Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No Buyers

The residential developments across the nation have taken a dramatic shift toward the bottom. This decrease in land developments has taken its toll against all forms. Smart Growth, Mixed-Use, and Urban developments have all been directly hit from the horrible economic conditions of today. These conditions will place the current residential owners in the previous mentioned developments in a difficult situation. If the economic conditions do not change, how will the home owners sale their property? Will lower interest rates have to be implemented to possibly increase sales or will the home owner just have to settle with their loss? There are many positives in developing smart growth, mixed-use, and urban developments. However when these developments fail to carry out the master plans of the site or the development fails to lure buyers in, the many positives can quickly turn into negatives.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Future Developments

Now is the perfect time for every person in the area of land planning and development to establish a plan for the future. The current economic conditions across the country indicate that this area of planning and development has took a major hit. Many developments whether commercial, industrial, or residential have been stopped due to the dire circumstances of the economy. So while developers wait for the market to turn around, it would be a great idea to research the possible pitfalls of the current market. Also, the developers should research the consequences of the current decisions being made and there potential effects on the future market. The future of land planning and development depends upon the actions that will be taken in the next years to come. Hopefully, the right decisions will be made and the simple economic principle of supply and demand will resurface into the developers line of reasoning in future developments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

School Developments

Education is the most important factor in life for many people across the nation and the world. From elementary schools to high schools, a top notch education is a necessary goal. However, what impact do academic institutions have on land planning and development? One very crucial impact is the zoning effect. Once a particular tract of land is classified as institutional, there are limited uses for potential outside developers. For instance, all cities or counties have lewd laws which prohibit certain establishments from entering into the institutions zone. Many lewd laws call for a set minimal distance of yards or miles. Also, a developer must take into consideration the ratio of students to acres. Many states require five acres for every hundred students. This requirement can easily push schools across the nation into the next classification. The next classification is an university. So, what are land developers to do with a potential school that has well over three thousand students? The best possible thing is to appeal to the people.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Commercial Building

Compared to residential development, commercial development involves many other tangible parts. For instance, residential development evolves around the ideas and blueprints of ambitious business intellectuals. Besides dealing with normal things such as zoning and setback requirements, these residential developers have far greater options. On the other hand many if not all, commercial developments have to abide by more stringent local, state, and federal procedures. Also, the commercial developer may find himself outside the normal rules and regulations of land planning and development. One example of this situation would be a restaurant owner who must work closely with the Securities Exchange Commission to begin a redevelopment of the restaurant. Another example would be for the commercial developer to gain approval from the ABC. These are two smaller examples of the extra steps that would be needed. There are many more steps which possibly are more stringent, but the overall picture is worth painting. Be fully prepared and patient when engaging in commercial development.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Development Plans

Many cities or local governments would rather build new developments instead of redeveloping an old building. In most cases, the primary reason for this line of thinking is cost. The redevelopment of an old building can have many structural problems such as electrical wiring malfunctions, rusted pipes, or an inadequate foundation. These are just samples of potential problems, but there could definitely be more expensive underlying damage to a building. So, why would a developer want to fix these potential problems? Instead, the developer can build their own project and tailor it to their specifications. Many developers would possibly agree with the reasoning of the preceding sentence. However, they run the risk of having their newly built project becoming another statistic. Well, what statistic am I referring? It is the same statistic the developers pass over when they opt not to redevelop and instead opt to build new projects.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Car Plants

Over the past four to five years, people who reside on the Alabama-Georgia line near the West Point and Valley area have been waiting patiently for the Kia Plant to be up and running. In response to the arrival and running of the plant, some cities began to build many residential developments in hopes of luring the three to four thousand workforce. Many developers and governing city officers and officials reasoned their new residential developments on prior cities who dealt with the same circumstances. So as a result, there were hundreds of residential developments being built, but the demand was not immediate. Some of these developments, if not all, are operating at less than a 50% or 60% occupancy rate. There are many possible reasons for these low occupancy levels, however most could have been avoided . Maybe its the prices? Maybe because there are no current demands? Maybe, these cities just need a little more time? There are no clear cut answers to these problems. In fact, some developers may say there is no problem, but these recent residential developments are definitely not operating at full occupancy.

