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Zoning , Land Use, Location, Transportation

State Legislatures to Supreme Court: Don’t Tread on Me

February 22, 2006 | 12:01 am | |

The front page, above the fold, article [States Curbing Right to Seize Private Homes [NYT]]( talks about the national backlash to the Supreme Court findings in [KELO et al. v. CITY OF NEW LONDON et al.](

In a rare display of unanimity that cuts across partisan and geographic lines, lawmakers in virtually every statehouse across the country are advancing bills and constitutional amendments to limit use of the government’s power of eminent domain to seize private property for economic development purposes.

Rarely has a Supreme Court ruling created such a universal reaction that was not made up along party lines. The idea that the loss of private property to private development seems to have struck a cord with state and local legislatures and they are passing laws that would disallow many situations that would involve emminent domain. In fact, one of the justices seemed to apologize after the 4-3 decision and said that “We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power.”

“It’s open season on eminent domain,” said Larry Morandi, a land-use specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Bills are being pushed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and they’re passing by huge margins.” Americans see property ownership, and the rights associated with them, as a right of citizenship. This ruling seemed to bypass American sentiment.

Like everything to do with real estate, Americans tend to go from one extreme to the other. More neutral observers expressed concern that state officials, in their zeal to protect homeowners and small businesses, would handcuff local governments that are trying to revitalize dying cities and fill in blighted areas with projects that produce tax revenues and jobs. Many emminent domain situations need to be judged on a case-by-case basis.

[USA Today provided a list of strategies that legislatures are taking:](

  • Explicit bans. Some bills would ban the use of eminent domain for economic development. Others would do so indirectly by stating when it can be used and leaving commercial development off the list.

  • Narrower rules. Many states are considering making it harder for cities to declare a neighborhood “blighted” just for economic development.

  • Economic penalties. New York and Indiana are among states considering making eminent domain more expensive. The government would have to pay 25% or 50% above market value when it confiscates a property for commercial development.

_Here’s a sample of the action that is taking place to limit takings:_
[Eminent-domain bills given a hearing [Baltimore Sun]](,0,2264041.story?coll=bal-local-headlines)
[Limiting eminent domain [Journal-Advocate – CO]](,1413,120~7826~3246118,00.html)
[Rethinking eminent domain: Lawmakers want to curtail the power of local governments [Bradenton Herald – FL]](

_Prior Posts In Matrix_
[The Kelo Backlash: Now Many Are Rethinking Eminent Domain [Matrix]](
[Wrecking Ball: Taking Eminent Domain Private [Matrix]](

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Sprawled In The Suburbs, There Is Hope For The New-Urbanist

February 8, 2006 | 12:01 am |

National Geographic has a really cool image gallery that [compares New Urbanist and Sprawl suburbs [NG].]( Wait a sec…National Geographic? [Here’s a cheesy interactive page of the same info [NG].](

  • New Urbanism – [promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities [].](

  • Sprawl – [A haphazard and disorderly form of urban development [COA].](

Here’s more discussion from the City of Austin:
-Residences far removed from stores, parks, and other activity centers
-Scattered or “leapfrog” development that leaves large tracts of undeveloped land between developments
-Commercial strip development along major streets
-Large expanses of low-density or single use development such as commercial centers with no office or residential uses, or residential areas with no nearby commercial centers
-Major form of transportation is the automobile Uninterrupted and contiguous low- to medium-density (one to six du/ac) urban development
-Walled residential subdivisions that do not connect to adjacent residential development.

I was specifically interested in National Geographics definition of the residential components and how they differ between the two types of suburban growth:

New Urbanism

  • Different housing types—apartments, row houses, detached homes—occupy the same neighborhood, sometimes the same block.

  • People of different income levels mingle and may come to better understand each other.

  • A family can “move up” without moving away—say, from a row house to a single-family home.

  • Property values don’t necessarily suffer when housing types are mixed. New-urbanist neighborhoods are generally outselling neighboring subdivisions, and some of the United States’ most expensive older neighborhoods—Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown, Boston’s Beacon Hill, for example—are marvels of mixed housing.


  • Developers often fill whole subdivisions with one type of residence—say, $300,000 ranch houses.

  • Zoning often outlaws apartments and houses in the same development.

  • Sequestered in a narrow sliver of society, people may develop or maintain intolerance of those outside their ilk.

It seems logical that New Urbanism is more appealing (to me on first glance anyway) based on the points made above, but look at the discussions raised [Suburban Dystopia[Polis]]( [Suburbs are experiencing a renaissance [LA Times].](,0,6957589.story?coll=la-class-realestate) Actually I think nearly every fad or movement in housing is being seen now. When the market is as strong as it has been, more expensive alternatives gain in popularity. Here’s another [California pro-Suburb article that came out on the same day. [SF Chron]](

The correction of a 50 year old housing pattern is not so easy. In addition, restrictions on use, such as zoning, transportation, building codes, etc. tend to drive the prices up. The move toward New Urbanism means a potentially better living experience but at higher prices.


