Monday, October 31, 2005

New Threat to Local Planning Process?

Sunday's DesNews ran a story on Rep. Wayne Harper and his potential efforts to change state planning enabling laws to "weaken" the ability of local government to carry out planning and zoning. It is essentially the same proposal I blogged about earlier in reference to House Speaker Greg Curtis -- it seems these two legislators have hooked up and batted ideas back and forth on this topic.

Though Wayne is a former Community Development Director (West Jordan City), he is now involved in developing property, and it seems his view of the world has changed some (as has Curtis', who is also a former municipal employee, now working for developers).

Many in local government are concerned about the potential threat these proposals pose to local government planning. But other legislators have told me that they know where these two are coming from and this is probably not the threat it may seem to be.

What this, and such other measures like referenda, say to me is that we need to get back to strengthening the planning process in local government. These types of actions are coming about because, it seems to me, that often local governments are making decisions that seem short-term, not well-thought out, kind of based on who is making the proposal and who shows up at the meetings. Where are the solid community plans and principles that should be guiding the types of development that are to be allowed in given areas of the community?

If we were to get back to a solid process of creating good general plans, with strong public involvement, then many of these decisions may not seem so arbitrary or carried out with little forethought. Developers would know what to expect in a given area, as would the residents. Anyone wanting to change what is planned for, would have to go through a process as thorough as the one that resulted in the initial plan.

Something to think about, gang. In the meantime, we need to tell legislators that there should be no consideration given to ideas like those proposed by Harper and Curtis.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Local Politics is Mostly About Planning

Good story in yesterday's Trib about the planning issues facing Salt Lake City, such as the renovation of the two downtown malls by the LDS Church, planning for the northwest quadrant, etc., and how these are main topics of the candidates running for election this November. Like I've said before, local politics is much about planning issues, and like Tip O'Neal said, all politics is local.

So come on, planners, we should be right in the forefront of local politics. We are, I just think many of us don't realize it or try to ignore it, because planning should be based on "rational" anaylsis, not something as messy as politics.

If you want to see the mess of politics, read my next blog entry tomorrow, when I comment on the DesNews story today on Rep. Wayne Harper and his efforts, along with House Speaker Greg Curtis, to consider changing the way zoning works!

Friday, October 28, 2005

There's Places at the Table for Everyone

Just read a great little "assessment" of sprawl vs. urbanism. Alan Ehrenhalt in his column "Assessments" in the October issue of Governing magazine writes about this topic as he assesses Robert Bruegmann's new book Sprawl.

Ehrenhalt writes, "What we can work to ensure that real choices exist for those who wnt to fashion a new form of urban life in the new century. That means public support for central-city residential living, investment in modern public transportation, and sensible zoning that allows experiments and supports developers willing to take risks. ... (W)e don't need to expend as much energy as we currently expend denouncing sprawl and wishing it didn't exist. In (Bruegmann's) words, 'there is room for both Houston and Portland in a country as large as the United States.'"

Give it a read, it really is a rational view to accomodating all styles of living.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tha Amazing Morphing Referenda

What, indeed, can land use disputes morph into, given a variety of strategies that can be used by different sides? How about referenda, lawsuits, disconnections, and reluctant judges?

Bluffdale's ongoing dispute over how some 4,000 acres should be developed has all this and more. Stories today in the DesNews and Trib detail some of the key issues.

In short, when the owners of a couple of large parcels of land that had recently been annexed into Bluffdale didn't like the way the city was going to restrict development on their land (essentially, allowing mainly single-family homes on one-acre or larger lots -- at the behest of residents who want to keep the "rural character"), they threatened to deannex. The issue went to court, which is the only way a property can be deannexed from a city.

City officials worked on the concerns, eventually agreeing to adopt a new zoning designation that would allow more flexibility for large parcels of property. Residents objected, and collected enough signatures to put the new zone text (no property has yet been rezoned with the new designation) up to a referendum vote.

City officials continued to work with the owners and developers, apparently coming to an agreement as to how the property should be developed. The city council voted to approve the proposed settlement earlier this week. The parties have approached the judge and asked him to accept the plan as a settlement. However, the judge is reluctant. "I don't want to be rushed into making a decision I'm not comfortable with. Do I have the right to dictate the course of development?" He has asked the attorneys to provide him briefs on the subject.

In the meantime, the citizens have started a new referendum petition to overturn the council's approval of the settlement.

