Cities: October 2004 Archives

Here's what's on the front page in Wednesday's Branson Daily News:

Aldermen want more info

By Cliff Sain
BDN Staff Writer

Branson aldermen want to be more involved with a $300 million lakefront project, now that large bills are being paid.

During an informal meeting before Monday's Branson Board of Aldermen meeting, Alderman Dave Edie said he needed more information from City Administrator Terry Dody about the Branson Landing project, a $300 million retail project along Lake Taneycomo whose cost is being shared between the city and HCW Development Company, the developer of the project.

"I feel left out of the loop," Edie said.

Branson Landing, which is expected to be completed by 2006, will have a boardwalk, a town square, a water fountain display, a hotel, a Bass Pro Shops, a Belk department store and several other shops and restaurants. Next door, along Sycamore Street, the city and HCW plan to build a convention center and hotel, to be completed in 2007.

Of concern to Edie is that the bills coming in on the project are getting much bigger, as high as $600,000.

"I keep seeing these bills for hundreds of thousands of dollars," Edie said.

Currently, aldermen are supplied with a detailed list of bills before each board meeting, but several aldermen said they'd like a chance to look through the bills earlier.

The cheek! And the shocking thing is that the Branson Daily News didn't accompany the story with unflattering photos of the aldermen or quotes from the Branson Chamber of Commerce leadership explaining how unreasonable the aldermen are being. No word yet whether a recall is planned. Clearly the Daily News needs a few lessons in how to run a city for fun and profit from their counterparts at the Tulsa Whirled.

Op-eds on eminent domain

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The Hampton Roads, Virginia, area is blessed to have a newspaper that opposes the abuse of government's power to condemn property. Eminent Domain Watch reprints an editorial in the Virginian-Pilot about the pending New London, Connecticut, case before the U. S. Supreme Court:

In 1981, the Michigan Supreme Court OK’d the condemnation of a Polish neighborhood in Detroit to make way for a new Cadillac plant.

Ever since, too many municipal officials have assumed they had carte blanche to take title to one person’s land and then sell it to someone else pledging to extract more jobs and taxes from it.

That’s why it’s welcome news that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to intervene. It has taken up an outrageous case of eminent domain abuse on appeal from Connecticut. The case permits the court to curb a surge in condemnations motivated solely for economic development, not for the legitimate reasons of clearing slums and blight, or public necessities, such as roads, schools and hospitals.

And EDW reprints a Phyllis Schlafly op-ed on the same topic. Schlafly is head of the Eagle Forum, a conservative women's organization. Although best known for her advocacy for conservative positions on social issues, Schlafly has been outspoken in opposition to government violations of property rights and privacy rights. This column beautifully depicts the impact of eminent domain abuse:

The American Dream is to start a small business and develop it through years of hard work and investment. Millions of small businesses form the backbone of the United States' economy, annually creating between 60 percent and 80 percent of new jobs.

Location is the key to most businesses, and entrepreneurs typically build their reputation at a particular spot. But lately, many have been greeted by a surprise message from city hall: Their town is taking their property for the benefit of someone else.

A lifetime of effort is suddenly snuffed by the arbitrary decision of a few councilmen or unelected city planners. Business owner can claim only an appraised value for the hollow building and land that he actually owns. He receives zero compensation for the goodwill and revenue stream from customers he has nourished for years. A business leasing its property usually receives no compensation. Employees get nothing.

That's a pretty good description of what Peggy Jones of the Denver Grill faced, although in her case the property will be used for a publicly-owned facility, a use of eminent domain that is not in dispute.

There are forces in Tulsa that would love to misuse the government's power to condemn for private gain. I'm hopeful that the Supreme Court will make it clear that condemnation is only to be use for public use, not private benefit.

The three rules of city comfort

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What makes a city a desirable place to live? Author David Sucher has written a book called City Comforts which tries to isolate the keys to answering the above question effectively. Here's the home page for the book:

Our purpose is to help make our urban civilization more...well...civilized. By and large our cities lack comfort and grace. Oh, they have their bright spots — and there is lots of good work being done — but overall it's pretty dreary.

The 'theory' of this book is that we don't pay attention to the small details of cities that really make the difference in our comfort. We spend a lot of time planning, a lot of time thinking about how wonderful it could all be. But we don't spend a whole lot of effort dealing with the thousands of small details that make up our daily experience. We are great on large-scale strategy and a bit inept at tactics.

There are many people all across the world who see both the poverty of our urban environments and see a way to evolve out of it. Speaking loosely, this approach can be called 'the new urbanism.' (I say loosely because there are many threads to this emerging urban tapestry and some pull in different directions. But they are all tied together by the desire to create cities built to human scale, where people can walk and where there is a sense of community.)

The simple patterns and simple details shown in City Comforts are not any panacea but they provide a framework for judging new construction, for separating the simple but crucial patterns from the trivial matters of style. This simple framework asks us to examine a very few elements of the urban landscape but it will go a long way to improve our cities.

He's got a blog which covers urban design issues, as well as other topics:

What is this blog about? Cities, architecture, the 'new urbanism,' real estate, historic preservation, urban design, land use law, landscape, transport etc etc from a mildly libertarian stance. Our response to problems of human settlement is not "better planning" and a bigger budget for local government. But alas, conservative and libertarian (not the same, to be sure) response to shaping our cities is too often barren and in denial. Our goal is to take part in fostering a new perspective. But not too earnestly.