Monday, November 9, 2009


During the 1980's and well into the early 1990's, the United States had a land development boom. There were thousands of land developments being built ranging from commercial to residential to industrial. One reason for this era of building was demand. There was a higher demand for land developments in those time frames. A prime example would be an industrial development being implemented to accommodate the rising demand for automobiles, textile mills, shopping malls, and other commercial activities. It is debatable as to whether those demands were actually demands of the public or were they the fantasies of over ambitious businessmen. However, we are feeling the effects of those demands in the current economy. Today, land development and planning is an endangered species in the United States. Developments are moving at a turtle's pace with no intention of increasing speed. So, who is to blame for this inactivity? Of course, there are no takers, but the blame can be divided among all players in the game of land planning and development.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Community and housing associations were great innovative ideas to help facilitate a long lasting residential district. Many of these associations regulate activities, create or administer fines, and provide services for the members. The association is governed by the members of the community. The association also receives dues from the residential member, which are generally invested back into the community or saved for emergency purposes. The overall impact of a well organized and democratic association has great tangible and intagible benefits. Tangible benefits can easily be observed by viewing common areas such as swimming pools or recreational equipment. However, intangible benefits such as community pride and accoutabilty are also developed as a result of community or housing associations. Created these associations in every type of residential development will be nesessary step in ending the current problems in the housing market. In all cases, this approach should be retroactive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Building Demolishing

There are a lot of factors that come into play when it comes to demolishing buildings. An early determination to decipher is the age of the building and any historic events that may have occurred in or around the building. These two factors deal primarily with historic preservation and in some cases future planning. Historic events that occurred in a community's local building can have national coverage if deemed newsworthy. For example, if a small town building held a presidential meeting in 1890 it is very likely to be held historic. This historic classification can then hopefully bring in national coverage and hopefully money for there local economy. Building demolition is a careful process that should not be thought of lightly. Another thing to consider is asbestos. That is a topic that does not need any more discussion when land development and land planning is involved. There are many other factors to consider when building demolition is involved. The main consideration is to gather the advice and support of the community, city, or county. Political backing will always be an important factor, so do not underestimate your constituents.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Smart Development

Land development across America is a constantly changing formula. In years past and currently today, many developments were created to meet the particular needs of that area. For instance, suburbs were created to alleviate some of the problems facing large urban cities. In other cases, city zoning and variances restrictions were eased in an attempt to lure profitable gains from ambitious land developer. However, many people consider those days ancient history. With the economy in its present state, what are the land development needs of any city, county, or state? Do we need more houses? Perhaps many cities across the nation have a great need for apartments or condominiums? Over the course of many years, land developers rid themselves of a basic economic principle called supply and demand. As a result, there are many cities with many empty dwellings. On the other hand, I hope smartcode developers have learned from the past. If so, the smartcode development future is unlimited.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Community Districts

Local governments around the United States should consider new regulations, guidelines, and entities when considering land development. One consideration is to defer some decision making to neighborhood associations. For instance, when it comes to historic preservation and the granting of variances, the people who live within that district have an interest in the decision. In most cases, the people who live in the neighborhood have working knowledge and experience regarding the overall future and direction of their respective neighborhoods. These neighborhood associations can provide background information to the governing board who makes the decision or the neighborhood association could ultimately make the decision. I know this is potentially a lot of power to give a nongovernmental body, but they are affected the most by the final decision. Neighborhood associations can provide flexible implementation which can be tailored to meet the particular needs of each distinct community.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Land Regulation

Many zoning codes provide an intensive list of the proper building aspects allowed in a particular zone. One example would be a district zoned H-1. Hypothetically, lets presume that H-1 stands for commercial. If the zoning code does not provide detailed specific on such things as height or set-back requirements, the neighbors, the city, or the present developer could potentially face problems. For example, there have been some city zoning ordinances that provide a "no height restriction" in a hypothetical H-1 zone. Although this may be an attempt to lure future developers to the district, it can bring problems. The no height restriction can bring an industrious business person to your city, with plans of building an enormous skyscraper. True, this probably would not present a problem in a commercial zone, but potential land zoning drafters should be careful to classify any zone with a no height restriction. Uniformity within an zoning district should be an important aspects when drafting a zoning ordinance.

