A Look At What The Occupy Wall Street Protesters Are Really Occupying

by: Peter J. Gallagher

The Wall Street Joural Law Blog had an interesting article — "Private Owners Of Public Spaces In 'Occupy Wall Street's' Wake" — on the property that the so-called 99%ers are actually occupying in the Wall Street area. Parks like Zucotti Park are known as "privately owned public spaces" or POPS, which are "part of New York’s incentive zoning program, under which buildings are granted additional floor area or related waivers in exchange for providing these spaces."  (Zucotti Park, formerly known as Liberty Plaza Park, is actually named for the chairman of the entity that now owns the park.)  The owners of Zucotti Park claim that they have not been able to clean the park since the day before the protests began.  This has led some to call for the Department of City Planning to create new rules for POPS that would allow the private owners to close the parks at a set time, which Stephen Spinola, head of the Real Estate Board of New York, claims would “add to security and allow maintenance.”  As a practical matter, the article notes, this might be difficult because each of the 516 POPS in New York City has its own contract with the City and its own rules.  Moreover, changing the rules governing the City’s POPS to allow the private owners to control access, even for seemingly benign purposes, would surely spark protests of its own.

Victory For Commercial Affordable Housing

by:  Katharine A. Muscalino

Private commercial developers have struggled to install affordable housing in New Jersey’s municipalities for decades, facing opposition from communities, local governments, and the municipal zoning boards.  The Appellate Division has just eased the burden of private developers by holding, for the first time explicitly, that affordable housing built by a commercial developer (as opposed to a non-profit or public entity) qualifies as an “inherently beneficial use” in Conifer Realty LLC v. Township of Middle Zoning Board of Adjustment (September 9, 2011).  By being categorized as an inherently beneficial use, commercial affordable housing is subject to a less stringent standard for obtaining use variance relief.  In support of this holding, the Appellate division noted that the courts have previously recognized that affordable housing is an inherently beneficial use in a “variety of circumstances” and that housing needs are “clearly related to the general welfare under the zoning laws.”

The Appellate Division found that the zoning board construed previous opinions holding that affordable housing is an inherently beneficial use too narrowly.  The board had maintained that because all existing caselaw had addressed affordable housing constructed by public of non-profit entities, a commercial developer’s affordable housing could not qualify as an inherently beneficial use.  The Court directed that in analyzing whether a proposed use is inherently beneficial, “the focus of the inquiry is whether the proposal furthers the general welfare, not whether the undertaking is one that is not-for-profit or a commercial enterprise.”

In addition to remanding the application to the Board for consideration under the less stringent inherently beneficial use standard (the Sica test), the Appellate Division found the Board’s concerns regarding the negative criteria to be arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.  The Appellate Division noted that the Board’s rejection of the application, base on density and environmental concerns, was contradicted by the Township’s Fair Share plan, which included the project, minimized the environmental impact, and promised to amend the zoning and density for the project.

Is Your Driveway A Principal Use?

by:  Greg Ricciardi

According to the  New Jersey Supreme Court, in certain circumstances the answer is yes.  On June 16, 2011, the Court held that a driveway is a principal use where, pursuant to local zoning, the driveway does not meet the definition of an accessory use.  Moreover, depending on the circumstances, you may need difficult to obtain and costly variances to get your driveway approved.  How could this happen?

The answer lies in the curious case of Nuckey v. Borough of Little Ferry Planning Bd.  These are the facts. A developer owns multiple lots and wants to build a hotel.  One of the lots has no highway access. To remedy this issue, the developer proposes to build a driveway on an adjacent lot that would continue across the corner of another lot owned by the same principals as the developer.  This proposed driveway would provide the needed highway access for the hotel.  Sounds like a simple accessory use right? Herein lies the rub. 

 

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