And the upcoming elections will likely turn on this issue. Current Mayor Wayne Mortimer is being challenged by an opponent to the city's approach, who received more votes in the primary than Mayor Mortimer did.

When people say to me, you can dream up all sorts of extreme situations, but they don't ever really happen. Could anyone have dreamed up something like this? Referenda on land use issues have made local elections much more a sporting event!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

While the Cat's Away...

Cheeze, I go away for a few days to take a vacation over UEA break (my wife is a high school math teacher), and while I'm gone, the sky starts falling...

Two pieces in the DesNews, one from last Saturday, followed by an editorial comment on Tuesday, about a proposal by House Speaker Greg Curtis and Rep. Wayne Harper to change the way zoning works in Utah. How about that?

According to the story, they want to change the "presumption of validity" from the communities to the land owners, meaning that if a landowner wants to do something with the land, to stop it, the community has to show it is detrimental to the general health, safety and welfare of the community.

Haven't seen a zoning law like that in any state. In fact, the original zoning enabling act as proposed in the 1920's, assumed that under the police power to protect the general health, safety and welfare, zoning laws were permissible. What these two propose to do is turn the whole system on its head.

Why would that be? Most thoughtful communities prepare general plans for the orderly growth of their neighborhoods, towns and cities, then zone to make those things happen. It gives residents a sense of orderliness and certainty. This would do just the opposite.

I think Reps. Curtis and Harper want to do this because they feel that communities have become too arbitrary with their zoning decisions. There is some validity to this viewpoint, as some communities have not done a good job planning ahead, and sticking to their plans. So should we throw the whole system over, and let freedom reign, so to speak? Or do we help communities better understand their responsibility to plan and stick with their plans?

In a previous blog entry, I mentioned that Rep. Curtis made a comment at a recent conference that he would prefer to see zoning actions be handled as administrative acts rather than legislative. Again, this would raise the bar for advance planning, and it would make it harder for landowners to seek a change in designation.

Be careful what you wish for, Representatives, you may get it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

NIMBYs The Flip Side of Referenda?

When do the actions of a small group of neighbors to get what they want (or, more likely, stop what they don't want) next to their homes run contrary to the benefit of the overall community?

Take, for example, the story of a small group stopping a streetcar line in a Toronto neighborhood. Did they save the neighborhood, or stymie transit for the overall city? What if they had stopped a new freeway? Would we feel the same way?

A good story about this in the Toronto Star this week. Usually, such moves involve a relatively small group of residents who don't want to see something happen near their homes. "'It does beg the question as to how a city is supposed to proceed with any agenda, either positive or negative, when communities have the ability to stop what's meant to happen,' says Mark Guslits, chief development officer for Toronto Community Housing and the former manager of the city's affordable housing file."

In a way, this is also the flip side of the referenda issue -- it is another tool in the arsenal that residents opposed to certain actions use to stop the proposal, and is often focused on only a small group that is opposed.

I am heading out of town for a few days over UEA break (my wife is a high school math teacher -- everyone's favorite subject!) and I'll be back on line next week. See you soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Oregon Judge Overturns Measure 37

A story in today's Oregonian reports that a county circuit judge has ruled to overturn Oregon's voter-passed Measure 37, which was a draconian initiative essentially gutting much of the state's vaunted planning and land use controls.

Bob Stacey, Director of 1000 Friends of Oregon and challenger of the measure in the court case, was quoted in the story as "screaming 'woo-hoo' in an initial outburst of exuberance... ."

"Members of Oregonians in Action, which authored Measure 37...said they were furious. Group leaders plan to attack what they consider rigid planning rules again on 2006 ballots, director David Hunnicutt said."

"State attorneys, who must defend voter-approved initiatives, will appeal Friday's ruling. Invalidating Measure 37 raises as many questions as it answers, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a statement, promising to ask key officials for advice on moving forward."

"Now, with the law dismantled, more than 2,500 Measure 37 applications filed with counties, cities and state agencies appear to be invalid. ... 'This is telling everybody our vote doesn't mean squat,' Barbara Prete said Friday afternoon. 'We need new judges.'"

What fun. We could be living in Oregon!

But then, we live in Utah, where in yesterday's meeting of the Utah League of Cities and Towns Legislative Policy meeting, members were told that House Speaker Greg Curtis wants to change Utah's land use regulations to do three things: change the presumption of validity in land use actions from government to the property owner; make rezones administrative actions; and set a limit on the length of time a local government has to approve a development application.