Monday, October 19, 2009


A variance is an owner's requested deviation from the existing zoning code of that particular city or county. Developer's variance requests are basis in most instances, but can potentially become costly in the form of litigation and fees. A variance can cover many aspects affecting the development of the parcel of land such as: increasing the height of a building, decreasing setback requirements, land coverage, and light requirements. The developer will have to receive clearance from the regulating board of his or her city. The city's planning and development department handles these requests and looks at many factors. Minor variances will be granted by the governing board without much deliberation. However, the governing board will take into consideration such things as uniformity. Also, the governing board will take into consideration what effect the new variance will have on the people most effected, the neighbors and surrounding community.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alabama Property Taxes

According to taxfoundation.org, Alabama's property taxes are the lowest in the nation. These low property taxes make it difficult for ideas like Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to be successful. TIF allows any increase in property taxes in a certain district to be reinvested in that district. The idea behind TIF is to encourage development in a particular district by rewarding them for improvements that raise property value (leading to more property taxes). The problem in Alabama is that since property taxes are low, even doubling or tripling the property values does not result in much money to put back into the district.

But, I guess it is not a good time for more taxes. Or, maybe it is.

Monday, October 12, 2009


In many counties, there are legitimate zoning districts. For example, one county might have designated a particular piece of land as agricultural. This classification usually remains until there are needs for change. More than likely, a piece of land zoned agricultural or any other classification was given that distinction to preserve the targeted area for years to come. This preservation technique was implemented to possibly make zoning easier and to make developments more uniformly predictable. This type of land development technique is called Transferable Development Rights. There are a lot of variables to be analyzed in the implementation of a TDR. However, the basis of this program comes from sprawl. Many agricultural zoned parcels of land have faced pressure from urban growth. This urban growth forces farmers to comply with the economical demands of the rapidly growing urban area. TDR's are just an open in preserving open land, but governments across the board could use more innovative ways in protecting open land.

Friday, October 9, 2009


Many developers face the task of rezoning, before they begin actual construction. Usually, the governing the board over the rezoning process will grant a variance to the petitioning developer. However, the attempt to rezone a particular parcel of land must be reasonable. A developer who may want to build residential houses in an industrial zone will not be granted any variance. A lot of reasons can be given for the denial of this variance, but usually a developer can research the local zoning ordinance and find out the reasonable limits of granting a successful variance. Another easy tool of research for developers is to view the city. It is likely possible to find many examples of rezoning trends in that particular city. However, all developers know that the governing authority who grants or denies variances rely on many factors such as a well developed site plan. So, it is imperative to have a well organized plan before speaking to any board.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Smart Development

The SmartCode manual is probably the best form of development any city, county, or state can engage in for their benefit. The code outlines in detail the necessary steps to accomplish SmartGrowth. Also, the language in the code is plain and easily understandable to the everyday potential home owner. However, the code is detailed in the requirements one must have to adopt there plans and the cost of the development will typically be higher than normal developmental projects. Some of the guidelines and plans listed in a SmartCode include such things as architectural standards, setback standards, community types, and visibility standards. Of course, these can be considered as normal guidelines for any land development, yet they are typically not. For instance, the SmartCode has a smaller setback regulation than the average development. Another instance is the requirement of uniformity throughout the development. Also, Smart developments have smaller roads, more mixed uses, agricultural benefits, and better building configuration. Hopefully, we can expect more entities to adopt the SmartCode standards in the future.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Baby Boomers

As we all know, the great baby boomers and their surrounding age group generation are becoming more predominant in today's time. Many people view this aging population and think about such problems as SSI or Healthcare, but what about housing. In certain parts of the United States, there is an increasing demand for some type of Senior Housing development. The baby boomers can be considered as there own class of people. As many approach the age of retirement or continue to strive past it, what plans are being arranged to secure housing for this class of people. Will there have to be an increase in the amount of nursing homes? Will the government increase funding or create new programs? Will America just wait to see what happens? Land developers should consider addressing this problem in the years to come before it becomes a big issue. Land developments should be tailored to meet the needs of a particular city or county. Of course, this rarely happens because most developments are made in an attempt to make money or fulfill a dream. However, every town, city, county, province, state, and governing body should have a broad view on future developments, with more than just economic relief. Maybe, an affordable senior housing development is needed in a place like the Historic Cloverdale region?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Building & Construction

