Now Driving Urban Design — Driverless Vehicles

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Robert Uram

Autonomous vehicles will almost certainly supplant people-driven vehicles, the horse-and-buggies of the 21st century. Given the pace of technological change, that day is closer than you may think.

As recently as 2004, the Department of Defense’s research arm sponsored a race for self-driving vehicles over a 142-mile desert course. That year, 15 self-driving vehicles entered the race, but none made it to the finish line. The following year, four autonomous vehicles successfully completed a 132-mile desert route within the required 10-hour limit. A short 10 years later, Google’s autonomous cars have traveled nearly 2 million miles and its cars legally drive the roads of Mountain View. Testing centers for autonomous vehicles have been established in Michigan, Sweden and Japan.

Our land-use planning and zoning regimes, however, are tailored to meeting the needs of driven cars. Land-use plans and standards will need to be changed to maximize the benefits of shifts from the two-car family to the shared-driverless-car community. As many people as possible need to share his or her vision of the future as part of this process for change.

Planning rules for housing, stores and offices require parking areas. Roads and streets are sized to accommodate a flow of traffic based on models of driven cars. The needs of cars dominate cities and suburbs, and have done so for decades. Everywhere you look you see vehicles: Not just the hordes of cars moving on streets and highways, but the endless rows of cars parked at the curbs and road shoulders, and vast parking lots that envelop shopping centers, business parks, sports stadiums and other destinations. In some cities, parking makes up a quarter of the land use.

As autonomous vehicles begin displacing the ones requiring a human at the wheel, people will no longer need to keep a car parked near where they live. The parking space will no longer be a valued office perk. Parking areas around shopping centers and stadiums will begin to disappear because autonomous cars can be stored (or used) elsewhere and just come to pick up the passengers when needed. Our land-use standards do not contemplate a traffic pattern where picking up and dropping off passengers is a dominant feature of the transportation landscape and where parking is almost an afterthought.

Over time — perhaps decades, perhaps sooner — as more people turn to autonomous cars for transport from home to work, school and play, it will no longer be necessary for each person or family to own a car. The overall fleet of vehicles can be managed more efficiently to serve more people, much like what is happening with the increased use of car-sharing services and chauffeured services. Fewer personal vehicles will also reduce the need to require parking areas.

It will take a concerted effort over many years by planners, engineers, social advocates and affected communities to decide how to best address changes that will occur. Transit and social service agencies should see the development of autonomous vehicles as a laboratory for experimentation. I see great opportunities for positive change:

  • Reduced housing costs and increased capacity by eliminating the need for high rises and homes to build expensive parking garages.
  • Land for other, more productive uses as shopping centers give up vast parking areas to areas designed for efficient passenger pick-up and drop-off.
  • Improved water quality, as land now covered with concrete for parking is converted to grass.
  • More biking and walking paths as street lanes formerly used for parking are converted to these uses, and for lanes for bus rapid transit.
  • Enhanced transportation for low-income and underserved communities through use of autonomous microbuses, subsidized access to autonomous cars and other means.

Collective brainstorming will develop ideas that can be discussed, refined and eventually implemented as we enter the era of autonomous vehicles. Everyone has a stake. What are your thoughts on how to adopt land-uses to autonomous vehicles? 

______________

This article was originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on August 16, 2015.

Dirty Dirt, Developing State Soil Reuse Regulation

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Gregory H. Smith

            Those who have tried to keep up with the development of environmental law into the second decade of the 21st century will not be surprised, as others may be, by the attention now focused on reuse of soil. Uncounted millions of cubic yards of soil are moved each year in the New England region alone. Until very recently, in the absence of contamination above regulatory remediation standards, the excavation and reuse of soils was not subject to any environmental regulation at all.

            Now with the pace of national economic activity rising, soil reuse is drawing the focused attention of State regulators in the northeast region and across the nation. EBC Nov 6, 2014 program. In particular, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont are all currently considering how to regulate soil reuse. In 2014, Massachusetts adopted a requirement for the development of a soil reuse policy by June 2015 and that effort is well underway.

