Thomas J. Scribner
Zoning Law Changes
(Please understand that the answers to these questions are general in nature and may not cover every individual situation.)
In Friday, September 5, 2014’s Deseret News, former Lt. Governor Greg Bell wrote a timely and important article about zoning abuses between those wanting to develop their land and their city or county. It is worth a read and can be found here. When I started spending a large part of my time working with developers in creating residential neighborhoods in the mid 1990’s, zoning laws were generally much more basic than they are now. Each city had its own learning curve as building and fire codes were updated and made more complex. Development in these cities was generally straight-forward and composed of common sense.
As we entered the 2000’s, however, and the real estate bubble began, cities started realizing they could exact considerable “free benefits” from the developer, donating open space and parks, putting in tot lots, upsizing pipeline diameters free, etc. It worked because, at that moment in time, the very fast rise in real estate value allowed the “gifts” to not damage the profit too much. Then the great recession hit and real estate development evaporated overnight as it became nearly impossible to get a bank loan.
Now real estate development is back on a more normal track. The problem is that the cities and counties have become accustomed to the free perks and continue to be more and more demanding. Greg Bell said it this way: “In city after city, officials bully and even extort developers and average Joes alike.” There are several reasons for this, not the least being that developers are not perceived as a very sympathetic group. The reality is, however, that real estate development is a very cash-intensive high-risk endeavor and most developers do not have the time to litigate the abuses. It then becomes more important than ever to be able to withstand the bullying and grabbing from the beginning of the negotiations. The Utah Ombudsman’s office can mediate these issues, but only if the city agrees, and after the abuse has already occurred. To withstand the abuse from the beginning, having a knowledgeable land-use attorney with you can keep everyone reminded of the constitutional limits they have in the process.
Having an experienced attorney on your side is invaluable during any legally difficult situation, be it real estate, business, or otherwise. With this pick-up in real estate development, we’re bound to see more conflicts arise. Should you find yourself involved in the real estate market, from being a developer to a buyer, make sure you have someone experienced on your side.