After the construction of your commercial building, make sure that the entire site has been properly cleaned. Many left over products such as construction dust, and prolonged smells of paint or furnishing can temporarily limit the amount of money your investment was projected to haul in. Besides poor construction cleanup effecting the site and the developers pocket, it could possibly affect the land soil. Contamination that leaks into the ground can become a future problem for the developer. The practical effect is that these products whether harmful or not can possibly lead to molds, sickness, and possibly even nuisance. Another problem can happen down the road when the developer might opt to sale his development. If problems are found by a potential buyer, it could halt or end the negotiation. So, make sure to have engaged in due diligence throughout the site's developments. That due diligence includes recognizing and exploring location problems, building flaws, and bad techniques. This can possibly involve lots of outside work, however knowing a little about a lot is helpful in any aspect of business.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


There are many professionals and contractors needed for development of a parcel of land. To successfully build any site whether commercial, residential, or any other classification, it is best to explore all options and choices. With the economy still in limbo, some investors especially the less experienced ones might opt to save a few dollars by contracting or hiring the cheapest available company. Better yet, some may even elect o hire friends. Now, there is nothing wrong with these instances, but more often than not these agreements do not work.

Always remember "you get what you pay for." Don't skip the important steps and the important aspects of hiring the right contractor or professional. Trying to maximize profits in the building stage will definitely have an affect on the investors judgment. A few extra thousands or millions are worth the gamble during and after construction. However, a poor building or a cracked foundation is not worth the few dollars you might save.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Due Diligence and Commercial Real Estate Purchases

Commercial real estate purchases often involve a greater investment than private real estate purchases; therefore, a buyer needs to ensure that she has gathered as much information about the property as possible. Buyers must perform due diligence to eliminate any surprises after the transaction.

Buyers must perform due diligence in two areas: the land itself and the structures on the land. Regarding the land, the buyer must be aware of any past land use, any zoning regulations attached to the land, and any easements or encroachments on the land (just to name a few). Regarding the structures, the buyer must inquire into the applicable building codes, perform inspections, look for structural problems, and determine if there are any environmental issues such as asbestos or lead.

As Prof Emerson says, "there is no bad business deal insurance." Buyers must perform due diligence to prevent headaches and financial disaster after the purchase.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Letter of Intent (LOI) is a preliminary agreement between negotiating parties. After the preliminary agreement, the parties hope to enter into a concrete contract in the near future. These are non- binding documents or are they? Of course, some of the general information listed on the document includes: prices, down payments, confidentiality agreements, and financing.

When drafting any legal document, accuracy is pivotal, especially in the law of property and land planning. One legal concept that can possibly make a Letter of Intent relevant and possibly controlling is the parol evidence rule. This rule makes any other prior agreements or documents irrelevant when the parties sign a final embodiment of there agreement. So, if two negotiating parties move forward in there transactions and the LOI is the only written document available, the LOI will likely be given great weight by the court. It will be given weight b/c there are no other final documents to show otherwise. These are rare instances, but accuracy and due diligence will negate this occurrence. No seller or buyer wants to be held to unfavorable terms in a LOI, except when they are receiving the windfall.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Environmental Issues/USTs

We have been researching the AL Code and the ADEM administrative code for information about underground storage tanks (USTs). For the environmental issues presentation, we were asked to include the Sinclair's restaurant property immediately east of the "Semester Parcel", across Boultier, on the north side of Fairview Ave.

We found out that this property was at one time a gas station, and that the petroleum UST underneath it was never removed. Big problem. On top of that, the strict ADEM requirements for monitoring, mediating, and/or removing such a UST were all instituted (1976) after the filling station converted into an art shop. Thus, the Sinclair's site was "grandfathered in." This hoists us up onto the horns of a dilemma; should we recommend that our client ignore the presence of the UST because the relevant state law does not apply and risk future liability because of leakage into an aquifer or the water table? Or should we recommend that our client expend enormous sums of capital up front to have the UST removed, only to later discover that he/she need not have bothered? Isn't playing with other people's money fun?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

We recently visited Riverwalk stadium and talked with one of the city planners resonsible for the development. We learned that government developers have additional regulations that they must follow, one of those being the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA requires federal agencies to complete an environmental impact assessment (EIS) for every major action that significantly affects the environment. If a state or local government uses federal funding for a development then they too are responsible for completing an EIS. NEPA ensures that the government considers all of the environmental impacts.