            While New Hampshire relies on a broad definition of “contamination,” it recognizes it lacks explicit legal authority to develop a full blown regulatory program for reuse of “mildly contaminated” soil. The current definition of contamination reaches, by its terms, any non-naturally occurring, regulated contaminant “that has the potential to adversely affect human health or the environment.” N.H. Env-Or 602.07.  

            In these circumstances, New Hampshire is currently regulating on a case by case basis, limiting receiving sites to soils that do not exceed natural background levels. Solid waste regulation can be avoided by an agency waiver, or reuse can be approved with an acceptable soil management plan and soil testing protocol. The New Hampshire agency is making efforts to respond to approval requests rapidly enough to avoid frustrating market driven transactions. It  recognizes, as other regulators do, that construction projects may otherwise be forced to send lightly contaminated soil to landfills, depriving the region of essential landfill capacity, while increasing construction costs for little, if any, environmental benefit. For example, both New Hampshire and Massachusetts have recognized that unreclaimed gravel pits and quarries present potential hazards and risks of their own. They can be attractive nuisances that claim the lives of those who try to use them unwisely for recreation year after year and they can become repositories for discarded materials including stolen or abandoned vehicles. In short, they can be a locus of a range of community problems, if unattended. Rather than pay to send lightly contaminated soils to landfills, a better and more beneficial use could be found.

            The States considering such new programs recognize that their efforts to impose environmental regulation on such a substantial volume of previously unregulated activity could well have unintended and unnecessary adverse consequences for both small and large scale redevelopment projects just as the economy is gaining strength. It must be undertaken in a manner that will not exacerbate other very significant potential problems. They are coordinating among themselves the planning and development of such regulation and giving serious consideration to designing methods that will likely bear the simplicity and efficiency of general permits. Legislative action will no doubt be necessary to authorize these new programs.

            There is little question that as economic activity continues to increase, the States must establish consistent criteria setting forth the standards to be used in determining where mildly contaminated soils generated at construction projects and other developments can be disposed of at subsurface locations. Municipalities and the regulated community need to be educated about this process and engage with the regulators to ensure that the final standards are well-understood, easily implementable, and adequately ensure the environment is protected.

California Appellate Decision Could Impact Railroad–Underground Pipeline Relationships Nationwide

Posted on March 3, 2015 by Tom Sansonetti

On January 21, 2015 the California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from a lower appellate court, thus leaving in place a decision with the potential to impact the longstanding relationship between the nation’s railroads and pipeline companies concerning payment for use of congressionally granted right-of-ways that date from the 19th Century.

The momentous decision in Union Pacific Railroad vs. Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline, Inc. was announced by a unanimous three judge panel from the Court of Appeal of the State of California’s Second Appellate District on November 5, 2014.  The ruling overturned a Los Angeles County trial court judge’s award of $10 million for back rent, plus interest due to the Union Pacific Railroad from the Santa Fe Pacific Pipeline Company.

The pipeline company’s successful appeal centered on narrowing the scope of what pre-1871 grants from Congress to railroad companies included.  The appellate court agreed with the pipeline company that the proverbial “bundle of sticks” of property rights granted by Congress only included uses related to “railroad purposes.”  Oil and gas pipelines buried alongside the tracks were deemed not to be a railroad purpose, as petroleum pipelines were not even conceived of at the time the grants were issued, and had no link or relationship with the daily running of a railroad.

As a result of the appellate court’s holding, the true recipient of the pipeline rental payments was declared to be the United States government as represented by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.  The right-of-way at issue was 2014 miles in length, touched five states and was being renewed for a period of ten years.  Since the pipeline company had been making its rental payments to the railroad for several decades, the possibility looms of the United States, who was not a party to the lawsuit, seeking retroactive application of the ruling to the millions of dollars previously paid to the United Pacific Railroad.

It is anticipated that the railroad will file a petition to grant certiorari with the United States Supreme Court by its April 21, 2015 deadline.  If the Union Pacific Railroad is unsuccessful in either getting certiorari granted or in the subsequent appeal itself, then one could envision other pipeline companies, fiber optic companies and other non-railroad oriented users of the many railroad right-of-ways across the entire country seeking to suspend and not renew rent payments to railroads with pre-1871 grants.  Consequently, the United States government could end up with an unanticipated sizeable new income stream to help fill the nation’s coffers.

