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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at and

On Friday I went to a conference on zoning sponsored by Brooklyn Law School.  I couldn’t stay near the end due to Shabbat.  However, some of the speakers I was able to see were quite interesting.  To name a few:

*Brad Lander, a NYC city councilman (and adjunct at Brooklyn) spoke about the complexities of getting a large project approved in NYC.  In addition to buying off the local NIMBYs, a developer may have to buy off unions as well by promising to use union labor or (if the developer is a store) to pay higher wages.  No wonder so little gets built!

*Mitchell Korbey (a NYC attorney) added that politicians can add conditions- often conditions that are not in a zoning ordinance or development agreement, but that can be “codified’ with a handshake.  For example, one Costco in Brooklyn has windows because a city councilor wanted them.

*Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) discussed form-based codes.  Ideally, form-based codes should give landowners more flexibility by accommodating mixed use.

She said that in practice, FBCs don’t always live up to their promise for two reasons.  First, sometimes FBCs are an overlay on existing use-based zoning rather than a substitute, so landowners are faced with the worst of both worlds- rules about how a building should look AND rules about what uses it should include.  Second, FBCs can be very detailed about aesthetic principles- so much so as to be quite vexing for landowners.

(These weren’t the only presentations – just the ones closest to my interests!)


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