Monday, November 28, 2005

Have You Considered Majoring In SUBurban Studies?

Great story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press last Friday about the growing popularity on college campuses of SUBurban studies.

"The suburbs may not be cool -- yet," the story says. "But on campuses across the country, interest in studying suburbsis, well, sprawling."

Professor David Lanegren at Macalester College in the Twin Cities area, and a founder of a suburban studies program, said that for too long, suburbs have been dismissed for political reasons. "Professors tend to be liberal, and they prefer to study urban areas where Democrats dominate. So they focus on issues such as crime, diversity and poverty." Lanegren, by the way, is also a Democrat.

"No matter how you might pretend suburbs don't exist, they do, and they are driving the economy," Lanegren says.

New Urbanism and Smart Growth may be the politically correct things for planners to espouse, but working and planning for the suburbs is the place to make a mark, in my book.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Let's Be Careful Out There

Neil Lindberg passed along an email yesterday alerting us to a decision released by the Utah Supreme Court, finally settling the years-long case regarding the battle between the Croxford home and Fort Union Family Center, developed by Hermes Associates.

Stories in today's Trib and DesNews also detail the story and some of the history. Briefly, the then-Salt Lake County Commissioners Brent Overson and Randy Horiuchi worked with Hermes to develop the Family Center by approving an RDA and associated financing, and approving permits for construction of the project. Commissioner Jim Bradley voted against the project. The owners of the Croxford home refused to sell their old home and property to Hermes, and strenuously objected to the county's approval of the permit, saying it violated the requirements for setbacks, landscaping and access and how it affected their home. Commissioners approved the project anyway.

The project went ahead, but the family filed suit, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court on a couple of different issues. In 1996, the Court threw out a $4.3 million tax subsidy offered to the developers for expansion of the project. In 2oo1, the court ruled that the developers had deliberately encroached on the family's property, and that the county commissioners hadn't followed their own rules when the approved the special exception. On remand to the district court, that court ruled that the developers had been so egregious in their actions that it was only appropriate that they be required to move the walls of the existing building (which houses a Bed, Bath & Beyond store and a Ross Dress for Less business) to conply with the required 20 foot setback, that they landscape the area, and improve the street with curb and gutter and other improvements.

I remember in planning conferences the admonishments we got from local attorneys about how Salt Lake County had not followed its own obvious rules, and how the courts would surely nail us every time if we didn't. Salt Lake County became a rather bad example for us all. The series of court rulings, culminating in this week's final decision, reiterated that stand.

The Trib reports that former Commissioner Brent Overson regrets the action he voted for back then, saying, "The Hermes [redevelopment decision] was the biggest mistake I ever made in my political career. It was bad from the onset. The Supreme Court decision set right the things that were done wrong."

However, Randy Horiuchi, the other Commissioner who voted for the project and who is still a sitting elected county official, said, "Back in the early 1990s, we felt the project met all the legal bounds and ordinances." Really? "We also felt it was important for the county's tax base. Every decision we made was in lockstep with legal advice for our attorneys." Ah, so it was the lawyers' fault.

Certainly an object lesson for us all.

Add-on, November 28: Today's Trib editorializes on this issue.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It Could Be Worse -- We Could Be Oregon

After considering our "woes" such as land use referenda, legislators who talk of turning the authority for planning and zoning on its head, transit and transportation problems, you just need to read what's going on in some other places to not feel quite so bad.

Take Oregon. I think most are aware of Measure 37, which was passed by some 61% of Oregon voters in November 2004. As much as it was reviled by planners and environmentalisits there, local governments were moving ahead to comply with its provisions.

But all of a sudden, in October, a lower court judge ruled the measure unconstitutional and put its implementation on hold for state actions and land use actions in 4 counties.

So what do the other counties and municipalities do? Do they move ahead with implementation (after all, the court ruling was not for their jurisdictions) or do they wait for the outcome of the appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court (which may not come until the middle of next year)? As the National Association of Counties' County News notes, "counties not named in the suit need clarity on how they should be handling the situation. 'They would like some specificity and know what the rules of the ballgame are,' said Art Schlack, policy manager of the Association of Oregon Counties. ' There are 32 counties that are treading water while the Supreme Court determines whether the measure is constitutional or not.'"

Talk about muddled!

And, of course, in the midst of it all, the activists who were responsible for getting the issue placed on the ballot and who won, are decrying the action of the court in contradiction of the "will of the people"(sound familiar, O friends of Legacy Parkway, myself included?).