What? Another homage to Joe Sax?

Posted on October 22, 2014 by Jeffrey Haynes

Yes, and here’s why:  Joseph Sax’s writings remain as fresh today as when they were published. This blog — in noting his death earlier this year — described Sax’s revival of the public trust doctrine, for which he is justly famous. But some of Sax’s other studies stay relevant, and not only to the generation of environmental lawyers he taught at the University of Michigan Law School and at the University of California Berkeley School of Law.

Sax’s career focused not on the intricacies of pollution control statutes, but on the broader issues of allocation and management of scarce resources. The idea that public trust resources ought not to be diverted from public use, discussed in this blog, is the beginning. Citing Sax, the California Supreme Court in the Mono Lake decision injected public trust concepts into California prior appropriation doctrine.  As noted recently in this blog, California water allocation law continues to slouch toward the present. These issues show why Sax enjoyed teaching water law.

Sax delighted in challenging conventional views. In an early article, he exploded the myth, exemplified by supporters’ confidence in the National Environmental Policy Act, of “the redemptive quality of procedural reform.”  In 2002, he spoke at the University of Michigan about the Great Lakes. The assembled faithful expected him to reinforce their view that not one drop of water should leave the Great Lakes basin. Instead, to their dismay, he demonstrated why water allocation decisions should be based on an evaluation of alternatives, even if that meant water withdrawals from the Great Lakes. Some of the water allocation issues among riparian states that he explores in that speech were recently heard by the Supreme Court in Kansas v. Nebraska, concerning interpretation of an interstate water allocation formula, and will be considered in Mississippi v. Tennessee, which concerns pumping underground water across state borders.

One of the foundations of environmental law is the takings clause. Sax’s 1964 article, Takings and the Police Power, often cited by the Supreme Court, deserves re-reading for its lucid and compact analysis. Following the Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council decision, Sax imaginatively proposed an economy of nature underlying the market economy while criticizing the majority opinion in Lucas for being the outlier in takings law that we now know it to be. But Sax sympathized with the unfairness of takings law on property owners. Recently he noted that the Supreme Court has exhausted its efforts to develop a coherent takings theory. But, he said, that fact brings no solace to a late-in-the-game developer who, denied permits by a municipality that gave away the entire increment of infrastructure amenities to earlier-in-time developers, unfairly receives no compensation.

Management of public lands is a large part of environmental law. As we learned at the 2014 annual meeting, this College is embarking on a new initiative for East Africa community land use and natural resources rights. The underpinnings for such policies are found in Sax’s 1980 book Mountains Without Handrails, which proves the preservationist’s view of national park management. But management of private land adjacent to parks is equally important, as Sax explored in Helpless Giants: The National Parks and Regulation of Private Land. Sax was inspired to write this article when, after hard hiking through rhododendron “hells” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park rising to the Appalachian Trail, he was surprised to see a luxury hotel — located on private land adjacent to the park — thrusting up beyond a forested ridge of the park.

Sax’s foray into the community values inhering in public and private art collections, Playing Darts with a Rembrandt, is echoed in the recent debate over whether the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts should be sold to pay the city’s creditors. Although disclaiming an exact fit with the public trust doctrine, the Michigan Attorney General opined that the DIA held the art as a charitable trust for the public.

Sax received many awards and much praise. His extensive scholarship was reviewed by his peers in a 1998 Ecology Law Quarterly symposium introduced by ACOEL Fellow Richard Lazarus. He received the Asahi Blue Planet Prize in part for drafting the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, the citizen-suit statute discussed here. If these recognitions do not convince you, reading Sax in the original should persuade you of the continuing relevance of his scholarship.

The Affair of the Vicious Vegetable Seeds

Posted on August 26, 2014 by Susan Cooke

 

As August gives way to harvest time, I decided to take this blog down to earth and talk about vegetable seeds.  In particular, the news of a recent crackdown by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture on a local seed library.  

In honor of Earth Day, the Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania decided to start a seed lending library.  Seed exchanges are of course not a new concept.  For countless generations, seeds have been collected and saved for later planting and have been swapped as well, whether among neighbors or at such venues as county fairs.  In recent years, seed libraries have “sprung” up across the United States to preserve the genetic diversity of locally grown crops and encourage local gardening.

