprehensive Plans, Conferences, Conservation Easements, Crime, Density, Detroit, Development, Economic Development, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Exurbs, Federal Government, Finance, Financial Crisis, Food, Georgia, Green Building, Houston, HUD, Impact Fees, Inclusionary Zoning, Industrial Regulation, Lectures, Local Government, Montgomery, Mortgage Crisis, New York, Planning, Property, Race, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Transportation, Water, Wind Energy, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Fennell and Peñalver on Exactions Creep
For those of you who have not already figured out exactly how land use planning officials are expected to proceed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, Lee Fennell (Chicago) and Eduardo Peñalver (Cornell) have posted Exactions Creep, __ Sup. Ct. Rev. ___ (forthcoming). Rather than deny that the Court has aggravated the uncertainty faced by local governments, Lee and Eduardo explore the nature of the confusion in the Court's exactions jurisprudence and call for a significant revision. Here's the abstract:
How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.
January 22, 2015 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Development, Impact Fees, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Reactions to the Lower Platte River Summit - by Jessica A. Shoemaker
Following up on my introductory post, I was fortunate to get to help facilitate the biannual summit of the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance (LPRCA) last week. The Alliance is a unique organization composed of three Natural Resource Districts and six state agencies in Nebraska. It aims to work “with people to protect the long-term vitality of the Lower Platte River Corridor” (an area that includes “the Lower Platte River, the bluffs, and adjoining public and private lands located within the floodplain” for approximately 100 miles along the river from Columbus to Plattsmouth). The Lower Platte faces both supply and water quality issues. The river traverses unique rural landscapes and also bisects the expanding Omaha-Lincoln metropolitan areas. It provides water for important agricultural and mining uses in the region, and it is also supplies drinking water for over half of Nebraska’s population. (For more information, look here.)
For me, one of the most unique and important aspects of the Alliance is its focus on supporting locally drawn solutions and strategies to protect the river and the surrounding landscape, especially in the face of great demographic changes. My experience at the summit has me thinking more about my ongoing interest in the role of public participation in complex land use and resource management issues, like planning for the long-term sustainability of this important watershed.
Getting out of the office and elbow deep into some of the real-world debates about the future of the Corridor (where I not only work but also live) was invaluable to me. In many respects, I learned more in one day discussing shelter belts, crop insurance, trail development, Main Street facade improvements, property tax systems, and various potential models for valuing ecosystem services with such a diverse group of landowners, agricultural producers, conservationists, advocates, and government officials, than I probably could have from many days in a library. Somewhat unexpectedly, the primary takeaway for me was some renewed perspective about the role of legal solutions in what are often really ecosystem-level social problems. Although I spend most of my days analyzing and trying to craft legal solutions to real-world problems, back on the ground things looked a little different.
For example, Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI), started the day with a keynote about the resiliency of rural communities within the Corridor and beyond. At one point, he told a story about a small town community working hard on some marketing and revitalization efforts that had struggled to address a blighted property located right at the entrance to the downtown area. The mayor, according to Chuck, complained to two undergraduate students interns (there for the summer as part of an RFI-funded teaching grant for service learning) about this eyesore house and how all their town’s marketing efforts might be undercut if a visitor’s first impression was this dilapidated house and junk-filled yard. Chuck said the mayor and town had tried “everything” to address the house to no avail, but my ever-legal lawyer mind immediately started ticking off other possible legal solutions to the problem: nuisance claims, aesthetic zoning regulations, condemnation, code enforcement, tax enforcement, etc. My issue-spotting lawyer brain was so occupied checking off possible legal procedures that I almost missed the punchline of Chuck’s story. Although the mayor and the town had not had success communicating with the home’s owner about the issue in the past, Chuck said the two student interns took it upon themselves to walk up to the landowner’s door and offer to help him sell the stacks of tires on his lawn and recover some cash for them…. The homeowner, pleased with the result and liking the student interns who helped put some money in his pocket, then proceeded to let the interns and some other community volunteers engage in additional clean up work around the house. Problem almost immediately solved.
It’s a simple story, but for me an important reminder. In my rush to legal analysis, my instinct was not to consider first what might motivate the landowner to fix the problem himself or what may be standing in the way of him doing so. Or how public engagement in the clean up process might be the most efficient and simple solution, while also likely creating a host of other intangible community benefits.
I was also struck at the summit by how many examples there were from stakeholders actively working on land use challenges within the Corridor of the law working more as an obstacle to progress than as an opportunity or useful tool. These people who do the daily work of trying to make the Corridor a better place seemed incredibly competent and intelligent, but in many cases, they described to me very specific instances where well intentioned laws were getting in the way of actually achieving the desired results (e.g, too much bureaucracy, cumbersome procedures, agency rules that didn't make sense). I heard complaints of the persistent problem of top-down policies and priorities being implemented in ways that are not fully matched up on the ground or that create unintended inefficiencies or obstacles.
This isn’t universally the case. For example, we visited a family farm along the river outside of Omaha where an innovative conservation easement has been created in coordination with the Nebraska Land Trust. The family, at least, said they felt very satisfied that the legal tool of the easement had satisfactorily addressed their concerns in the face of “houses coming over the hills.”
(Photo: Dave Sands, Executive Director of the Nebraska Land Trust, discusses his organization’s conservation easement work within the Corridor at the site of one of these easements.)
However, the theme that there are limits on the ability of the law to respond perfectly or exclusively to the complex land use challenges in the Corridor--including how we will value and protect a range of ecosystem services in the face of growing populations and a changing climate--lingers. Of course, these watershed issues are more complex than one junked property with too many tires in the lawn and more difficult to respond to than the threat of new development around a historic farm that an entire family agrees should be preserved. However, after this summit experience, I look forward to more thinking and engagement around the issues of (1) how law and policy can be better designed with real feedback from, and attention to, the on-the-ground realities of the people working in the trenches and (2) the proper mix of legal and non-legal responses to challenges like the longterm vitality a fragile ecosystem, and especially the role of public participation in designing and implementing these varied solutions.
