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.
As Gideon Kanner points out, you don’t need to be a property rights advocate to see the California Environmental Quality Act as a lawsuit-intensive mess (quoting Prof. Robert Freilich):
Many attorneys, planners, architects, engineers, scientists, developers, small businesses, business associations and governments in the state, and many environmentalists are agreed that CEQA needs major reform. Delays in the system are causing projects to suffer delays of 2 to 9 years to get EIRs approved, especially for (but not limited to) the failure to compare the project with all “feasible” alternatives, establish vague baseline analysis for existing mitigation, and the tricky determination as to which parts of regional, general and specific plan EIR findings can be incorporated, to eliminate duplication of effort and cost. The law is so confused on these points that it is a miracle that any EIR can survive its first round in the courts without a remand to do it over again. Complicating this result is the establishment of a specialized group of attorneys that initiate litigation at the drop of a hat, primarily because the statute authorizes attorney’s fees for any remand or reversal. Many community associations and no growth environmentalists use the EIR litigation process to delay and in many cases kill projects for little or no environmental substance.
A neat idea for reclaiming abandoned city land, but it labors under a “cloud of extralegality” arising from a century’s worth of zoning and other regulations [Kristin Choo, ABA Journal]
If you run a home office in Nashville, you mustn’t let clients visit, while in Montgomery County, Maryland, employees may not pick up paychecks at a home-based business [Radley Balko; Harvey Jacobs, WaPo]
“D.C. Mayor Vincent D. Gray delivered an ultimatum in a face-to-face meeting with Wal-Mart officials at a real estate convention Monday: If the chain wants to enter the District at all, it had better commit to opening at Skyland Shopping Center, the long-delayed redevelopment project in Gray’s home ward…. Gray indicated he would be willing to go so far as to nix the company’s requests for building permits on privately owned sites, even for neighborhoods where residents favored Wal-Mart’s opening.” [Washington Post, earlier]