Several R+C Land Use Group lawyers just returned from the American Planning Association’s National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.  The conference is a great opportunity to get together with planners from across the country, eat local food, and learn the latest trends in land use planning and development.  Here are some conference highlights.

  • One theme that jumped out at the conference was support for planners and developers working together to achieve community goals. At a session titled “Planners and Developers: Same Community, Different Worlds” the panelists presented the municipal staff and developer perspectives on  the permitting process.  The aspect that resonated most with the municipal planner-filled audience was the developer’s description of a project financing hypothetical – in particular how the timing of project costs (such as impact fees and other exactions) can significantly affect economic feasibility of a project.  The audience posed several thoughtful questions indicating that the honest and open discussion had generated substantial insight into the developer perspective.
  • At the “Demystifying Real Estate Markets” session, the panelists explained how local development codes requiring first-floor retail in residential buildings can be extremely detrimental to building successful retail districts.  The oversupply that is generated by these requirements can cause low rents and high vacancies, which will discourage national retailers from locating in the community, or cause them to leave.  The panelists advised the planners in the audience to conduct focused market studies to ensure that development codes requiring first-floor commercial space are appropriate for each location.
  • In a session covering three federal statutes (the Fair Housing Act, the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Telecommunications Act), a majority of planners in the audience indicated that they had not received training on one or all of these statutes. This is a trend that must change.  Each of these programs has significant impacts on the typical process of review and approval of projects, and have the potential to impose liability on municipalities whose agencies fail to comply with them.
  • Phoenix is making great strides in promoting public transit, greenspace, and outdoor art.   Check out the photo album from Lexington, Massachusetts planner David Fields here.

For other insights, check out the conference recap on the RLUIPA Defense blog.