We provide a new defense for one of the most criticized ideas in land use law, that city plans should constitute settled deals about the proper uses of land that should be sticky against subsequent zoning amendments. This idea was largely rejected by courts and scholars during the 20th century. They argued that parcel-specific zoning amendments lead to the efficient amount of development by encouraging negotiations between developers and residents over externalities from new building projects. Their case against plans suggested that zoning authorities act either as arbiters in land use disputes or as agents for existing residents to encourage negotiated solutions.
We argue that the dismissal of plans has helped contribute to the excessive strictness of zoning in our richest and most productive cities and regions. This in turn has driven up housing prices excessively and produced outcomes that are economically inefficient and distributively unattractive. We argue that plans and comprehensive remappings facilitate trades between city councilmembers who understand the need for new development but refuse to have their neighborhoods be dumping grounds for all new construction. Further, by setting forth what can be constructed as of right, plans reduce the information costs borne by purchasers of land and developers, broadening the market for new construction. We argue that land use law should embrace a version of plans as a procedural tool that packages together policies and sets of zoning changes in a number of neighborhoods simultaneously through procedures that make such packages difficult to unwind.
Tile image courtesy of Phil Roeder via Flickr.