- Jessica A. Shoemaker
November 11, 2014 in Agriculture, Conservation Easements, Development, Land Trust, Planning, Water | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Whitehouse v. CIR. 5th Circuit Upholds Major Deduction in Conservation Easement Valuation
No one is more surprised than I with how much time I spend reading about tax law these days, but I wanted to alert folks to another case regarding the valuation of historic conservation easements. This time, we are talking about Maison Blanche - a fancy former department store now an even fancier Ritz Carlton on Canal Street in New Orleans.
In 1997, the Whitehouse Hotel Ltd. (owner of the property) donated an historic preservation conservation easement to protect the facade to the Preservation Resource Center. Whitehouse's appraiser estimated the value of the conservation easement at $7.445 million (not $7,445 million as the 5th Circuit opinion mistates). The IRS cried foul and valued the conservation easement at $1.15 million and also dinged Whitehouse for an extra 40% for underpaying by more than 400%.
Unsurprisingly, litigation ensued. Whitehouse v. CIR, 2014 WL 2609866 (5th Cir. 2014), decided on June 11th is the second time the case has made it up to the 5th Circuit. The disputes have generally been battles of appraisals and valuation methods. I am not going to express any opinion about the appraisal methods but thought I'd point out a few things.
What does the conservation easement allow?
There was a big dispute here as to whether the conservation easement actually had any value. One of the appraisers suggested that because the conservation easement would not actually prevent Ritz Carlton from building what it want to build, the value should be zero. The highest and best use of the property is unchanged by the conservation easement. This conclusion turned in part on the language of the conservation easement and whether it actually prohibited the potential building of 60 additional rooms on part of the hotel complex. The Tax Court agreed with the appraiser that the conservation easement did not have such a prohibition. Whitehouse I, 131 T.C. 112 (Tax Ct. 2010). The Fifth Circuit disagreed. Whitehouse II, 615 F.3d 321 (5th Cir. 2010). On remand to the same judge, the Tax Court reviewed Louisiana servitude law and again stated its belief that the conservation easement did not restrict the additional building and should not have value BUT the Tax Court acknowledged that it was bound by the 5th Circuit's precedent and estimated the conservation easement value based on that assumption (coming up with as the 5th Circuit said "merely $1,867,716"). Whitehouse III, 139 T.C. 304 (Tax Ct. 2012).
Undoubtedly feeling that it got a raw deal from an unbiased judge, Whitehouse appealed but the 5th Circuit upheld the Tax Court stating that even though the Tax Court went out of its way to voice its disagreement with the 5th Circuit that was allowed as long as it actually followed the 5th Circuit.
Can you rely on tax professionals' assessments of your conservation easements?
Well, at first blush the answer to this question looks like "no" because the appraiser was so wrong. But the key question to consider for this case is whether Whitehouse's reliance on its appraiser and other professional should protect it from the penalty for gross underpayment (the 400% thing I mention above). There is a reasonable cause exception that allows taxpayers to get out from under this rather steep penalty. This issue is important for people interested in conservation easements because we see over and over again how far apart the private appraisals can be from those the IRS calculates. How much should we penalize landowners for their underpayments made in reliance on qualified professionals? The Tax Court imposed a 40% gross underpayment penalty, holding that Whitehouse had not done enough to demonstrate that it had reasonable cause to believe the appraisal. The court may have been particularly persuaded by the fact that the appraisal of the conservation easement exceeded the price actually paid for the property. The 5th Circuit reversed on this issue because Whitehouse had consulted with more than one appraiser and consulted other tax professionals. The 5th Circuit found this to be adequate.
I am really torn on this one. We want landowners to be able to rely on qualified appraisers and to impose a 40% tax penalty could be particularly painful to small landowners. But there have been repeated examples of bad appraisals around and it seems like there has got to be some type of smell test. Where a conservation easement is valued so much higher than the purchase price of the property, I hesitate too. Of course, I understand that the purchase price doesn't really tell you the value of the property and the value of what an entity like Ritz Carlton can get out of a property, but at the end of the day as a taxpayer, I don't even like the fact that the landowners here got a $1.8 million dollar charitable tax credit to build a big fancy hotel and condo complex that will make them oodles of dollars. Arguing that they lost $1.8 million because they couldn't make it as absolutely big as they might have just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
June 26, 2014 in Architecture, Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Development, Economic Development, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, Land Trust, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, June 23, 2014
Tax Deductible Exacted Conservation Easements: That's an oxymoron isn't it?
As long-time readers know, I have an obsession with interest in conservation easements. In particular, I have been intrigued with a category I call "exacted conservation easements," which I view as any conservation easements that have been created in exchange for some type of land-use permit or development benefit.
Many conservation easements are donated to land trusts and government entities. Those landowners are then able to seek deductions for charitable contributions on their federal tax returns based on the fair market value of the conservation easement. Of course, calculating the fair market value of a conservation easement may not be a simple task, but we can leave that discussion for another day. Today, I want to talk about the potential for tax deductions on exacted conservation easements.
Exacted conservation easements exist because a landowner is seeking the right to develop or change her land in a way currently restricted by law. For example, where a landowner wants to convert endangered species habitat into a residential development, the landowner often agrees to burden other land with conservation easements in exchange for an incidental take permit. Now, in what I hope is an uncontroversial statement, I often assert that such conservation easements should not garner landowners any charitable tax benefits. Unfortunately, I heard many stories of landowners seeking and obtaining tax deductions for such properties.