The Simpson Library, after consulting the county extension service, got its initiative off to a promising start, with sixty people signing up.   Program participants could “borrow” seeds before the growing season and “donate” seeds back to the library at the end of the season.  However, the Library was in for a big surprise.  On June 12 the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture informed the Library of several requirements under the Pennsylvania Seed Act, including the need for a license to distribute or supply the seed, and the necessity of having its name appear on each seed packet.  In addition, each packet would have to be tested for purity and germination rate in accordance with rigorous requirements, with the same procedure to be followed for seeds donated back to the seed library at the end of the growing season.  The Department explained that noncompliance could result in mislabeling of seed, propagation of potentially invasive plant species, cross pollination of varietals, and introduction of out-of-state poisonous plants.

The Department’s concerns may seem like overkill, and it is open to question whether all of the Act’s requirements are in fact applicable to a library that isn’t selling seeds.  Nevertheless, such requirements are not unique.  In fact, there are similar state laws and regulations across this country and at the federal level, some even more stringent than those in Pennsylvania.  Many of the laws were adopted in the early 1900s when commercial seed companies became more prevalent, but they have seldom been applied to seed libraries.  Now several of those libraries are waiting to see if the authorities in other states will follow Pennsylvania’s lead.

At least for the Simpson Library, there seems to be a happy ending with some qualifications.  After further discussions with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Library agreed to remove all commercially labeled seeds with expired use-by dates, and to purchase and accept only commercially prepared and labeled seeds for the current year or future growing seasons.  In addition, since the Library does not have the testing capacity or proper storage for loose seeds, it will not accept or store harvested seeds from seed library participants.  However, it can – and will - host seed swap events where individuals swap or trade their own seeds.  The Library’s website contains several of the relevant documents.

My takeaway?  Depending on your point of view, no good deed goes unpunished, or exercise caution when a stranger – or even your best friend – offers you heirloom tomato seeds, since you never know what dangerous properties may lurk within.  And for all concerned, support your local library!  

3 BR, 2 Baths, With a Spectacular View of the Northwest Ordinance

Posted on July 21, 2014 by Linda Benfield

In Wisconsin, the desire to develop prime Milwaukee lakefront property is running head on into the Public Trust Doctrine and fueling interest in the state’s earliest history.  The lands that are now Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois were initially included in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which established that navigable waters are “common highways” and are “forever free” to all citizens of the United States.  This language was incorporated into the state Constitution in 1848, and the Public Trust Doctrine is an integral part of Wisconsin’s environmental identity. The doctrine has been interpreted over the years to ensure that beaches have public access, that the public can swim, boat or walk in any water body as long as they “keep their feet wet,” and that restaurants located along Lake Michigan offer at least one cheap meal.   

Now a developer wants to replace an ill-suited County bus garage along the lake front with a high rise development that would include a hotel and high end apartments with lovely lake views.  The problem:  under the Public Trust Doctrine, title to the Lake Michigan lake bed (as it existed in 1848) off the shores of Milwaukee rests with the state, which is required to “preserve” and “promote” the public trust. A scramble to the history books and maps ensued, and an initial memorandum from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources “determining” that the land in question was not part of the lake bed in 1848 was rescinded when historical maps were found showing that approximately 2/3 of the property was in the lake bed at that time.  Proponents next argued that the property in question had accreted naturally, thus exempting it under a narrow exception to the Public Trust doctrine.  When historical documents showed that any structures that would have led to accretion were placed after the property was filled (and soil borings identified fill material), these parties turned to a 1913 deal with the Chicago Northwestern Railway.  The arguments that the city conveyed this property to the railroad, and that it would have become upland by the process of accretion, and in any event was for a public purpose and did not materially affect the rights of the public, did not gain independent traction, over similar public trust concerns.  

Enter the legislature. A budget bill was initially passed, whereby the legislature, as “Trustee,” approved the 1913 transaction. However, because Wisconsin law does not allow the legislature to include private bills in budget bills, a second bill was introduced and Act 140 was signed into law on March 17, 2014.  Act 140 sets the boundary of the lake bed at the line of the 1913 transaction, bars the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from taking a position on the determination, and declares that the legislature’s findings are “in lieu of, and have the same effect as,” a quiet title action entered by a court. 