The Riverwalk development faced several environmental issues. This site has been involved in numerous types of industrial activities for over a hundred years. The land has been exposed to coal oil by-products, newspaper wastes, and railroad pollution.

NEPA was not a roadblock for the Riverwalk development because the city was redeveloping a brownfield. Environmental regulators encourage development that converts environmentally troubled areas into useful spaces.

Environmental Issues

Our continuing redevelopment of the Old Cloverdale "Semester Parcel" presented preliminary issues regarding site development. With any land development project whether local or state, the EPA has the discretion to exert its influence and power. The EPA is not a overbearing entity of the federal government. Instead, it works with local and state governments, who exercise due diligence, to settle and eliminate environmental problems.
There are several federal acts to be mindful of when developing such as: Clean Air, Clean Water, and Solid Waste Disposal. Certain Projects require one to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit before starting a project. After receiving this permit, the developer must then submit a sediment and erosion control plan, which is basically a best management practice obligation. Within the confines of Alabama, one must obey the guidelines of ADEM(Alabama Dept. Environmental Management). On the local level, the developer must also command his attention to the historic commission. The legitimate concerns that can resurface as a result of poor redevelopment can lead to future problems, which lead to bigger bills. Knowing the local, state, and federal acts regarding the environment can lead to a successful site process.

Friday, September 4, 2009


What effect would a Community Bargaining Agreement have between a historic community and a land planning developer? The answer is.... probably no effect at all. A CBA specifies the public benefit and amenities that a particular developer will provide to the impacted community in exchange for the community's support. These agreements are tailored to benefit both sides. However, some issues can arise. 1. Who will have standing to challenge and enforce the CBA's terms? 2. Are the terms enforceable? 3. Do such agreements lack consideration?

One successful CBA comes to mind when questions are raised regarding there efficiency. The Stapes Center in Los Angeles had a very successful agreement which has yet to produce any conflicts. Even though there are wide disparities between L.A. and say a city like Montgomery, Alabama, a CBA could possibly have a positive impact on your development. Overall, CBA's should be judged on a case by case basis, but I think the public good outweighs the harm.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cloverdale v. Atlanta Highway

Cloverdale was developed as a destination while Atlanta Highway was developed as a stop on the way (I guess on the way to Atlanta... or maybe Shorter). The difference in the original purpose of the development has created two very different sections of Montgomery. The automobile affected the way planners developed each of these sections of town. Cloverdale was planned for the walker while the sprawl of Atlanta Highway was planned for the driver.

Before looking at the difference, let's mention the similarities. Both sections: 1) are only minutes from downtown, 2) have restaurants, 3) have homes, 4) have retail stores, and 5) have a college nearby. But the similarities stop there.

Development of the Cloverdale area begin at the turn of the century (20th Century). Rumor has it that a famous developer planned the winding streets and parks just south of downtown (maybe the same developer as some of the nicer neighborhoods in Atlanta). Two commercial sections are woven into Cloverdale. A resident can stroll to a coffee shop, a handfull of sit-down restaurants, or a movie theater without having to cross a giant parking lot. Cloverdale has green spaces, narrow streets, sidewalks, live oaks, and a few brick streets. Huntingdon College is framed by large trees at the end of College Street and churches are scattered pleasently throughout the neighborhood.

Development of Atlanta Highway began a little later, probably in the 1940s. There are no rumors about famous developers (maybe it was the Department of Transportation). The commercial sections line Atlanta Highway, protecting the little neighborhoods from the angry traffic. Every store has a parking lots and many have giant parking lots. There are very few green spaces, even the churches are surrounded by lots of asphalt. There is a coffee hut in the middle of a parking lot, but no one strolls to it. The strip is lined with pawn shops and fast food joints.

Most people would prefer Cloverdale to Atlanta Highway, although my son does like the many fast food options on the highway. A property value comparison reflects the desirability of Cloverdale to most people.

Land planning could have prevented the mess on Atlanta Highway. Government zoning could have reduced the number of strip malls, increased the number of sidewalks, and introduced green spaces. Maybe planners learned a lesson from places like Atlanta highway because when they created interestates a few years later they segregated the transportation from the commerce by using exits. I've often wanted an exit from the Atlanta Highway. Maybe Atlanta Highway can teach planners about how to develop (or not develop). There are other places around the city (Chantilly Parkway) that still have a choice about what they want to be.