In a recent tax court opinion, we see an example from Colorado. In Seventeen Seventy Sherman Street, LLC [SSSS] v. CIR, T.C. Memo 2014-124, the Tax Court examined the deductibility of historic facade and interior conservation easements. SSSS wanted to develop an historic site (the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) in Denver into condos. Because the property is a designated landmark, the architect proposed building in the parking lot and preserving the shrine "as leverage to induce the city of Denver to modify the zoning restrictions governing the use and development of the [property,]" which at that time was not zoned for residential development (T.C. Memo at 5-6). SSSS then entered into negotiations with the city's Community Planning and Development Agency regarding changes to the Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the area, the conservation easements, height variance, etc. The Agency asserted that it would not recommend any changes to the PUD or granting of the height variances without the conservation easements.
Hopefully, you see quickly why I label these exacted conservation easements (or I sometimes call them "coerced conservation easements") and why they differ from the vision most folks have of conservation easements protecting the family homestead and helping farmers keep the property in the family. Here, we have a developer with no emotional connection to the property simply making a deal to obtain the development rights that the developer sets as its goal. This doesn't mean that the developer doesn't value the historic, scenic, and cultural benefits of this property. Indeed, a developer may purchase an important or beautiful site exactly because it believes those features are important, BUT we may not have the same ideas of freedom of contract or donative intent involved. We might want to view such conservation easements differently, more critically.
So what kind of tax break should SSSS be able to get here? My initial take on these has always just been zero. The conservation easements were exchanged for a varaince and favorable development measures; they are not donations. But as the Tax Court points out, we may be able to find some instances where some of an exacted conservation easement was done in exchange for a permit or some other benefit, but the value of the restriction actually exceeds the value of the permit. Frankly, while I agree generally with that sentiment, I have trouble picturing where that might occur. How do we calculate that? Without the conservation easements here, we know there would have been no permit. So can we really say that the value of the conservation easements exceeds the value of the permit? If so, are there ways to confine the conservation easement to bring it in line with the value of the permit? They have to be perpetual, so we could only change other characteristics. Suddenly I feel like we are immersed in some Dolan-like analysis of value and proportionality.
The conservation easements in this case were first valued at over $7 million. On its tax forms, SSSS did not indicate that it had received anything of value in exchange for the conveyance of the conservation easements (to Historic Denver). The IRS responded that SSSS had failed to meet some filing and appraisal requirements and asserted that the conservation easements should only be valued at a little over $2 million but claimed that the interior CEs were not deductible at all, leaving the potentially deductible amount at $400,000. Here, the Tax Court did not need to determine the value of the conservation easements or the value of the development benefits SSSS received in exchange for them because SSSS failed to identify that it received consideration for the CEs as required by the Tax Code. The court continued to explain that the exchange sure looked like a quid pro quo one with SSSS agreeing to the CEs (whatever their value) in exchange for the Planning Agency's support (whatever its value).
I am glad to see the IRS taking a careful look at these conservation easements. Generally, I think we should be wary of any conservation easements emerging from development schemes.
June 23, 2014 in Architecture, Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Development, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, Land Trust, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, June 19, 2014
No Per Se Deduction for Conservation Easements
Many of the exciting conservation easement cases (yes I did say "exciting conservation easement cases") come up in the context of facade easements. I think facade easements just sound sketchy questionable to many of us. Someone with a beautiful historic building gets a tax deduction for agreeing not to destroy the facade of that beautiful home. My gut reaction is to object that the landowners unlikely had any plan to mar one of the aspects that likely drew them to purchasing the building. In fact, I have heard more than one landowner brag that they just got a tax deduction for doing what they were already doing. On further consideration though, we can see that there might be value to the public here. This is particularly so in an area where (1) landowner are having trouble affording the upkeep on the homes or (2) where economic pressures or a lack of other protection mechanisms put the buildings at risk. Some have argued that such restrictions always have value. That is, even if we have a landowner who was already planning to protect the building and the home is in a district where local laws prevent destruction (or require upkeep), you never know what the future holds in terms of other landowners or changing government whims so a facade easement may end up saying the parcel one day. Personally, such speculative value doesn't seem the best use of public funds when we can confidently identify so many places where conservation yields immediate results.
Scheidelman v. C.I.R. (2014 WL 2748623) decided yesterday by the Second Circuit is the latest in a saga over the deduction of a Brooklyn townhouse. In 1997, Huda Scheidelman paid $255,000 for this house in the designated Fort Greene Historic District. The district is designated as a historic district by the National Park Service and by NYC's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Under these protections, it is illegal to alter the facade without the consent of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
In 2003, Scheidelman donated a facade conservation easement to the National Arhcitectural Trust, now renamed the Trust for Architectural Easements. The Trust's recommended appraiser valued the conservation easement at $115,000 and Scheidelman claimed a charitable deduction for that amount on her 2004 tax return.
After an audit the IRS rejected her claimed deduction as not being accompanied by a "qualified appraisal" as required by statute. The Tax Court agreed, but the Second Circuit vacated and sent the case back for a de novo review of the fair market value of the conservation easement. After doing so, the Tax Court determined that the value of the conservation easement should be $0 because it did not diminish the property value of Scheidelman's townhouse. Using the standard before and after method of appraisal, this calculation makes sense. Because other laws already restrict the property, the presence of the conservation easement doesn't change the value of the property. Of course, some may argue that the before and after method isn't appropriate and perhaps instead we should do some calculation based on value to the public but well... that's a harder number to crunch and more open to abuse. The Second Circuit just upheld the tax court's finding that the deduction had no value.
My favorite line of the Second Circuit (per curiam) opinion is the statement that conservation easements do not represent a per se reduction in fair market value and in fact may even serve to enhance property value.
