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Thread: Do land use lawyers make better planners?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Do land use lawyers make better planners?

    Disclaimer: I think the answer is no, but consider this:

    I'm a planner. I'm not a land use lawyer and have no law background. That said, I've found over the (admittedly brief) course of my career that dealing with the implications of land use law and the potential for a suit takes up at least 50% of my time. The possibility of legal action has a profound influence on all of our operations - the municipality operates in constant fear of lawsuit by developers. We are on the phone with our legal consultants multiple times per week to consult on a variety of issues, whether they be EISs we are working through with the local boards, contentious development projects that require us to cover our a$$es from every conceivable angle, or working out the wording of a particular document we are working on so that no one could find a loophole to use against us. We use consultant land use attorneys rather than our corporation counsel because although he's good, we really need people who specialize in land use to cover all our bases. Lately, a pending lawsuit over a proposed project has caused us to start sending out comments on a particular EIS to local boards via snail mail instead of email because all of our emails will be FOILed eventually. This is craziness, but is the day to day reality here. I double and triple-think every single thing I do here for its legal implications and it's making me a bit paranoid.

    Thinking of the other thread on proactive vs reactive planning brought this to light. Legally speaking, it's such a hostile environment around here that I'd almost wonder if a land use lawyer would make a better planner, or at least someone with a dual background (do such people exist?) Forget proactive planning, sustainable development, or any of that fluffy & fuzzy high concept stuff... it's all about not getting sued. Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Not so much.....

    Public planners are in large part surrogate attorney's aka I'm not an attorney, but I play one at work.....at least until verbal threats go from words to written form Think about it.....

    Most places I've worked had planners drafting development agreements, reviewing IGA's, preparing ROW letters, MOU's, License Agreements, creating plat notes, reviewing HOA & Arch. Control Com. documents and the daddy of them all....revising Planned Development language during day to day business.

    A ton of my time is spent chasing down old cases defending actions taken years ago to actual attorney's. A healthy understanding of basic legal issues and respect for the law (even if you disagree with it) is a critical component of being a decent planner. Now if we could just get paid like an attorney
    Skilled Adoxographer

  3. #3
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One View post
    Public planners are in large part surrogate attorney's aka I'm not an attorney, but I play one at work.....at least until verbal threats go from words to written form Think about it.....

    Most places I've worked had planners drafting development agreements, reviewing IGA's, preparing ROW letters, MOU's, License Agreements, creating plat notes, reviewing HOA & Arch. Control Com. documents and the daddy of them all....revising Planned Development language during day to day business.

    A ton of my time is spent chasing down old cases defending actions taken years ago to actual attorney's. A healthy understanding of basic legal issues and respect for the law (even if you disagree with it) is a critical component of being a decent planner. Now if we could just get paid like an attorney
    I agree. A planner can make a great surrogate, but I don't think a lawyer can make a great planner.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I know a couple of people who started off as planners, then became lawyers. One was a so-so planner, but a good land-use lawyer. The other is a good lawyer, but I do not know anything about her planning skills. The last is a planner who is currently in law school. She is respected in the state as a planner and active in the Montana Association of Planners.

    Our county attorneys do an excellent job of guiding us through the legal morass and mostly can extricate us when we step in some legal do-do. They do not profess to understand our jobs, nor do we understand theirs.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

  5. #5
    Cyburbian rosierivets's avatar
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    My municipal attorney and I recently discussed this and came to the conclusion that we are assets to each other and part of a team that should probably be permitted to wear superhero capes.
    How about you take a gander at making an executive decision for once, huh?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Land use lawyers pick a side. You are either for the applicant or you work for the city. I have even seen neighborhood groups or HOAs hire a land use attorney to assist them with fighting a case. A planner is meant to uphold the public good while respecting an individual's property rights. We are coming from a completley different perspective when we are making determinations on land use issues.
    Satellite City Enabler

  7. #7
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    We probably have a less than average Legal Dept., however, we manage to win a lot of the lawsuits filed against us because the opposition is so far out in left field.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    I agree. A planner can make a great surrogate, but I don't think a lawyer can make a great planner.
    Ahem. Let's not generalize too much here. As the planning director of a small city whose plans have won several awards, and whose former lives included practicing law, I disagree. I know a number of good planners who also are lawyers and I know a number of lawyers who would make great planners. I know a number of MURP graduates who are terrible planners. It comes down to the training, experience, and especially the vision and creative abilities of the individuals. I find that my legal training and experience serves me well every day as I do my planning duties. Law school teaches analytical skills, punishes sloppy thinking, and encourages looking for the fatal flaw. Every planner could benefit from such training.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    Ahem. Let's not generalize too much here. As the planning director of a small city whose plans have won several awards, and whose former lives included practicing law, I disagree. I know a number of good planners who also are lawyers and I know a number of lawyers who would make great planners. I know a number of MURP graduates who are terrible planners. It comes down to the training, experience, and especially the vision and creative abilities of the individuals. I find that my legal training and experience serves me well every day as I do my planning duties. Law school teaches analytical skills, punishes sloppy thinking, and encourages looking for the fatal flaw. Every planner could benefit from such training.
    I'm on a roll with poor and broad brushed generalizations today. I was thinking both ways, but failed to articulate it. I need a time out. Sorry
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Let us not forget that planners do a lot of work aside from land use as well. Environmental planning, physical planning, economic and community development, etc. Some of these areas are probably out of the comfort zone of many lawyers (at least land use lawyers).

    As for land use, I can see that a lawyer would bring to the table a lot more sophisticated understanding of the legal implications of certain types of land use decisions. Indeed, I sometimes regret that for my land use class in grad school I did not take the one taught out of the law school. I don't know, though, if this same person could necessarily perform well as a long range planner making decisions about future land use and zoning unless they were also up on the many other factors (beyond legal ones) that go into to deciding what land will allow what uses. But anyone (well, almost anyone) can most likely learn this stuff.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    How about lawyers on your Planning Commission? My experience has been mixed, none of it at the top of the scale. It does help me feel better about myself: "If that dufe can make it thru law school, I should be able to breeze thru it!"
    Blogging: Never have so many with so little to say said so much to so few.

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