Any takers? More to come on this soon!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Rezones to be Administrative Actions?

We had a most enjoyable session on Wednesday at the Salt Lake Library, as George Shaw, Neil Lindberg and I talked about the issue of referenda for planning with a group of about 30 people. It was just fun getting a group together and talking about a planning issue, kicking around ideas and trying to hold a finger up to the wind to see if we could figure out where things might go in the future.

The upshot of the discussion was pretty much that we all agree that referenda are likely to be a greater part of the land use planning process, and most were not really thrilled at the idea. Bruce Parker (consulting planner and former Summit County Planning Director) made the comment that most planners consider themselves to be public servants, that our job is to serve the public interest, so why should we fear the public voting on these issues?

But Gary Uresk (Woods Cross City Administrator) opined that direct democracy is not necessarily the best way to handle many of the issues that come up in the day to day operations of local governement, that we generally live under a system of representative democracy, and planners work for those elected officials, whose job it is to make sure all the interests are served and laws observed. In election campaigns, this doesn't generally happen as frequently, only the immediate neighbors are the ones who care what a property is zoned and what development happens there.

There was quite a discussion about the Utah Supreme Court's earlier writings in the Marakis case, where the justices indicated that individual property zoning issues fall on a spectrum to determine whether they are legislative (and thus subject to referendum) or administrative (and thus not subject to referendum). The standard by which this is judged is not clear, involving a number of factors, including how "complex" the issue is. Who makes that determination? I guess ultimately it would be the judge, and that means you're in front of her in a lawsuit.

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, Speaker of the House Rep. Greg Curtis was heard to say at last week's Utah Land Use Institute conference, that he thinks it would be better to just declare all rezones administrative actions, thereby making them non-referable, but that opens up another whole can of worms. But...maybe its time to consider? It sure would mean that the planning ducks should be in line early on in the process... . Something to talk about in upcoming blogs and discussions, etc.

By the way, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, in their Legislative Policy Committee meeting on Monday, has a discussion on the agenda of Rep. Curtis' land use proposal -- I'm guessing this is it. This will get interesting.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

New Suburban Villages in Utah

Two interesting stories in the papers today, demonstrating perhaps the efficacy of Kotkin's point about suburban villages.

The first is about the Real Salt Lake soccer stadium announcement in Sandy, which I've written about in a couple of previous blog entries. The announcement was an even stronger expression of creation of a suburban activity center, with the stadium, performance arts venue, office buildings, and commercial development. All this right across from Jordan Commons and near the SouthTown Expo Center. Sounds like much of what you find in many traditional urban cores. Read about it in the Trib and DesNews stories.

Second was the next installment of the "west bench" plan being prepared by Kennecott Land. The stories in the Trib and DesNews note that the plan shows two major urban cores, along with a number of smaller villages and town centers of mixed use in between. Sounds just like what Kotkin writes about, when he says the suburbs should be developed as "archipelagos" of suburban villages or activity centers. Only in this case, the plan was prepared by that paragon of smart growth and new urbanism, Peter Calthorpe. Most interesting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Real Soccer Stadium in Sandy More Evidence of Suburban Focus

Stories in today's Trib and DesNews about the imminent announcement of the siting of the Real Salt Lake soccer stadium in Sandy provide more evidence of the growing pre-eminence of the suburbs and the lifestyle that many seem to prefer, as I blogged about several days ago, citing some of the writings of Joel Kotkin.

Some more Kotkin quotes: "And then there's the traffic. This remains their worst defining feature. ... Ironically, this may prove the new imperative for suburbia's evolution. ... (S)uburbs are being forced to supply an ever-wider array of basic needs, from cultural infrastructure to shopping and business services [and soccer stadiums?]. They cannot lean as heavily on the central core, even if they wanted to."

The Trib story says, "RSL's decision mirrors the move of most Major League Soccer franchises -- including Chicago, Dallas and Denver -- which have picked the suburbs over urban centers." The stadium will be located across the street from Jordan Commons, diagonally across from the SouthTown Expo Center, and is proposed with additional office development. Food and drink before the game? Head over to Jordan Commons. Daytime use around the site? Office development and SouthTown Expo have lots of weekday activity.

The sidebar to the Trib story also notes that the suburbs have now landed the two newest sports stadiums in the state -- the RSL stadium in Sandy, and the E-Center in West Valley City.