The Oregon Supreme Court has since announced that they will expedite the hearing on the appeal, recognizing the extreme bind such action has put everyone in. They will now hear the arguments in January.

An editorial in The Oregonian last Sunday makes a great point about judicial actions on such matters, saying that just because the majority in the heat of the moment on a particular issue want to do something that may deprive others of some rights or benefits, does not make it constitutional, as decided by those same people at some earlier time. "Judicial review is not about the power of majorities," the editorial states. "Indeed, it is often most important when the majority is loudest and most insistent."

Interesting stuff. Who says land use issues aren't among some of our most important local government issues?

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Problem With Those Dang Initiatives

The lead editorial in this morning's DesNews is about the animal rights' groups appeal to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of the amendment to the Utah constitution approved a few years ago requiring a two-thirds majority vote on any initiative or referendum regarding wildlife issues.

The News opines that while the decision to make such a requirement may not have been smart, it wasn't unconstitutional (U.S. Constitution), and that the power to determine how initiatives and referenda are to work should be left to the states.

But the editorial makes a very cogent comment about such citizen-initiated moves, saying, "...sometimes, special interests themselves can hijack the initiative process, gathering signatures by telling lies or inflating the truth, then bombarding the airwaves with misleading ads. Unlike the normal legislative process, initiatives can't be amended by representatives whose constituents may have a stake in the outcome. That makes the process of direct democracy less fair."

Apply to land use referenda -- same thing. Not to say that any process is always right or fair, but some may work better than others, and planning commission-governing body approval process seems to work pretty well most of the time.

By the way, for those of you who want to comment on blog items, be aware from here on out I've enabled the "moderate comments" option, not to screen or block any of the comments you all want to make, but to try and cut down on the spam comments. So your comments may take a little longer to post as I try to screen out the spam -- what's lower now than spammers?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Book Looks at History of Suburbs

A great review on the Slate website last week, where Witold Rybczynski reviews Robert Bruegmann's new book, Sprawl: A Compact History. I gotta get this book, as it seems to cover some of the topics that I think ring true on our experience with planning today.

Rybczynski wraps up his review with this: "What this iconoclastic little book demonstrates is that sprawl is not the anamalous result of American zoning laws, or mortgage interest tax deductions, or cheap gas, or subsidized highway construction, or culturual antipathy toward cities. Nor is it an aberration. Bruegmann shows that asking whether sprawl is 'good' or 'bad' is the wrong question. Sprawl is and always has been inherent to urbanization. It is driven less by the regulation of legislators, the actions of developers, and the theories of city planners, than by the decisions of millions of individuals... . This makes altering it very complicated, indeed. There are scores of books offering 'solutions' to sprawl. Their authors would do well to read this book. To find solutions -- or, rather, better ways to manage sprawl, which is not the same thing -- it helps to get the problem right."

Amen

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Open Space for Everyone

According to the DesNews today, the Salt Lake City Council is going to consider tonight rezoning North Salt Lake's 80 acres (and an additional 20 acres of privately owned property) to its newly created Natural Open Space zone.

I have blogged on this topic earlier, saying that I didn't really think such a zone was legally defensible. I had a conversation recently with Lynn Pace, one of SLC's staff attorneys, and he tells me generally I am right, but in this case there are some real ambiguities.

Yes, Lynn agreed, if such an Open Space zone were applied entirely to a privately owned piece of land, then get out your checkbook, you have probably just bought it. But if an private parcel is not entirely zoned with such a designation, and there is some economically viable use left of at least a portion of the property?

Or in the case of a governmental entity owning the land (even if it isn't the same entity as the one imposing the new zone, when that land was acquired via eminent domain for a purpose other than development)?

So Lynn does make it clear, there are some real ambiguities here that we are not really sure how the courts would view it. The whole thing may have to go to court to find out. Hmmmm.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Referendum With a Twist

The Sandy gravel pit referendum was one interesting story. But here's one with a twist -- Bluffdale, as reported in the Trib on Friday.

In an attempt to head off a de-annexation move by a couple of large landowners, the Bluffdale mayor and council voted recently in favor of a settlement agreement that would permit substantial development, much to the dismay of neighbors. The neighbors formed a group, Bluffdale United, and filed to have the agreement vote submitted to a referendum vote, on a date to be determined.

