“There’s plenty of money. The problem is interminable environmental review.” That’s Philip K. Howard in the Wall Street Journal [summarized here; related Common Good forum with Regional Plan Association] Excerpt:
Canada requires full environmental review, with state and local input, but it has recently put a maximum of two years on major projects. Germany allocates decision-making authority to a particular state or federal agency: Getting approval for a large electrical platform in the North Sea, built this year, took 20 months; approval for the City Tunnel in Leipzig, scheduled to open next year, took 18 months. Neither country waits for years for a final decision to emerge out of endless red tape.
Some reasons to think Bill de Blasio’s schemes for “mandatory inclusionary zoning” are likely to fall short. [Jim Epstein, New York Daily News]
The Supreme Court had already ruled that disproportionate “exactions” levied on property owners in exchange for the right to develop are an unconstitutional taking if they consist of demands for land. Now, in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District, the Court confirms that the rule also applies to exactions of money and effort — in this case, a demand that a landowner develop a government property miles away from his own holdings. It also confirms that the principle applies to denials of permits as well as approvals. [Roger Pilon, Tejinder Singh/SCOTUSBlog, Ilya Somin, Damon Root/Reason] Background: Cato brief and summary, Timothy Sandefur and Ilya Shapiro. More: Richard Epstein, Gideon Kanner, Randal O’Toole, Rick Hills, Ilya Somin.
A highly placed Democrat in Sacramento is acknowledging the problems with the state’s environmental-review law, which empowers complainants to stop, slow down or drive up the cost of new development projects. Among those who’ve learned to turn CEQA to their own uses: NIMBY-minded neighbors, business competitors seeking to hobble rivals, and unions looking for a shakedown tool. [Los Angeles Times]
Check-cashing businesses are perfectly legal, but the Long Island town of Hempstead doesn’t like them, so it’s used zoning to try to force them out of areas convenient to their clientele. New York’s highest court is considering the companies’ appeal. [Newsday]
“Formstone is to Baltimore what Communism was to Czechoslovakia.” Although virtually no one installs the simulated-stone exterior cladding any more, and it doesn’t seem to raise any safety concern, Charm City authorities are still proposing to ban it, which has touched off a wave of protests and a Baltimore Sun editorial objecting to the ban. [Sun reporting, editorial]
It’s not just New York:
In Georgetown, for instance, Eastbanc has proposed to replace the Canal Rd. Exxon with a five story condo building. From a true historic preservation perspective, there’s not much of a case against the project. It wouldn’t break up the rhythm of the block and the proposed style, while not particularly elegant, was at least not discordant.
But neighbors along Prospect Street would lose a part of their fabulous view across the Potomac. So they argued vociferously during the design review process that the project should be reduced to preserve their views. This had little to nothing to do with genuine historic preservation. … This pattern is repeated frequently in Georgetown and in other historic districts.
The local opponents have thus far blocked the project, which means the historic district is still adorned with the Key Bridge Exxon. One might ask the neighbors whether they feel a gas station enhances the neighborhood’s quaint Nineteenth Century ambiance, except that, taking a leaf from lower Manhattanites, they might say it does.
More: David Schleicher, Prawfs, on the municipal political economy of zoning.
“A 2-story Whole Foods on an empty lot in the heart of brownstone Brooklyn should not take 8 yrs to (maybe) get permits” [@MarketUrbanism on NYT coverage]
The Los Angeles suburb claims it adopted the ban because of dangers posed by chemicals, toxins and plastics present in artificial turf. Might there perhaps be an alternative motive, that of policing residents’ aesthetic taste in landscaping? Well, the ban applies only to front yards: “When asked why the fake grass would continue to be allowed in backyards, officials had no answer.” [CBS Los Angeles]
The Washington Post offers an editorial caution to lawmakers in Montgomery County, the famously liberal slice of Maryland suburbia:
A bill before the Montgomery County Council would force big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target to negotiate with neighborhood groups as a condition for getting their new stores approved. This is such a spectacularly bad idea, on so many levels, that it’s hard to imagine how it came to be taken seriously in the first place.
By contrast, the nearby District of Columbia, often seen as a challenging place to do business, seems to be making its peace with Wal-Mart, which has announced plans to open six new stores there.
Following up on last week’s post, Gideon Kanner calls our attention to this summer’s case of Clover Valley Foundation v. City of Rocklin. As Prof. Kanner wrote at the time in the L.A. Daily Journal:
This was a lawsuit challenging a housing project on environmental grounds some 30 years after the subject property was zoned for housing development, 20 years after the developer’s request for a permit, and after 10 years of planning and environmental review, plus a nearly one-half reduction in the number of permitted dwellings, a five-fold increase in open space, and after millions of dollars were exacted for in-lieu payments. The city approved the project in 2007.
Then the NIMBYs attacked in court. To its credit, the court in effect said “enough already” and rejected the NIMBY challenge. But the court also said that this was a case in which environmental laws “worked.” I would hate to see what it would take for their Lordships to acknowledge a case in which those laws didn’t work.
For more of a flavor of the Clover Valley case, see the write-up from the Meyers Nave law firm.