I'm pleased to see someone approaching urban design issues from a libertarian stance. The centralized, mandated approach to fixing bad urban design or prescribing good urban design usually doesn't work and is foreign to America's ideal of private property rights. If anything, central planning has usually led to the destruction of good urban design and the construction of dead urban areas. Let's figure out how to work with market forces to make our cities livelier.

Sucher has a helpful blogroll of other sites dealing with the built environment and a list of his favorite blog entries. Here are a couple of recent highlights.

Here is an animated GIF illustrating the contrast between urban and sub-urban design -- it all starts with where you put the parking.

Urbtosub3th

He asks what could be done to improve the graphic, and I think there are a couple of things that would help communicate the visual impact of a huge suburban parking lot separating the pedestrian from where he wants to go.

(1) The cross-section view at the bottom would be clearer with some subtle elevation differences, for example, showing the sidewalk and bottom of the building at a slightly higher level than the street, alley, and parking lot. A tree between the pedestrian and the street might also help make the distinction.

(2) A view showing the front of the building as seen from the sidewalk would help -- the urban version with the front door and display windows right there, and the suburban version with the front of the building far in the background, with asphalt and a few cars in the foreground.

This entry contains a link to a PDF excerpt from City Comforts the book, which outlines three simple rules, which he calls "the 'pattern generator' for creating 'city-ness'". Here are the rules, all of which have to do with the relationship of the building to its surroundings, rather than building height and style:

  1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).
  2. Make the building front "permeable" (i.e., no blank walls).
  3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

Some day, when I have a few minutes to spare, I hope to post some photos I took along Rue Ste. Catherine in Montréal back in July, which illustrate how buildings in a variety of styles, ages, and sizes all work together to create an interesting and pleasant place to walk, as long as the buildings adhere to those rules.

In the meantime, I've bookmarked the City Comforts blog and encourage you to visit there frequently.

Kelo v. City of New London is headed to the Supreme Court. This case is about a neighborhood in New London, Connecticut, which city officials saw fit to condemn, not because the area was blighted, not because the land was needed for widening a road or constructing an important public facility, but because the city officials thought the property would generate more tax revenue if a certain private company owned it. This abuse of property rights and the power of eminent domain is becoming increasingly common, and here's hoping the Supreme Court affirms the Bill of Rights which clearly says that government can only take private property for public use, not for someone else's private use.

The Institute for Justice is defending the rights of the small businesses and homeowners who would be displaced by this scheme. You can find their press release here, which has a link to their certiorari brief asking the Supreme Court to take the case.

Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the brief's statement:

Petitioner Wilhelmina Dery was born in her house in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Connecticut in 1918. She lives there now, as she has for her entire life, along with her husband of over fifty years and the rest of her family. She and her neighbors, the other Petitioners in this case, stand to lose their homes through eminent domain to make way for private business development.

Mrs. Dery’s city government and a private development corporation hope that the new development projects will create more tax revenue and jobs than the homes that currently occupy this peninsula of land along the Thames River. Petitioners have poured their labor and love into their homes. They are places where they have lived for years, have raised their families, and have grown old.
Petitioners do not want money or damages. They merely seek to stop the use of eminent domain to take away their most sacred and important of possessions: their homes.

The Fort Trumbull neighborhood originally consisted of approximately 115 land parcels with a mixture of homes and small businesses. On January 18, 2000,
respondent City of New London (“the City”) adopted the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development Plan (“development plan”) as prepared by respondent New London
Development Corporation (“NLDC”), a private, nonprofit development corporation. ...

The NLDC will own the land located in the development area but lease it to private developers. App. 6. At the time of the trial, the NLDC was negotiating with Corcoran Jennison, a private developer, to enter into a ninety-nine year lease for development projects in parcels 1, 2, and 3 of the area. Under the terms of the lease, Corcoran Jennison would pay the NLDC the rent of $1 per year. Corcoran Jennison would then develop the land and select tenants for the projects. When it adopted the development plan, the City delegated to the NLDC the power of eminent domain to acquire properties within the Fort Trumbull development area. In October 2000, the NLDC voted to use eminent domain to acquire the remaining properties in the Fort Trumbull area from owners who would not sell voluntarily, including homes owned by Petitioners. Starting in
November 2000, the NLDC began to file the condemnation actions against Petitioners that gave rise to the present case. The NLDC brought all condemnation actions in this case not under Connecticut’s urban renewal law (C.G.S. Chapter 130, §§ 8-124, et seq.), which permits the use of eminent domain to clear slums or blighted areas, but rather under C.G.S. Chapter 132, §§ 8-186, et seq., which governs Municipal Development Projects.

These cases are becoming more and more common, as tax-greedy governments are willing to do anything to increase the take, even if it means throwing their own citizens out of their homes. A town in upstate New York wanted to condemn a neighborhood to allow Ikea to build a new furniture store. A southern California city tried to seize part of a church's property in order to build a Costco discount warehouse store.

You can learn more about eminent domain abuse by visiting the Castle Coalition website and the Eminent Domain Watch blog.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from October 2004.

Cities: September 2004 is the previous archive.

Cities: December 2004 is the next archive.

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