In the meantime, elections took place last week, and some of the development opponents ran against the incumbants, and won. Is the referendum needed now, with the balance of power shifting on the council?

Thursday, 3rd District Court judge Anthony Quinn decided not to accept the settlement agreement, telling the landowners and the city to prepare for a hearing on the merits of the disconnection petition. "The issues in this case seem to be a meager basis for me to appoint myself the ultimate planning and zoning authority for 40 percent of Bluffdale," the judge said.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The "We Hate Wal-Mart" Phenom

Interesting story in yesterday's Trib about the pervasive anti- Wal-Mart expressed in Utah recently, similar to the same thing showing up all around the country.

We all hate Wal-Mart, until we want to buy something cheap. All those people who revile the store itself, seem to go shopping there anyway.

The Davis County Clipper, in a related story, notes that persistent Wal-Mart gadfly David Putman, who actually moved out of Centerville some time ago, continues his dogged persecution of the city and store. What is his story, why does he carry this on to such ends? According to the story, the Centerville citizen who most recently led the opposition, George Fisher, even thinks that Putman's threat of a lawsuit is ill-advised and bound to fail. I agree, with all the care the Centerville City officials have put into the review and approval of the permit for Wal-Mart, a suit is not bound to get very far. What will Putman do next?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Brave New World of Planning

Well, the Sandy gravel pit referendum ended with the proposed zoning ordinance change being approved, which will allow the development proposed by Boyer Co. to move forward.

So what do the participants think now of this brave new world for handling planning issues? "We are really grateful to those voters who really understood why the planning commission approved this project, said Wade Williams, director of retail development for Boyer, as quoted in this morning's DesNews.

Save Our Communities...campaigned vigorously against the change... . The group bet that a grass-roots campaign run on roughly $16,000 could beat a similar group backed by the world's richest company (Wal-Mart). "I believe that if the vote had taken place before they had started campaigning, we would have won hands-on," said Robyn Bagley, a member of SOC.

What a way to decide these issues, through an election campaign. Just looking at what happened in the last few days of election campaigning in communities around me here in Davis County, there were rumors, misinformation, and deliberate smears that all came out about the candidates. Do we doubt that the same will happen in the waning days of election campaigns for planning issues on referenda or initiatives?

Welcome to the brave new world!

Approve Legacy Agreement

The state legislature votes later today on whether to accept the proposed settlement agreement on the Legacy Parkway. A lot has been written and reported in the press about it, with a (small?) group of legislators saying they are opposed because we shouldn't be dealing with "terrorists."

While I can understand the sentiment, it is easy for those opposed to make a stand on "principle" on an issue that is not in their backyard. More than that, given the federal laws that exist and the way the federal courts are interpreting, a settlement is probably the best result that can be gained. It's one thing to stand on principle, it's another to bash your head against a brick wall that isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

All the major editorial boards in the state (Trib, DesNews, Standard-Examiner, KSL) have opined in favor of the settlement. A recent opinion piece by Davis County legislators Sheldon Killpack and Stuart Adams explains some of the misrepresentations that are being made by those opposed to the agreement (I heard some of those in an ad on KSL radio yesterday, and they are downright lies -- like a meandering route and 3-foot shoulders being part of the agreement).

I urge legislators to approve the agreement -- it's where we are in the real world, and it gives us all something to celebrate.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Can They Do That?

Story in this morning's DesNews talks about the passage by the Salt Lake City Council of a new zone designation for natural open space. Property zoned this way would not be allowed to have any development other than perhaps trails.

I have always been of the understanding that court rulings have said that local land use regulation must leave at least some reasonable level of development, so as not to be deemed inverse condemnation and thus essentially a taking of private land for a public purpose. How is this different, can anyone enlighten me?

The story also makes a good point about how an action like this right now, with a couple of legislators (one who happens to be Speaker) are looking for reasons to move ahead with their proposal to restrict local zoning authority, may not be the smartest thing to do. Amen

Letters to Ed Address Planning Issues

Kind of interesting to see three different letters to the editor in the DesNews recently addressing planning-related issues. See the letters here, here, and here.

The letter from Steve Blackham is great, as he talks about the pioneer planning heritage, and how current proposals by some legisators are directly opposite that heritage. Steve is a great guy, used to be on the Centerville Planning Commission here in Davis County.

One of the other letters is from a supporter of the gravel pit development in Sandy. The Trib recently had a story that was a pretty good summary of what is going on in the gravel pit referendum.