Saturday, February 17, 2007

Homes Of The Future - NAHB Takes A Guess
NAHB manages to describe every aspect of this future home in the minutest detail without ever mentioning the homeowner and condominium associations that will be universal. They do note that "neighborhoods or communities will have more open space with walking and jogging trails," which implies common area.

Friday, February 16, 2007 First Coast Community: Ponte Vedra: Story: Homeowner groups reject proposed bill 02/14/07
The reporting and headline in this article are beyond inept. There is no "homeowner group" doing or saying anything. It is just an uncritical report of an HOA lawyer opposing regulation of HOAs and proposing instead to give them more power. The press needs to get more educated on the players in order to cover HOA legislation. You see a lot of this sloppy writing about "homeowner groups." There are HOAs, which are created by developers and are mandatory membership organizations into which owners are conscripted. I don't think they are "groups" at all. They are corporate entities with limited purposes. Then there are industry groups like CAI, which is a trade association that has a small percentage of the nation's HOAs as members. That is clearly a professional organization and in no sense a homeowner group. And then there are the groups actually organized by real live home owners to represent their interests in the policy process. Those, in my opinion, are the only "homeowner groups." They are real groups, and the members are real homeowners. But most reporters don't seem to get this. Here's Exhibit A: a story about how "homeowner groups reject proposed bill," that presents as gospel the views of an HOA lawyer who has his own idea of good laws: giving HOA veto power over issuance of governmental building permits, and exempting HOAs from Florida's sunshine laws, so they can make decisions in secret. My question for reporter Christina Abel is, "How wrong can you get it?" Don't they teach these people anything in J-School?

A bill that will be considered by the Florida House this spring has at least one local attorney worried about the effects it could have on the way local homeowner associations operate and enforce their rules. Attorney Barry Ansbacher, who has been representing the Marsh Landing Homeowner Association in its efforts to get St. Johns County to recognize their right to enforce covenants, said at a meeting of homeowner association representatives Monday that House Bill 433 is a major concern...Another issue that could affect homeowner associations is an amended ordinance Ansbacher has drafted for Marsh Landing that would require neighborhood residents to get their association's approval before going to the county to get a building permit.

Currently, residents apply to their homeowner associations and their association's architectural review boards for approval if they are going to build something or make structural changes, but that approval isn't necessary before the applicant can go to the county for approval.

In addition, the amendment would change the ordinance so that county homeowner associations are not subject to Florida Sunshine Laws. Currently, Ansbacher said, the associations are considered a government agency and therefore must abide by Sunshine laws, including announcing their association meetings to the public and not conducting informal discussions between one or more members of the association outside a public meeting.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Skyscraper 'Lights Out' is for the birds, in a good way
All you condo owners and office dwellers had better learn to live in the dark:

In the Twin Cities, a group of avian advocates plans to ask high-rise building owners to turn off unnecessary interior and exterior lights from midnight until dawn during spring and fall migrations. Their goal? To ensure a safer passage for millions of birds along the Mississippi Flyway. Home Prices Fell in Half U.S. Cities in 4th Quarter
Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Home prices fell in half of U.S. cities in the fourth quarter as a housing slump forced sellers to accept lower prices, the National Association of Realtors said. The median price for a single-family home fell in 73 of 149 metropolitan areas studied by the Chicago-based real estate trade group. The national median price for a previously owned house was $219,300 in the fourth quarter, down 2.7 percent from a year earlier when the median price was $225,300, the group said in a report today...The national median existing condominium and co-op price was $220,900, down 2.1 percent from $225,700 a year earlier. The national figure covers 58 markets. The trade group said condo prices dropped the most in the New Orleans, Louisiana area, which is struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Condo prices plunged 29 percent to $147,100 from $206,100 a year earlier.

SPB race pits Fox against Jacobson
Here's an example of a candidate moving from the condo board to city politics:

SOUTH PALM BEACH — Voters will choose between Murray Fox and Maury Jacobson for mayor when they go to the polls on March 13...Fox is founder and former president of the South Palm Beach Condo and Co-op Association. He resigned the post to run for mayor. The group has scheduled a debate between the two candidates at 7 p.m. March 8 at the The Barclay condominium, 3546 S. Ocean Blvd. Fox is president of the Dune Deck Condominium Association. He also has a seat on the town's Board of Adjustment, which meets as needed.