June 19, 2014 in Architecture, Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Land Trust, New York, Property Rights, Servitudes | Permalink | Comments (1)
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Rissman, Owley, Thompson and Shaw on Adapting Conservation Easements to Climate Change
Adena Rissman (Ecology-Wisconsin), (our very own) Jessie Owley (SUNY-Buffalo), Buzz Thompson (Stanford) and Rebecca Shaw (Env. Defense Fund) have posted Adapting Conservation Easements to Climate Change, Conservation Letters (2014). Here's the abstract:
Perpetual conservation easements (CEs) are popular for restricting development and land use, but their fixed terms create challenges for adaptation to climate change. The increasing pace of environmental and social change demands adaptive conservation instruments. To examine the adaptive potential of CEs, we surveyed 269 CEs and interviewed 73 conservation organization employees. While only 2% of CEs mentioned climate change, the majority of employees were concerned about climate change impacts. CEs share the fixed-boundary limits typical of protected areas with additional adaptation constraints due to permanent, partial property rights. CEs often have multiple, potentially conflicting purposes that protect against termination but complicate decisions about principled, conservation-oriented adaptation. Monitoring is critical for shaping adaptive responses, but only 35% of CEs allowed organizations to conduct ecological monitoring. Additionally, CEs provided few requirements or incentives for active stewardship of private lands. We found four primary options for changing land use restrictions: CE amendment, management plan revisions, approval of changes through discretionary consent, and updating laws or policies codified in the CE. Conservation organizations, funders, and the IRS should promote processes for principled adaptation in CE terms, provide more active stewardship of CE lands, and consider alternatives to the CE tool.
April 16, 2014 in Climate, Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
McLaughlin on Perpetual Conservation Easements in the 21st Century
Nancy McLaughlin (Utah) has posted Perpetual Conservation Easements in the 21st Century: What Have We Learned and Where Should We Go from Here?, 2013 Utah L. Rev. 687. Here's the abstract:
April 8, 2014 in Agriculture, Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, Scholarship, Servitudes | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
Will the generous tax deductions for conservation easements stick around?
Potential tax deductions are one of the driving forces behind creation of conservation easements. The exact contours of the tax deduction (how much can you deduct and over how many years can you stretch your donation) has varied over the years. For the past several years, the deductions have been particularly generous.
Under standard law, individuals can deduct the value of the donated property up to 30 percent of their adjusted gross income, and any excess value can be carried forward for 5 years. But in 2006, Congress passed the enhanced landowner incentive. It allows deductions up 50 percent of donors’ adjusted gross income and over a 15-year carry-forward period. That incentive ended this past December. The consistent support of this tax deduction by Congress led many to people the enhanced version would be extended without struggle.
Perhaps not. The most recent tax-extension proposal from the Senate Finance Committee does not extend the enhanced tax deduction for conservation easements. Russ Shay at the Land Trust Alliance has hypothesized that the bill drafters may want to change the nature of the deduction, but are still likely to keep the enhanced deduction available to some extent. In particular, this might appear an attractive opportunity to remove deductions for conservation easements over golf courses, something both parties (and the IRS) have indicated their support for. Others suggest that a better approach would be to craft legislation making the enhanced deduction permanent so it does not require periodic extensions.
April 2, 2014 in Conservation Easements, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, Land Trust, Servitudes | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
The Glass Case Saga
Some conservation easements in Michigan have been the subject of dispute for over 20 years. In 1992 and 1993, the Glasses donated conservation easements to the Little Traverse Conversancy to protect the shore of Lake Michigan. Charles and Susan Glass then sought a tax deduction for these donations. The IRS was skeptical. These were two conservation easements over a 10-acre parcel and the real conservation value of them seemed seems questionable.
The IRS challenged the Glass’ contention that the conservation easements should qualify for a deduction under § 170(h)(1). Specifically, the IRS felt that the conservation easements did not meet the requirement of being “exclusively for conservation purposes.” The Tax Court disagreed with the IRS holding that the conservation easements qualified because they protected a relatively natural habitat or plant or wildlife (§ 170(h)(4)(A)(ii)) and because the Conservancy had to hold the conservation easements exclusively for conservation purposes (§ 170(h)(5). [Yes there are days when I wish I had taken Tax.] The 6th Circuit upheld the tax court's ruling.
Despite these rulings of the Tax Court and the 6th Circuit, the conservation easements in this case appear to be of questionable value. One of the conservation easements (from 1990) is for a greenbelt along a state scenic highway. The other two conservation easements prohibit development along the lakefront. The parcels they encumber are small, the area would be hard to develop, and development would likely be undesirable. These are plots with vacation homes along the shore of Lake Michigan that are bordered by a bluff. Some parcels in the area however have larger homes and the Conservancy saw a need to seek out and protect shoreline parcels. The proceedings regarding the conservation value of these conservation easements illuminated some inconsistencies in the deeds and questionable appraisals of the value of the conservation easements. The litigation described above indicated that the appraised value of the conservation easements ($340,800) was too high, but it didn't resolve what the value should have been set at.
The Glasses ultimately acknowledged that the value had been assessed incorrectly and that therefore the Glasses had underpaid their federal income taxes. This left the Glasses with substantial tax debt and they looked for a way to make some money. Thus, the Glasses sought to sell the southern portion of their property to their neighbors (the Van Lokerens). Once the neighbors saw an accurate survey detailing the property lines and any servitudes, they decided they were no longer interested in purchasing just the southern portion but indicated that they might consider buying the entire 10 acres. The Glasses then listed just the southern parcel for sale.
The Van Lokerens then reached out to the Conservancy to complain that the proposed sale of just the southern parcel appeared to violate the conservation easements in place. The Glasses were then forced to withdraw the listing. Next, the Glasses developed a plan to subdivide the parcel into condos but keep the conservation easement areas in place to serve as common area. Again, the Van Lokerens complained to the Conservancy (notably Mary Ann Van Lokeren was a member of the Conservancy's Board). After attempts at amicable settlement with the Glasses, the Conservancy ended up suing the Glasses and seek reform of the conservation easements based on the theory that there had been a mutual mistake in the earlier conservation easement description. The Glasses counterclaimed arguing that the Conservancy (and the Van Lokerens) had engaged in some shady practices including “threatening meritless litigation.”