The new law could have a profound impact on Milwaukee’s lake front.  This month, another company offered to purchase the county parking garage in the same area; this land was also part of the lake bed in 1848 and was included in the 1913 transaction.  The private company will pay off existing debt and commit to immediate, much-needed repairs to the parking garage.  It remains to be seen whether Act 140 will survive a judicial challenge, and whether judicial confirmation of the statute will be necessary to entice any necessary funding and title insurance for the developments.

New Developments in Conservation Easements

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Philip Tabas

Conservation easements have a long been an effective tool for private efforts to protect land in the United States. But we may not be aware that there is a growing private lands conservation movement in other countries. Conservationists in those counties are adapting the conservation easement as we know it here in the United States to conservation needs in their jurisdictions. Two recent examples highlight this growing trend, one in Micronesia and one in Chile.

As you will recall, a conservation easement is a legally binding agreement between a landowner and the easement holder whereby the landowner agrees to limit the use of his or her property to protect outdoor recreation, natural habitats, open spaces, scenic areas, or historic lands and buildings. Easements have been on the rise in the United States since the 1980s because of important federal and state income tax, federal estate tax, and local property tax benefits that are available to donors of conservation easements.  Easements are usually a less expensive conservation approach than government acquisition, ownership, or land use regulation.

Conservation Easement in Micronesia

One conservation-minded family and a state agency in the small island of Kosrae State in Micronesia has just recently recorded the first conservation easement outside of the Americas and in a form that other Micronesian countries and even the United States could model.

Once a United States Trust Territory, Kosrae is one of three states that comprise the independent nation known as the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Its legal system is based on the United States legal system. Kosrae’s Attorney General issued an opinion that a conservation easement is a legally viable option for land protection in Kosrae, analogizing to legal principles established in the United States.

This particular conservation easement is designed to permanently protect a rare freshwater swamp forest comprised primarily of the ”ka” tree. The entire forest, named Yela, comprises approximately 400 acres and is the largest remaining ”ka” forest in the world. The undeveloped valley forest has been and will continue to be used for traditional harvests. Eels, nuts, wild pigs, and taro leaves for underground ovens or “ums” are gathered there. The easement will prevent development on the property.

The Yela deal is innovative not only because it introduces a new conservation tool to the region but it is “a new and improved” version of that tool from which states in the United States could benefit. Instead of the grantor who signs the easement sale agreement solely benefitting from the sale proceeds, as is often the case in the United States, the family in this case has invested that income into a trust fund managed by the Micronesia Conservation Trust and from which the family will derive payments over time.

The Kosraean conservation easement deal is being eyed by both Micronesians and other Pacific Islands because, unlike an outright government purchase of the land, the conservation easement model will accommodate the needs of traditional land uses and generational changes while compensating the owners for keeping the land in its natural state.

Conservation Easement in Chile

The largest and third ever conservation easement was recently created in Chile between The Nature Conservancy as the owner of the 123,000 acre Valdivian Coastal Reserve and Fundación de Conservación (FORECOS), a land trust in Chile. FORECOS will hold a conservation easement over nearly all of the acreage comprising the Valdivian Coastal Reserve, one of the world’s last temperate rainforests. To be enforceable under Chilean law, this easement is structured as an easement appurtenant. TNC will give FORECOS fee title to a small parcel of Valdivian acreage to serve as the ‘benefitted’ parcel of land which will be protected by a reciprocal easement held by the Conservancy.

The Reserve is one of the last intact temperate rainforests along the Valdivian Coastal Mountain Range. It is home to outstanding examples of endemic flora and fauna species, including two of the world’s longest living tree species, the alerce — which can live for more than 3,600 years — and the olivillo — which can live up to 400 years — as well as to numerous imperiled species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. The Reserve also contains an important marine coastal ecosystem of scrubland, coastal dune, sandy beaches and rocky coasts. In addition, there are eight river basins and five estuary systems within the Reserve that support numerous globally threatened species of plant and animal life.