Its The Law: Zoning And Building Regulations Are A Cause Of Higher Housing Prices

January 9, 2006 | 12:01 am |

In the laws of supply and demand, assuming demand as a constant, restriction in housing supply causes housing prices to rise.

This is nothing new but the irony is not lost on some. Municipalities grapple with providing affordable housing yet unintentially create a restrictive development environment preventing anything but luxury housing from being cost-effective to build. This pattern tends to be more exagerated in high density metropolitan areas.

A “[two-year study, released last week by the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research and the Rappaport Institute [Lowell Sun]](, collected zoning data on 187 communities within 50 miles of Boston. The data does not include Boston or Cape Cod.

Pro-development groups including Homebuilders Association of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and the Massachusetts Lumber Retailers Association paid for the survey, but the groups did not pay Glaeser for his analysis or report.”

[Download the report [Pioneer Institute]](

Edward Glaeser, lead author of the study, said over-regulation by cities and towns are driving up the cost of housing in Massachusetts, driving away residents and putting pressure on businesses to keep highly-skilled workers.

_Glaeser is a Harvard academic who has written other well-read housing papers such as:_

[Why is Manhattan So Expensive? Regulation and the Rise in Housing Prices [pdf]](
[Why Have Housing Prices Gone Up? [pdf]](
[Urban Growth and Housing Supply [pdf]](

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The Kelo Backlash: Now Many Are Rethinking Eminent Domain

December 22, 2005 | 12:01 am |

In Nicole Gelina’s article for City Journal [They’re Taking Away Your Property for What?]( covers the backlash of the controversial [Kelo v. City of New London eminent domain [Wikipedia]]( ruling last summer that rattled the concept of private property.

…what critics haven’t noticed is that the decision simply expands the Court’s approval of a practice that state and local governments have long used to bring about urban renewal or economic development. More important, they have also failed to notice that, over its long history, this practice has almost never worked. The Court’s decision fails not just on moral but also on utilitarian grounds.

“50 years ago the Court replaced the “public use” rationale for eminent domain with a more nebulous concept of “public purpose,” in order to allow cities to condemn slums to remove urban blight. “

In Kelo, the 5-4 majority went a step further, ruling that governments don’t need to show that property they condemn is even nominally blighted

“the vague promise of higher tax revenues and the hope of private-sector jobs through planned development are no less public goods than a road or a water-treatment plant. And so the Court allowed New London, Connecticut, to condemn a middle-class waterfront neighborhood and to parcel it out to private developers who would make more lucrative use of the property, including building luxury condos.”

[Big-box retailers to acquire properties [CNN]]( for development in prime locations.

[Limits on Eminent Domain May Go Too Far, Experts Warn [NPR]](

In the post [Concern over the Kelo case has also inspired a flurry of legislation at the national and local level. [Gotham Gazette]](

“In Congress, a bill, dubbed the “Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005, has already passed the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. It would withhold federal aid from states that Congress believes abuse eminent domain.

In New York, there are several bills being considered in Albany, including a package of legislation drafted by Assemblymember Richard Brodsky which would slow down local eminent domain proceedings, create an ombudsman to oversee the use of the law, and require 150 percent of market value be paid for private property that the government takes over. This week, the New York City Council will hold hearings on the subject.

And recently opponents of eminent domain claimed victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the city of Port Chester, New York failed to properly alert a businessman of his right to challenge an eminent domain decision before the government seized his four buildings to make way for a convenience store. The court’s decision, some said, was a warning to local governments who may be tempted to take private property without properly notifying the people who own it.”


Creative Brain Drain Weakens Long Term Urban Revitalization

December 21, 2005 | 12:01 am | |

In Daniel Gross wrote a great post in Slate called: [Are Journalists Underpaid? : Pity the sad, broke New York Times reporter [Slate].]( Let me answer that quickly: “Duhhh!!” They are writing stories about some of the most expensive real estate in the world, not forgetting the difficulty and scrutiny their work entails.

The recent real estate article by Jennifer Steinhauer called [New York, Once a Lure, Is Slowly Losing the Creative Set [NYT]]( addresses this point quite clearly.

In a related pattern, the eventual loss of early artisans who pioneered downtown urban locations as residential usually get priced out by hipsters only to start the cycle again somewhere else. This has been occurring with more frequency as urban areas entice residents from outlying suburban areas into their revitalized downtown markets.

The New York Times article, while a fascinating piece, doesn’t quantify the loss, but I suspect it is significant. I haven’t found great data on this yet, so perhaps its too early in the cycle to measure. This phenomenon happened in New York long ago with loft neighborhoods such as Soho, Tribeca, more recently Chelsea and moved on to parts of Brooklyn and now So Bro (South Bronx.)

Enticing the creative to remain is one of the most important issues to sustain urban revitalization efforts in the long term.


Central Park: No Price Can Be Attached To The Center Of The Universe

December 20, 2005 | 12:01 am | |

Courtesy of Satellite Imaging/New York Magazine

One of the reasons to love Manhattan is clearly Central Park. New York Magazine asked us to venture a wild guess as to what Central Park was worth in the article [Reasons to Love New York: Because We Wouldn’t Trade a Patch of Grass for $528,783,552,000.](

So there is no confusion, this is a purely hypothetical, far-fetched, non-scientific wild guess based on so many caveats (and done in about 3 minutes) that reality doesn’t enter into the equation so we are not violating any licensing requirements…got it?