In unpublished decision, the Michigan Appellate Court found against the Glasses, explaining that the Conservancy was not out of line in seeking to ensure its conservation easement was complied with.
As the Glasses were foreclosed on and the parcel is now in other hands, it seems likely possible that we have reached the end of this saga.
April 2, 2014 in Beaches, Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Land Trust, Servitudes | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, March 10, 2014
Conservation easements and charitable trusts
There has long been debate fluttering around about whether conservation easements are charitable trusts. A recent opinion from Wyoming has me thinking about charitable trusts and conservation easements from a different viewpoint.
In Davis Foundation v. Colorado State University Research Foundation, the Supreme Court of Wyoming examined a transfer of property from the Davis Foundation and family jointly to CSU and University of Wyoming. The working ranchland was donated to the school as a way to provide a living laboratory for students to learn ranching and to provide revenue for the programs (through ranching revenues). In the process of conveying the land, the Davis Foundation also conveyed a conservation easement over the property to The Nature Conservancy. The conservation easement purports to protect the scenic and historical resources of the property and restricts possible property uses to ranching, farming, and education.
Putting aside whether the conservation easement itself was a charitable trust (and without information about whether it was sold or donated to TNC I am not gonna make a call on that one), the court found the existence of the conservation easement integral in its analysis of whether the Davis Foundation created a trust when donating the property to the educational institutions. Basically, the schools now want to sell the land (subject to the conservation easement). If the donation was a gift to the schools, they have the ability to do with the land as they see fit (within their limits as state organizations or non-profits) BUT if it is a charitable trust, the schools actions with respect to the land are more limited. The Wyoming Supreme Court held that no trust was created. It reached that conclusion in part because of the existence of the conservation easements. The court explained that the conservation easement limited what the land would be used for, not the gift to the schools. Structures of donations like this are not unusual. We see examples in many states of landowners donating fee to one entity and a conservation easement to another. This may be particularly common where the fee is donated to a government entity. This case indicates that the presence of the conservation easement may serve as evidence that the donation did not create a trust. Of course, there are no blanket rules here and one would have to look at each conveyance to determine whether a trust was intended. I find this fascinating. If you donate parkland to a city but also put a conservation easement on the land because you don't totally trust the city, you may have made the donation look more like a gift than a trust (which may not have been your intention!).
March 10, 2014 in Agriculture, Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Land Trust, Property, Property Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Takings and Conservation Easements
Like many nerds tech-savvy people, I have an alert set up with WestLaw to send me any new law review article or case that even mentions the phrase "conservation easement." It sends me a lot of fluff, but every now and then I find a gem that seems to have eluded the 5,000 SSRN lists I get. When I saw an article entitled "Environmental Preservation and the Fifth Amendment: The Use and Limits of Conservation Easements by Regulatory Takings and Eminent Domain," I just couldn't resist dropping everything and reading it immediately.
I was surprised that I didn't know the author (Beckett Cantley of Atlanta's John Marshall Law School) because well the conservation easement crew is a small one. Turns out that Cantley is an interesting combination of a tax law prof who also teaches property. As the title suggests, the article focus on standard 5th Amendment takings analysis. Unsurprisingly, this involves a large focus on exacted conservation easements. As I am sure all none of you know, my 2005 dissertation was entitled Exacted Conservation Easements, and I have a small obsession with the phenomenon.
Cantley has an interesting take on the issue.
First, he asks whether there is a market for conservation easements. He contends that a landowner's ability to voluntarily sell a conservation easement constitutes an "economic use for regulated land that could help avoid a regulatory taking by lessening the economic impact of environmental and land use regulations." I assume the argument goes this way: The government entity enacts a land-use law that restricts development. The landowner argues that this violates the 5th amendment under a Lucas-style total deprivation of value argument. The government entity says no we haven't totally deprived you of value because you could still donate or sell a conservation easement on your land. Of course, it would be pretty tricky to find a willing buyer for such a conservation easement but probably not impossible to find someone willing to accept the donation (depending on the features of that parcel). But what would be the value of the donation? Would it be zero? Well the current regulations do not allow development, but conservation easements can extend regulations (making them more stringent, giving them certainty, extending the restriction in perpetuity). So the value of the conservation easement while low, is probably not zero. Cantley suggests that such a conservation easement market would be so speculative that it would not be enough to defeat a Lucas-style takings claim.
Second, Cantley analyzes the ability of a government agency to create a conservation easement with eminent domain. This is a tricky issue. As a threshold, it would only work where the government entity had eminent domain power. Some states prohibit creation of CEs via eminent domain explicitly. In other places, it is just politically sensitive (not to mention potentially hard to calculate). The best example of this phenomenon was when the Highway Commission in Wisconsin exercised eminent domain over holdouts for scenic easements along the Great River Road. One of the confusing points for me here has to do with the fact that when a parcel encumbered by CE is condemned, most jurisdictions acknowledge the CE is compensable and they pay the CE holder for their lost property interest when they pay the underlying landowner just compensation for her property interest. Do such payment policies mean that the jurisdictions recognize CEs as something one could take via eminent domain without taking the fee title? Just an interesting way to do parcel by parcel regulation? Spot zoning with compensation? Something several folks have speculated about but few governments seem interested in pursuing just to amuse us academics.
