Identifying Values in Land Use Regulation
The rules governing the lawfulness of land use decisions are a mess. State enabling acts elide distinguishable and plural objectives of the police powers. Courts—especially state courts—generally fail to distinguish between different types of challenges and different types of land use regulatory actions. As a result, courts typically resort to the deferential position that the Supreme Court adopted in Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., even where that standard of review is wholly inappropriate.
Meanwhile, the evidence is mounting that local governments often exercise their land use regulatory authority in arbitrary, irrational, and discriminatory ways. Without meaningful judicial oversight, parties are powerless to challenge these abuses. Meaningful judicial oversight would require some comprehensive account of the police powers, and particularly which regulatory objectives are permissible in which circumstances. No comprehensive account has emerged. Courts are understandably unwilling to scrutinize the regulatory objectives of local governments. And scholars remain trapped in zero-sum warfare between individual property rights and the collective interests served by political action.
This article offers a proposal to clarify the picture. The proposal is drawn from recent insights in perfectionist jurisprudence, and seeks to ground land use governance in rational objectives, while avoiding the false individualist-collectivist dichotomy. The proposal rests upon the perfectionist claim that there exist some basic human goods in which people participate communally, for the benefit of all, and that rights can and should be derived from these goods. States would do well to identify the connections between the police powers and these goods, and to require local governments to act rationally by preserving the conditions in which these common goods are realized by members of the community.
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