After the dust settled, here’s the math used.

Webmaster’s Note: Its quite possible, and highly likely, that the net value of all of Manhattan would be less after Central Park was developed. A very high level of inventory that might take decades to absorb would be created, but assuming instant absorption, units facing the park would lose their views, proximity to the park would not matter anymore and a cultural and recreational resource would be lost to all homes in Manhattan. In other words, it would likely be bleak on the real estate front.

[Imagine Central Park on the real estate market [The Real Deal]](
[Appraised value of Central Park: $528,783,552,000. Sell! [Curbed]](

[Central Park: $528.8 Billion [The Walk-Through]](


Of Castles, Moats (And No Zoning)

December 19, 2005 | 12:01 am |

A rousing “Yes!” to the 3 questions that burn inside each and every one of us:

Q: Are there castles in the US?
A: [There are more than 300 castles in the US. []](

Q: What does a castle cost and it it considered luxury housing?
A: You can get one for about $1.5M – I saw this listing for [Wentworth Castle for sale in New Hampshire ]( which is also in the “300 castles” link above.

Q: Do people still build castles?
A: For only $300,000 – $350,000, [you can build this castle yourself]( in about 10 years.

Here are some questions answered by the owners of [DuPont Castle in West Virgina.](

Derailing Conventional Wisdom: Creating Public Space and Inspiring Development From Abandoned Rail Line

December 19, 2005 | 12:01 am | | Radio |

Source: Friends of the Highline

In New York, urban renewal took the form of an elevated 22-block long section of train tracks to be turned into a future park called [The Highline]( and has spurred new residential and commercial development. Thats the result of the efforts of an organization called [Friends of the Highline []]( and the [New York City government.](

Source: Friends of the Highline

From Wikipedia, the story goes:

“The West Side Line, also called the West Side Freight Line, is a railroad line on the west side of Manhattan, New York, USA. North of Penn Station, at 34th Street, the line is used by Amtrak passenger service heading north via Albany. South of Penn Station, a roughly 1.5 mile (2.4 km) section of the line, popularly known as the High Line, is elevated and has been abandoned since 1980. The High Line (40°44.9′N 74°0.3′W) is in a state of extreme disrepair, although the elevated structure is basically sound. Grass and trees grow along most of the line, making it a natural oasis in urban Manhattan. There is a movement by community residents to turn the High Line into an elevated park similar to the Promenade Plantée in Paris. In 2004, the New York City government promised to invest $50 million in the proposed park. On June 13, 2005, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board granted a “certificate of interim trail use”, allowing the city to remove the line from the national railway grid.”

“The southernmost part of the High Line has since been demolished; as of mid-2005, the rest of the High Line is owned by CSX, which acquired it after the 1998 breakup of Conrail.”

There’s a really good podcast that can be downloaded from Smart City, a great resource for innovative thinking on urban development: [Smart City: New Uses For Old Railroads](

Highline under construction in 1930s

Roughly the same spot today

Additional photos
[Friends of the Highline Photo Gallery](
[Forgotten Subways & Trains](
[LTV Squad: Urban Exploration](
[MOMA Exhibit](

Additional background
[Future of the Highline (Design Trust 2001) [pdf]](
[Reclaiming the Highline (Design Trust 2001) [pdf]](


Don’t Fence Me In (At The Hotel California)

December 14, 2005 | 9:06 am |
Source: Daron Dean / DMN

For anyone that has had to sit through a variance request at a zoning meeting only to hear the rath of neighbors that used to wave “hello” to you in the morning when you picked up your paper on the driveway, then this a story for you. Apparently Don Henley, of the rock band [The Eagles](, [has to apply for zoning variances too [Houston Chronicle].]( He’s a resident of the Dallas area and this story was widely covered in Texas.

Development Is Goin’ Down…town

November 29, 2005 | 12:01 am |

Eugene L. Birch of the Brookings Institution just completed an analysis of population, household and income trends in downtown areas from 1970 to 2000 called [Who Lives Downtown](

Download full the [report [pdf]](

The study was based on 44 different cities whose results vary widely but show these trends:

  • During the 1990s, downtown population grew by 10 percent, a marked resurgence following 20 years of overall decline.

  • From 1970 to 2000, the number of downtown households increased 8 percent—13 percent in the 1990s alone—and their composition shifted.

  • Downtown homeownership rates more than doubled during the thirty-year period, reaching 22 percent by 2000.

  • Downtowns are more racially and ethnically diverse than 20 years ago.

  • In general, downtowns boast a higher percentage of both young adults and college-educated residents than the nation’s cities and suburbs.

  • Downtowns are home to some of the most and least affluent households of their cities and regions.

The results, if based on the past five years would likely show a more pronounced shift toward urban revitalization.

[Should We Stay Or Should We Go (To The Suburbs)? [Matrix]](
[Urban Beats Suburban [Matrix]](

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