Now, on the exacted CE front, Cantley notes that generally Nollan and Dolan analysis apply but in some places there is a bit of trickiness with what constitutes an "exaction" meriting Nollan/Dolan analysis (i.e., nexus + rough proportionality) versus just a regulatory act with the less demanding Penn Central balancing test. I have written about this weirdness before in New York where the case of Smith v. Town of Mendon held that conservation easements are not actually "exactions" even where they are er... exacted. As I speculated in a recent piece for the Environmental Section of the New York Bar Association, I think the broad definition of exaction in Koontz overrules Smith v. Town of Mendon and makes it pretty hard to argue that you can't exact conservation easements. One bone I have to pick with Cantley is his description of exacted conservation easements as being required donations. I think we really need to remove the donation language from our talk about such CEs. Landowners are sometime surprised that they can't (or well at least they shouldn't) get tax benefits from these exactions because they associate all CEs with tax breaks. It also looks to me like Cantley must have written his article pre-Koontz (unsurprising considering the pace of law review publication). I think that case may change his assessment that failed exactions are not cognizable takings... or maybe it depends on how/when we assess failure.
Interesting stuff! The artcle doesn't appear to be available for free on SSRN or elsewhere, but those of you with access to various legal databases can find it at
Beckett G. Cantley, Environmental Preservation and the Fifth Amendment: The Use and Limits of Conservation Easmeents by Regulatory Taking and Eminent Domain, 20 Hastings W.-N.W. J. Envtl. L. & Pol'y 215 (2014).
January 28, 2014 in Caselaw, Conservation Easements, Eminent Domain, New York, Scholarship, Servitudes, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, January 25, 2014
CFP: Land Trust Alliance Annual Meeting
The Land Trust Alliance's annual conference (I love that they call it a Rally) will be September 18-20 in Providence. The call for papers went out recently and they usually have a wide variety of seminars and workshops. Proposals are due February 24th. More info about the call and the presentations and the conference itself available here. And let me know if you plan to go. I'll be there!
January 25, 2014 in Conferences, Conservation Easements, Land Trust | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 24, 2014
What to do when the historic district floods.
I just finished reading a new article by Jess Phelps in the latest issue of Environmental Law. In Preserving Perpetuity?: Exploring the Challenges of Perpetual Preservation in an Ever-Changing World, Phelps tackles some issues closely related to questions I research: what do we do about perpetual permanent restrictions in a world of constant change? Phelps takes a narrower tack than my articles though, looking just at historic preservation easements. If you think that perpetual land conservation sound challenging, try fooling yourself into thinking that buildings are going to last forever. Well, okay we all know that perpetual restrictions have their usefulness even when we know that a perpetual building is not possible. What I like about Phelps' piece is that he cites me he takes a practical approach, providing specific plans for how to respond when natural disasters damage or destroy structures protected by historic preservation easements. It is a helpful read for land trusts or drafters of conservation easements thinking proactively about climate change impacts.
January 24, 2014 in Climate, Conservation Easements, Historic Preservation, Land Trust, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, September 20, 2013
Conservation Development without Conservation Biologists?
A new paper on conservation development provides oodles of information about conservation development in the western United States while pinpointing shortfalls with current ordinances. Conservation development for the uninitiated is well... pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It is a land-se planning strategy that requires conservation measures for new development. It can take the form of conservation easements, cluster development, conservation-oriented planned development, etc. A common feature is setting aside some portion of land for conservation in a residential development project. Many counties and local governments have laws promoting conservation development (often pledging faster project review or bestowing density bonuses).
Although not yet available in print, you can get an early view of an article in the upcoming issue of Conservation Biology by Sarah Reed, Jodi Hilty, and David Theobald that examines conservation development ordinances in 11 western states. The authors did an impressive job of reviewing ordinance for 402 counties (97% response rate-- wowzers). As conservation biologists, the authors were interested to see if the county ordinances promoted sound ecological principles. A few interesting things coming out of the study:
- over 30% of the counties actually had conservation development ordinances
- most required protection in perpetuity, but not all
- most required conservation of some portion of the land, but set no minimum sizes on protected area, rarely required connection with other protected lands or even other lands within the site
- very few ordinances required ecological analysis
- only 8% required some type of consultation with an ecologist or conservation biologist
- few required management plans
These are just a few of the points that they make, and I recommend getting the full article to learn more. This is a good article for lawyers and planners to read because it highlights some of the problems we have communicating with each other. One thing they don't answer but I wondered about is how many conservation biologists were consulted when the counties actually wrote the ordinance.
Here is the full title and abstract:
Guidelines and Incentives for Conservation Development in Local Land-Use RegulationsSARAH E. REED, JODI A. HILTY, & DAVID M. THEOBALD
Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013
Effective conservation of biological diversity on private lands will require changes in land-use policy and development practice. Conservation development (CD) is an alternative form of residential development in which homes are built on smaller lots and clustered together and the remainder of the property is permanently protected for conservation purposes. We assessed the degree to which CD is permitted and encouraged by local land-use regulations in 414 counties in the western United States. Thirty-two percent of local planning jurisdictions have adopted CD ordinances, mostly within the past 10 years. CD ordinances were adopted in counties with human population densities that were 3.0 times greater and in counties with 2.5 times more land use at urban, suburban, and exurban densities than counties without CD ordinances. Despite strong economic incentives for CD (e.g., density bonuses, which allow for a mean of 66% more homes to be built per subdivision area), several issues may limit the effectiveness of CD for biological diversity conservation. Although most CD ordinances required a greater proportion of the site area be protected than in a typical residential development, just 13% (n = 17) of the ordinances required an ecological site analysis to identify and map features that should be protected. Few CD ordinances provided guidelines regarding the design and configuration of the protected lands, including specifying a minimum size for protected land parcels or encouraging contiguity with other protected lands within or near to the site. Eight percent (n =11) of CD ordinances encouraged consultation with a biological expert or compliance with a conservation plan. We recommend that conservation scientists help to improve the effectiveness of CD by educating planning staff and government officials regarding biological diversity conservation, volunteering for their local planning boards, or consulting on development reviews.
