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Real Estate & Property Law: Kelo and Beyond
An Embarrassment of Riches
By Greg Alvarez
In a nation where everything has to be bigger and better, especially around this time of year, it's novel to see the things going on around the nation to attempt to curtail our voracious appetites, especially when it comes to devouring the land. One recent story that struck my fancy came out of Los Angeles, where the land of sprawl is coming to terms with its increasing density. The city's Planning Commission is contemplating a measure to curtail the McMansion effect that has plagued many of the metropolis' communities over the last few decades. In some camps, the measure falls short of what they are looking for to end the age of monstrosities on tiny single-family lots, what one City Councilman calls "Mansionization." First, the measure will only effect homes falling within a single type of zoning district, and would still permit homes to be half the square footage of the size of their respective lot. In addition, architectural requirements have not been added to the proposal, which effectively would allow the same "box" construction that many hope the revision to the zoning ordinance would end. Nonetheless, in a city where the average new home measures out at 3,250 square feet, it's a start.
How about in New York City, where the crush of cars that clog the 1950's style highway system has brought on the congestion pricing scheme that continues to work its way through the lengthy approval process. For the unindoctrinated, the plan would charge for all cars seeking to enter the island of Manhattan below 86th Street during peak times. In particular, tolls would be charged at the inbound Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg and Queensborough (59th Street) Bridges. Tolls were originally charged on these bridges (the ones that were around) up to 1911. The issue has been considered in various forms since the '60s, but has never been implemented. This week, the state commission charged with the hot potato continues to evaluate the proposal. It must issue its recommendation to the New York State Legislature and New York City Council for their approval.
In the same arena, which likewise impacts the congestion around New York, the U.S. Transportation Department plans on imposing limits on the number of flights coming in and out of John F. Kennedy Airport to alleviate the clogged skies above the Big Apple. An auction process may be instituted to distribute the coveted slots. The airlines see the measure as nothing less than a Kelo-like taking of property. As one spokesman noted, "We would oppose any auction process that seizes the existing assets of the airlines that have invested hundreds of millions, if not billions, over the years. . . ." Either way, the plan suggests that we need to safeguard our precious space -- even if it's 30,000 feet above our heads.
Finally, a spirit of sharing has emerged from the latest landmark agreement to redistribute the resources of the Colorado River amongst the states of the Western U.S. With dropping reservoirs met by increasing growth in the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, the new plan fosters conservation and encourages scaling back the growth. As is unavoidable with any agreement, there will be grumbling. Environmental groups say it doesn't go far enough. The plan calls for decreasing water deliveries in times of drought. But nothing stops thirsty locales from sucking the river dry to those levels. Nonetheless, the realization has begun that maybe the era of America' embarrassment of riches may soon be over.
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