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Real Estate & Property Law

: Kelo and Beyond

Innovation, Steve Jobs and Land Use

By Greg Alvarez, Esq.

As always, I am on the look-out for new and interesting things going on in the world of land use. Not only are new projects part of this constant monitoring, but new methods and ways of doing things are also within my orbit. For instance, despite the fact that the two are inherently linked, it is not always the case that the tremendous technology tools available to land use professionals are integrated into the "face" of land use, i.e., presentations before boards and commissions. GIS and AutoCAD are just a few of the common tools that professionals working on new projects, and planning communities for the next epoch of the built-up environment, rely on to do their jobs. On the legal front, we are more limited in our repertoire. Many of our presentations still rely on easels and poster boards rather than digital images or three-dimensional models to make our case.

I'm reading (or more appropriately, listening) to the new biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Besides the fact that apparently Mr. Jobs had some interpersonal communication issues, the other main spine running through his life was an obsession with how appearances and packaging are just as important as the high quality components inside a great product. This isn't the only reason people have saluted Mr. Jobs as a "visionary", but it highlighted for me how important it is to put on the right "show" when appearing before boards. The medium isn't the message, but it certainly helps to convey it.

Around our office, the most critical technological tools we use involve the continually evolving Google Earth and Bing platforms for viewing the properties which are the subject of our land use applications. Seeing a parcel on the Streetview function on Google Earth brings you, literally, to the window of the building on the site (which of course we're planning on demolishing), along with everything else that stands there today. But putting aside the inherent privacy questions, the cool factor Mr. Jobs always strove for still endures for this amazing tool created by one of his bitter rivals. So when it was released last week that Google has expanded its capabilities into certain public spaces such as shopping malls and airports, it turned my attention back to how the land use and technology partnership should continue to evolve.

More and more it has become common practice for municipalities to create their own slide shows of images to be displayed at board hearings. Also, certain localities enlist internal GIS information, which includes aerial maps depicting a variety of overlays, such as zoning districts and uses, for display at public hearings. While there is no material difference between a site plan on a board or a site plan on a screen, it is the inherent utility that should be considered. The simple question of how to orient the easel, i.e., either towards the board or the public, is seemingly at issue at every hearing. Invariably, the easel ends up being positioned into an awkward angle so that none of the audience constituencies is satisfied.

Ultimately, this will be a moot point, as all municipal chambers will eventually be equipped with sufficient infrastructure to support a more user friendly, technologically based framework. But until that day arrives (which may be a while, in this age of austerity), it is in the hands of the applicant to bring a better experience to all involved. A land use hearing will never be the happening place to go on a weekday evening, but it can be an event where the audience you are trying to convince does not mark the second strike against you for annoying them with visual aids they cannot see. Ironically, in 2010, Mr. Jobs himself presented to the City Council of Cupertino, California, the renderings for the proposed new headquarters for his beloved Apple.

Finally, and in a nod to the hippy lifestyle that Mr. Jobs had great appreciation for, a recent article notes an innovative use for the vacant homes that are the byproduct of the wrenching foreclosure crisis we are still struggling with. In several U.S. cities, particularly in hard-stricken Las Vegas, where 1 in every 44 homes has been slated for foreclosure, distressed homes that have been rented out have been transformed into marijuana "grow-ops". Last year in Nevada, 153 indoor operations were busted, up from 18 in pre-bubble 2005. Despite the illegality, this "think different" approach suggests that there are more uses for a single family home than the conventional wisdom offers -- like building computers in the garage, and with it starting a company named after a fruit.

Full post as published by Kelo and Beyond on December 09, 2011 (boomark / email).

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