- Jessie Owley
September 20, 2013 in Community Design, Conservation Easements, Density, Local Government, Planning, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Conservation Easements and Fracking
One of the tricky things about conservation easements is that most of purport to protect land in perpetuity but the original parties to conservations easements are probably not going to have thought of every possible future circumstance or land use. Fracking is a great example. Many conservation easements cover property that now appears desirable for fracking. The potential for fracking on these properties may not have been contemplated by the folks who drafted the conservation easements just a few short years ago. An example of this appears in the recent case of Stockport Mountain Corp. v. Norcross Wildlife Foundation, 2013 WL 4538822 (M.D. Penn. Aug 27, 2013) (Munley, J.)
A 2002 conservation easement burdens some property in Pennsylvania that now appears quite attractive for shale gas development. Although the parties involved in crafting the conservation easement discussed it over the course of several years and went through multiple drafts, no one mentioned the words shale, natural gas, or fracking. After being approached by two different companies seeking natural gas leases, the landowner sought a declaratory judgment that the conservation easement permitted fracking because ... er... because it doesn't expressly prohibit it....
Court said no go in this case based on a provision prohibiting commercial and industrial uses on the property (except for those specifically permitted). Good news for the many conservation easement holders that commonly include such language in their agreements. One interesting thing is that the CE did allow some quarrying, which the court seemed to view as even more environmentally destructive than fracking... but the court prohibited the fracking because it wasn't mentioned in the savings clause of the commercial prohibition. What the court did not reach is whether fracking would have been at odds with the conservation values of the property. That might have been a trickier one.
This is a nice example of cases we should continue to see with conservation easements as landowners seek to engage in uncontemplated activities like erecting windmills and cell phone towers.. oh yeah and probably more fracking.
September 18, 2013 in Caselaw, Conservation Easements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Conservation Covenants in England and Wales
This summer, many of us conservation easement research types received emails from the Law Commission for England and Wales. The Law Commission is similar to the Uniform Law Commission here in the US in mission (researches potential legal reform and presents suggested statutory texts), but the British version is a body established by Parliament and the US version is a non-profit organization.
When considering changes to the law, the COmmission staff assemble consultation papers. The papers present research on the legal topic at issue, suggest statutory parameters and language, and solicit comments from "consultees." Anyone who visits the website and submits the form can comment, but the Commission also contacts specific people and organizations to solicit their views. There is even a form with specific questions on the issue to complete. I thought this was a very informative and interesting approach.
As you should have already gleaned from the title of this approach, the Law Commission is examining the case for introducing "conservation covenants" into the law of England and Wales. Now, while I read the consultation paper carefully and made lots of notes (several exclamation marks in the margins of this one), I just couldn't get my act together to submit comments by the June 21st deadline. While this is just a proposal and not yet even a proposed bill, there are lots of interesting things going on in this british version of conservation easements. I thought I would highlight a few of them for you here:
(1) Specific choice not to use the word easement.
(2) No tax breaks associated with donating conservation covenants.
(3) All transactions must be voluntary, so presumably that means no exactions or eminent domain-like creations. However, the Commission contemplates widespread use for offsetting schemes.
(4) Conservation covenants are much easier to terminate or modify. With holders having power to unilaterally discharge obligations. Also suggests a judicial proceeding with specific factors that the tribunal should consider in modifying or terminating the covenants
(5) leaseholders with long leases can enter into conservation covenants for the term of their lease
Plus oh so much more.The differences between the proposed law and the US laws is significant.
I'd be really interested to hear both what consultees said in response to this paper and what you would change here in the US if we were to rewrite our conservation easement laws. (I have my own little wishlist of course).
- Jessica Owley
August 21, 2013 in Conservation Easements, Historic Preservation, Judicial Review, Property, Property Rights, Servitudes | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Unusual Reading in Buffalo: From John Birch to Glenn Beck
In summer, I like to put aside an hour or so each work day to read various articles and books that I have stumbled across during the busy semester but lacked time to review. Today, the top of my stacks were an article from The New American and a book by Glenn Beck. It was really just coincidence that these two hit the top of my piles today, but it has made for a surreal afternoon.
First up is an article from The New American (the publication of the John Birch Society) by Tom DeWeese, entitled Conservation Easements and the Urge to Rule. You know an article is gonna be good when the first sentence mentions the Green Mafia. DeWeese's piece argues that conservation easements are the biggest threat to small family farmers out there. I don't want to spend too much time on his article, because it is just so chock full of problems and errors that it would take too long. He conflates conservation easements and zoning law and seems to rest everything on one case study whose facts are unclear in his piece. My favorite line though is where he compares land trusts to commodity traders buying and selling conservation easements at a significant profit. That sentence on page 2 is where he really lost any credibility he might have had with me. While not an adherent of the John BIrch Society, I have been a vocal critic of the uses of conservation easements. It is always surprising to me when I see them attacked from the right. In many ways, they embody fundamental conservative ideals of promoting and protecting private property rights. Instead of saying landowners can freely enter into any contract regarding their land that they like (a clear libertarian approach), DeWeese seems to be suggesting that any limitation on property rights (even voluntary ones) should not be permitted. Without giving too much credence to DeWeese's writing on this, I am just generally befuddled by the lack of consistency in the property rights movement.
I wish I could also share an interview with Becky Norton Dunlop of the Heritage Foundation on Fox News from February 2010 where she amusingly asserts conservation easements are akin to eminent domain, but the clip no longer appears available.