Maybe the suburbs -- hopefully well-designed and walkable -- will be the place to be.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Utah Land Use Institute Addresses Referenda for Land Use

I attended the Utah Land Use Institute yesterday and Tuesday, and found it to be full of a lot of useful information.

One session in particular, held on Tuesday, was of interest to me, as it addressed the Utah Supreme Court decision on the Sandy gravel pit referendum. Neil Lindberg, legal counsel to the Provo City Council, moderated the session, and the two attorneys who argued the case before the Utah Supreme Court spoke and gave their viewpoints.

One thing was clear from the session -- the Supreme Court ruling gave a lot of deference to the referendum process, and steamrolled over some other concepts to acheive it. It also raised some questions about the function of local government in such an atmosphere of deference to the referendum process.

There is no question in my mind that we are going to see the referendum process play a greater role in the community planning process in Utah. It was something that wasn't even on the radar screen just a few years ago. I glanced through a reference book handed out at the conference put together by Craig Call, the state property rights ombudsman, call A Utah Citizens Guide to Land Use Regulation: How It Works and How to Work It. Much of the guide is about land use processes -- what to do, what to expect, what can be done. There is an extensive index in the back. I looked to see what there was about referenda or initiatives -- and there is nothing! Like I said, hardly on the radar screen a few years ago, and now getting bigger and bigger.

Be sure to attend the Utah APA lunch session on this topic, to be held Wednesday Oct. 12, 11:30 am to 1:00 pm at the Salt Lake City Main Library. Bring your own lunch! George Shaw, Sand City Planning Director, will be giving the particulars of the issue, and Neil Lindberg and I will talk about the court ruling and implications for the future.

The conclusion from most of the presenters at the Institute was that the legislature will almost surely have to make some changes to the referendum process, at least for land use issues. Greg Curtis, Speaker of the House of Representatives, was at the Institute, and some who spoke to him in the halls indicated that he sees the need for making some changes, though its not clear what direction some of those changes might take us. Stay tuned.

And to see more of what life for land use issues may become under the referendum process, see the story in today's Trib, where the fight is now about the signs put up by the developer around the Sandy gravel pit. Sigh!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Virtues of Sprawl

Great piece in the Oct. 2 edition of the Boston Globe on suburban growth vs. smart growth and New Urbanism, written by Anthony Flint. Flint is a Globe reporter and author of the forthcoming book, "This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America."

Flint really captures what I think is the essence of the issue: the suburbs are growing, fueled primarily by the relative wealth of people. That isn't going to stop. Our best options are to make the suburbs better (Kotkin's suburban villages concept), and provide more choices for people to live how and where they want, including some who will choose to live in older urban cores.

Flint quotes Kotkin, who says, "The problems of sprawl have to be solved within he context of sprawl. You're not going to stop it. You can't reengineer society by getting everyone to move back to Boston. Forget about it. It's not happening."

Robert Bruegmann, a professor of planning and architecture at the Univesity of Illinois at Chicago, predicts that as societies get ever moe affluent, more people want to come back to cities. But it's just a matter of understanding how wealth drives the popularity of different physical landscapes -- some opt for the urban life, others for the amenities of the suburbs. Each needs to be dealt with to produce the best environment possible.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Pres. Hinckley Announcement Boosts One "Suburban Village"

Found it interesting that right after I blogged about the concept of suburban villages, as discussed by Joel Kotkin and seemingly the direction the Wasatch Vision 2040 conclusions are going, the idea gets an inadvertant boost in LDS General Conference.

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley, in his opening remarks on Saturday morning, revealed the Church's plans for two new temples in southwest Salt Lake County, one specifically for the Daybreak development. Immediately, interest in the development shot up -- see stories in the DesNews and Trib. Again, the idea being that LDS faithful won't need to travel so far to attend to temple worship services.

The DesNews also opined on the planning process now underway in support of the next series of Daybreaks, being discussed by Kennecott Land for their vast acreage along the Oquirrh foothills.

Kotkin, in writing about "suburban villages," said, among other things, "With this new development has come a relatively new phenomenon, the construction of large-scale cultural and religious institutions in the periphery. The suburbs are now host to some of the nation's largest new cultural well as a plethora of smaller, community-based arts facilities. And, at a time when churches in the hearts of many major cities are closing, new churches, as well as synagogues, mosques and Hindu temples [and LDS temples?]...are rising in the outer periphery."

As I said before, much of what Kotkin writes seems to relate to the concepts moving forward here, that may actually find explicit expression in the Wasatch Vision 2040 scenarios.