At the same time that this easement was created, the Chilean Congress is continuing to consider the Derecho Real de Conservacion (DRC) legislation, which would establish a legal framework to enable the easier use of conservation easements in gross  for conservation in Chile (by removing the need for the appurtenancy requirement). The completion of this first Chilean conservation easement may encourage the enactment of the legislation. This legislation, along with a proposed Unified Donations Law that will provide tax incentives for conservation donations and make donating to conservation non-profits easier in Chile, has received strong backing from many community and political leaders in Chile.

Easements have also been used in conservation projects in Australia (there called “conservation covenants”), Canada, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Mexico.  While these two most recent examples of conservation easements may differ in detail, they both represent the beginnings of what are likely to be increasingly noteworthy initiatives in countries other than the United States to find and develop new conservation tools to address the needs of both conservation and compatible community development.

Climate Change Litigation – Will Property Insurers Take the Lead?

Posted on April 24, 2014 by Ralph Child

Common law litigation seeking relief from petrochemical companies for causing climate change has been much touted but little successful.

The insurance industry has been warning of huge coming losses due to climate change, but has not taken aggressive action to force change.

Until now? 

In a lawsuit filed in Illinois state court on April 16, 2014, some property insurers sued the City of Chicago and a host of regional and municipal water managers for failure to provide adequate stormwater storage.  The class action suit alleges that the plaintiffs’ insureds would not have suffered so much flood damage from a 2013 storm had the defendants exercised better planning and construction to deal with foreseeable storms. 

Notably, the plaintiff insurers rely heavily on the 2008 Chicago Climate Action Plan.  The plan recognized that climate change would cause increased amounts, durations and intensities of rainfall.  Plaintiffs allege that despite the foreseen problem and having had adequate time and opportunity, the defendants failed to make the recommended and necessary improvements, leading to the injuries to the insureds’ properties.

Certainly this suit faces many challenges.  Courts are slow to override state and local governments’ complicated budgeting choices.  Moreover, courts may be ill-equipped to oversee projects such as Chicago’s Deep Tunnel Project, which was commissioned in the 1970s to address metropolitan flooding, stormwater and sewage.  After more than $3 billion so far, itwill not be completed until at least 2029.

Also, query whether such litigation will help or hurt state and local efforts to adapt to climate change.  It could deter honest forecasting of what it will take.

Still, this lawsuit could augur a new wave of common law climate change litigation – a category involving well-funded plaintiffs with provable arguments for proximate cause of real damages.

Temporary contamination – Ain’t that a non-compensable shame?

Posted on December 12, 2013 by Jeff Civins

A “stigma” is a mark of shame.  When applied to real estate, stigma refers to an unfavorable quality in a property that makes it less attractive.  Whether a landowner may recover stigma damages for temporary contamination that has been remediated in accordance with state law is an issue the Texas Supreme Court will consider when it hears oral argument in early December in the case of Houston Unlimited, Inc. Metal Processing v. Mel Acres Ranch

In that case, the lower appellate court had affirmed the decision of the trial court, following a jury trial, awarding the plaintiff almost $400,000 in damages attributable to an alleged diminution in value resulting from temporary contamination.  In arguing for reversal, Houston Unlimited has asserted that this decision recognizes a new cause of action in Texas – for stigma damages absent permanent physical injury.  Because of the ramifications of this holding, a number of Texas trade associations have filed amicus briefs in support of Houston Unlimited.1 

Houston Unlimited operated a metal-processing facility that had failed to comply with various regulatory requirements relating to the management of solid waste and storm water.  Its operations also had resulted in leaks to the adjoining Mel Acres Ranch.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (“TCEQ”) cited Houston Unlimited for these violations and required it to investigate the contamination on the ranch.  

Houston Unlimited stopped the leaks and instituted steps to prevent future leaks. Its investigation showed that there was no ongoing contamination and that only one sample result – for copper in one pond – showed an excess of a TCEQ action level, which a month later had fallen below the action level. The ranch nonetheless sued for trespass, nuisance, and negligence, alleging that it had suffered permanent damage, measured by a loss in market value of the property.