After zooming through that little article, I picked up Agenda 21 by Glenn Beck. Wow is this a crazy book. Now I don't have cable tv (and would unlikely be tuning into FoxNews if I did), so I have a general understanding of who Glenn Beck is but haven't really seen much more than clips. This may explain why I had no idea what I was in for. I was looking for a book to give me the conservative take on Agenda 21 conspiracy. I gave a talk at the Western New York Land Conservancy earlier this summer, and the Conservancy chose not to advertise the talk in the Buffalo News for fear of Agenda 21 protesters. I am super a bit embarrassed to admit that I was unfamiliar with the conservative Agenda 21 battle cry. My take on Agenda 21 thus far is that it is pretty toothless. Lots of big ideas with little action. So I was pretty surprised to hear that some radical right groups appear afraid of it. Clearly they must fear what it symbolizes rather than what it actually does. Enter Glenn Beck. Someone told me that Glenn Beck wrote a book about Agenda 21 and it is a fast read. What that person failed to mention is that it is a 1984-esque sci fi novel set in a future where Agenda 21 has led to a dystopia. Wanna hear my secret? I kinda love it. It is completely ridiculous, of course, but a great beach read ... if you were willing to let people see you reading it in public.
August 6, 2013 in Beaches, Books, Conservation Easements, Eminent Domain, Land Trust, Planning, Property Rights, Sustainability, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
HCN Article About Jackson, Wyoming Highlights Concerns with Conservation Easements
I am not sure how many of you are readers of High Country News, but it is of course the go to source for news about the West (especially if you are interested in land use, conservation, or rural peoples). I get it in hard copy because even though you can get it electronically, it is hard to beat seeing their large format magazine with awesome images. An article by Ray Ring from the June 10th issue caught my eye and I thought might be interesting to some of you.
In Paradise at a Price, Ring examines how conservation goals collide with affordable housing. He uses Jackson, Wyoming to tell his tale but it is a story we have seen in many towns. Jackson has some special challenges because of its high percentage of publicly owned land, but we see similar patterns in several resort communities. The story is a simple one. Beautiful areas attract people. Beautiful areas with recreation opportunities in particular end up with communties dominated by fancy vacation homes and amenities for tourists. Real estate prices are high. But all those tourists and Californians with second homes still need goods and services. The problem is that employees of the stores, the ski resorts, the hotels, and the grocery stores can't afford to live in Jackson. This means we need afforable housing projects. Unfortunately, in areas like Jackson the affordable housing projects compete not only with other private residential development but also with conservation efforts.
This article was not about conservation easements, but its description of conservation easements in Jackson illuminated two somewhat conflicting concerns with conservation easements. I'll give you the facts and then explain my concerns.
- More than 97% of Teton County's land is public (owned by federal, state, or local government)
- This leaves only 78,000 acres of private land for development
- Much of this private land is covered by vacation homes for the wealthy
- 1964 local planning laws established overlay districts, protecting wildlife habitat and scenic views. This restricts development on 48,000 acres (leaving only 30,000 unrestricted acres).
- Conservation easements prevent development on 22,000 acres. Most (but not all) of the conservation easements are within the overlay districts
- 20,000 acres are too steep to build on (I think this may leave 10,000 unrestricted developable acres but I am not exactly sure what category these 20,000 acres fall into)
- Restrictions throughout the county limit things like building height (usually nothing over 2 stores) and include specific rules limiting construction near things like spawning areas and swan nests
Okay, so now my concerns. Note, there are many concerns here about affordable housing which are obviously just from looking at the facts above and are well explained in Ring's article, so let me just look to the conservation easement issue.
- Conservation easements are part of the problem on the affordable housing front. The restrictions on development puts up obstacles for people trying to build needed housing. Depending on your goals, you may be okay with that outcome but most of these conservation easements are ways for wealthy people to protect their views and open space (often with receiving attractive tax breaks). I know protecting these beautiful areas is important, but when we let private individuals make all the decisions about what to protect ... it makes me nervous.
- Conservation easements may not get you a lot of bang for your buck. The article states that most of the conservation easements in the community are in areas already protected by overlay districts. This makes me really curious about what type of compensation or development permit the landowners got in exchange for the conservation easements. What are they worth if land use was restricted without them. Admittedly, the conservation easements may have additional restrictions and will remain even if the County changes the contours and rules for the overlay districts. I don't have information about these individual conservation easements, and I am sure the Jackson Hole Land Trust would be pissed at perturbed by my claims but I have seen several examples from conservation easements I have dealt with directly where the landowner receives a large benefit for agreeing not to do something she never intended to do.
Just some food for thought
July 23, 2013 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Development, Environmental Justice, Housing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Professor's Corner on Koontz
This month's ABA Real Property "Professors' Corner" teleconference will focus on Koontz, the end-of-Term exactions that is one of the most significant Supreme Court property-rights cases in recent years. (Jessie Owley has discussed it here, and Tim Mulvaney and others have weighed in around the net). This Professor's Corner session should be a good one with several leading scholars participating. Here's the announcement:
Professors’ Corner: Wednesday, July 10, 2013: Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District: A Significant Victory for Property Rights?
Professors’ Corner is a monthly free teleconference sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section's Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group. Each month’s call features a panel of law professors who discuss recent cases or issues of interest to real estate practitioners and scholars. Members of the AALS Property Section are invited to participate in the call (as well as to join and become involved in the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section).
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
12:30 p.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. Central, 9:30 a.m. Pacific). Call is ONE HOUR in length.
Call-in number: 866-646-6488
This program will feature a roundtable discussion breaking down the Supreme Court’s important June 25 decision in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District. If “monetary exactions” have always seemed a little untamed to you, you’re not alone. The 5-4 decision in Koontz leaves a lot of room for analysis, and this month’s panel is prepared to guide you through it by parsing the decision and the dissent. Our distinguished panel will include Professor Jonathan H. Adler, who is the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law; John D. Echeverria, Professor of Law at Vermont Law School; and David L. Callies, who is the Benjamin A. Kudo Professor of Law at the University of Hawai’i.
For those that haven’t already seen it, here’s a link to the opinion:
Please join us Wednesday for this great program!
July 9, 2013 in Caselaw, Conferences, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Federal Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Sustainability, Takings, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)