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Real Estate & Property Law: Kelo and Beyond
Are We Back Yet?
By Greg Alvarez
Yes, I'm slowly emerging from the coma induced from the whirlwind that is the holidays. After taking a deep breath, and shaking out the cobwebs, I've returned to the world of land use finding that the issues that were out there before do not disappear just because you put them out of your mind for a week or two. Take for instance the doldrums of the real estate world that had to endure year-end reports that things were pretty wretched in the market this past year. Making things worse are the personal stories of how the downturn has impacted individuals and families. Take for instance the recent bankruptcy of Levitt & Sons, one of the successor companies to the builder that constructed the famed Levittown on Long Island. Levitt & Son's business model in constructing gated communities in the southeast for retirees has collapsed in the face of the housing slump. One of its projects, Seasons at Prince Creek West, was halted with only a quarter of the units completed. Purchasers of one of the new structures, Ettore and Laris Costanzo, are left to shoulder the burden of having plopped down a down payment, only to see it trapped in the bankruptcy proceeding. All they want is their home. "Please take our money and let us move in," they've said.
Even with the passing of the new year, people still see the need to question new projects that seek to bring great change, and promise tremendous upheaval, within existing communities. For example, in White Plains, New York, where Mayor Joseph M. Delfino and his team have revitalized a once dormant downtown with such luminaries as the Ritz-Carlton and Donald Trump, the questions arise as to whether everyone stands to benefit. As one denizen of a local public housing development notes, "I love the way downtown looks, but is there a place for working people like me in the new downtown? I don't know." Likewise, in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Bridges of St. Paul, a large-scale development originally planned under a prior administration, has faced a roadblock from the new regime. Not only objecting to the plan because it caters towards an upper class clientele, the new mayor and supporting players disagree with the vision that the project brings. Specifically, the Bridges would be located across the Mississippi from the historic downtown core, potentially sucking away its vitality. In addition, the new project would be located on a floodplain right along the banks. As the chairman of the entity heading up the project explained, "We've done everything we can, but the squishy liberals think small-scale is morally superior." No matter which side you come out on these battles, they signal that with the changing calendar come the same issues to wrestle.
And still, growth is unrelenting. And not surprisingly, it's occurring in newly-charted territory. The Rocky Mountain West, in particular, Montana and Wyoming, are seeing an influx of new arrivals looking to escape the fast-paced, overdeveloped and high taxed world of the coasts for a more "natural" way of life. Of course, what no one tells these fleers is that eventually their genteel life will be invaded by too many interlopers, forcing them to seek the next "clean" place. But thanks to the general real estate slowdown, or because of it, the rate of growth in the expanding regions of America has slowed. One report indicates that although growth continues, with Wyoming being the largest advancer, the movement to new places has cooled over the last year. Nonetheless, the trend continues.
And no matter how long we choose to let them extend, the holidays cannot forestall the passage of time, and people. David Kennedy, the State of California's "Water Czar" in the 80's and 90's, passed away over the holidays. In more recent times, he served on a review panel examining the levee failures in New Orleans resulting from Hurricane Katrina. Kennedy had a tremendous impact on a region that will always have water on the brain.
But as this week marks the beginning of the new year, it also ushers in the PGA Tour golf season in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii, where I can still remember being there this time of year three calendars ago. As I watch the players hack away at the Plantation Course, it at least reminds me of the promise of sunny days ahead as we progress into this new year. And maybe, just for a few more hours, I can slip back into my coma for a little longer.
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