The jury found that there had been no permanent nuisance or trespass, but nonetheless awarded the ranch stigma damages.  Houston Unlimited asserts that a majority of jurisdictions reject this theory of recovery and that the decision of the lower court disregards the TCEQ’s regulatory determination as well as prior case law.  The Court’s determination – whether temporary contamination ain’t a non-compensable shame – will have significant ramifications for other pollution damage cases in Texas and possibly elsewhere.  

The blogger’s firm, Haynes and Boone, represents one of those associations – The Texas Oil & Gas Association – in this matter.

Finding Common Ground

Posted on August 1, 2013 by Irma S. Russell

Last month’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District has been the subject of intense dialogue among ACOEL members and environmental lawyers around the country. The Court’s holding that the Water District violated the Fifth Amendment just compensation clause extended the Nollan and Dolan standard to the context of denial of a permit application and raised the need for land use agreements that achieve acceptable results for all involved – a tall order.

A recently published book provides a resource for lawyers and students working in the land use arena. Land In Conflict: Managing and Resolving Land Use Disputes (Lincoln Institute, 2013) by Sean Nolon, Ona Ferguson, and Patrick Field, focuses on land use disputes over the full range of zoning, planning, and development and provides a primer for professionals on all sides of land use issues, including local planners, proponents of projects, developers and their financiers. Parties involved in land use permitting can draw on the book to consider how their conduct and orientation facilitate (or, perhaps, impair) the ability of the parties to find common ground. This book provides insights regarding the public’s right to access to information about land use projects. Both proponents and opponents to projects will gain ideas from this book on interacting effectively, whether this is in the filing process of proposing or opposing a project before a local board or department with land use authority. The orientation of this work is to focus on reconciling the interests of all legitimate stakeholders in the hope of producing, as the authors note, more durable outcomes than typically achieved in the adjudicatory approach. This mutual-gains approach has wider application than land use. It is guided by principles that move decision making away from the impasse of rights rhetoric toward decisions that seek the best alternatives for all stakeholders.

Taking the Fifth on the Fifth’s Taking Clause

Posted on June 26, 2013 by Robert M Olian

…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Everyone understands the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause to mean, at a minimum, the government cannot force the transfer of private property to the government even for a manifestly governmental purpose (e.g. a highway right of way, or a new airport runway), without compensating the property owner.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District is the latest in a series of Supreme Court rulings to extend the protections of the Takings Clause beyond the obvious governmental requisitioning of private property. That’s “latest,” not “last”.

Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (1987) and Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994), combine to set forth the Court’s requirements for an “essential nexus” and “rough proportionality” between conditions on land use development and the government’s underlying objectives in the permit scheme to which the property owner is subjected. Absent either nexus or proportionality, a taking has occurred, and the Takings Clause requires that the property owner get “just compensation.” So far, so good.

The facts in Koontz are to some extent irrelevant; indeed the Court’s opinion expressly disowned any determination of the merits of his particular claim for compensation. Depending on whose brief you read, Koontz wanted to develop some wetlands property but the Water Management District refused to approve his project as proposed and put forth some mitigation options that were either “extortionate demands” or “helpful suggestions”, one of which consisted of Koontz spending money to improve public lands remote from his own property. Koontz took umbrage and sued under Florida state law.  The trial court found for Koontz on the basis of Nollan-Dolan, and the intermediate state appellate court affirmed.

The Florida Supreme Court reversed for two reasons: first, it held the Nollan-Dolan standard does not apply to denial of a permit; and second, it held the standard does not apply to a requirement for the payment of money, as opposed to the impairment of a specific piece of property.

Every Justice agreed that the Florida Supreme Court got the first part wrong; that is, they all agreed the Takings Clause applies to permit denials as well as permit approvals. The majority and dissent parted ways with respect to the second question, however, with the majority again holding that Florida got it wrong and that excluding monetary exactions would allow permitting agencies to improperly circumvent the Nollan-Dolan requirements.

Now, one can agree or disagree with the majority, but the decision hardly shocks the conscience. What the decision holds is far less important than what remains to be decided in future cases:

1.    How concrete and specific must a demanded concession be to give rise to liability under Nollan and Dolan?
2.    What happens if a permitting authority merely says, “Denied, come back with something better,” and makes no other demand?
3.    Where will the line be drawn to prevent countless local land use decisions from becoming federal cases?

On these points, the majority took the Fifth.