Antarctic temperatures disagree with climate model predictions
...but don't let the facts get in the way of giving an Oscar to Al Gore.
COLUMBUS , Ohio – A new report on climate over the world's southernmost continent shows that temperatures during the late 20th century did not climb as had been predicted by many global climate models. This comes soon after the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that strongly supports the conclusion that the Earth's climate as a whole is warming, largely due to human activity. It also follows a similar finding from last summer by the same research group that showed no increase in precipitation over Antarctica in the last 50 years. Most models predict that both precipitation and temperature will increase over Antarctica with a warming of the planet.

Junk-filled house condemned by town (February 15, 2007)
look at the lengths the city went to in order to help this lady, over a 4 year period. Would an HOA have shown the same sense of compassion, or just proceeded with violation notices and a court proceeding?

WEST YARMOUTH - Ann Biglin crammed so many things into her house on Nauset Road that she had little choice but to crawl out a window to reach the rest of the world.The structure has now been condemned and Biglin is in the hospital, Yarmouth police and health officials said yesterday...Her home has not had heat since 2005 and the bathroom was not working either, Yarmouth Health Director Bruce Murphy said...''She was just using an electric blanket,'' he said. After discussions with police and the town's building inspector, health inspectors condemned the building as unfit for human habitation, Murphy said. Police have worked with Biglin, 53, for the past four years on what Xiarhos said is one of the toughest cases of hoarding he has seen. Off-duty police officers have helped Biglin clean her home and accompanied her to doctors appointments, he said. In 2003 inmates from the Barnstable County Jail came to her home to clean the yard but it didn't last, Xiarhos said.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A challenge to cut signs
My family and I live in Lindenhurst, in Lake County, IL. We have village council election coming up. The incumbents are unpopular because they were all set to embrace a big mixed use development project that involved a TIF district, and at the last minute they encountered massive public opposition to the TIF and were forced to back down. None of them seemed to have the slightest idea how a TIF worked, but they were swept up in the developer's rhetoric about how great it was. And it was...for the developer. The school districts and other taxing bodies would have taken it in the neck. The public figured it out before their "leaders" did, and the school district were going to sue (and probably win) because the area subject to the TIF wasn't really "blighted" as the statute requires. The outcry produced a slate of challengers for the incumbents' council seats, and my guess is that on election day the incumbents will be toast. I think they know that. So now, the incumbents have come up with a brilliant strategy: they have proposed a joint agreement between the two slates not to use any yard or roadside campaign signs. Of course, the challengers will have none of it, because they need the signs to generate name recognition and demonstrate their level of support in the community. That's what yard and road signs are for, and that's why municipalities are prohibited from banning them (per the US Supreme Court). That's also why HOAs should be legally prohibited from banning them. And it is exactly why the incumbents want a sign-free campaign--so they can have the name recognition advantage. They don't admit that, of course. It's all about aesthetics, you see. Right. See you on election day.

Lindenhurst village board incumbents have asked their challengers to reduce environmental pollution by not using yard and roadside campaign signs. The request was made in a letter sent to mayoral challenger Susan Lahr by the incumbent’s slate, the Lindenhurst Community Party. “People get upset with signs, especially campaign signs,” said Mayor James Betustak. “If they agree not to put them up, we will, too. “If they don’t agree, then we will have to decide what to do. It is tough to not have campaign signs when your opponents do.” Lahr said her slate’s platform is to foster open and frequent communication. “We feel that yard signs are a means of informing residents that there is a choice,” she said. If the Community Party is worried about the environment, Lahr said, they should further investigate light and noise pollution the Village Green development would create. Village Green is a multi-use development proposed for the northwest corner of routes 45 and 132 that includes more than 400,000 square feet of retail space and multi- and single-family housing. It is likely to be a key issue in the race.

Sunday, February 11, 2007 | 02/11/2007 | `Nanny' bills: pitting safety against rights and liberties
Fred Pilot found this article talking about the same thing I've been noticing recently: all sorts of ridiculous paternalistic (or is "maternalistic" a better choice of words?) laws premised on the notion that we are all little children who need government to restrict our liberty and make all our decisions for us, so we don't hurt ourselves. I have linked HOA micro-management to this, but California's legislature and other policy-making bodies are getting into the act. Government as nanny:

SACRAMENTO - Ban parents from spanking their toddlers. Force restaurants to disclose calories on menus. Forbid school cafeterias from cooking with trans fats. Prohibit smoking on state beaches. Make homeowners switch to energy-efficient light bulbs. Legislators who have proposed these measures, mostly Democrats, seem to be on a tear in recent weeks, telling Californians, ``Hey, we know what's best for you -- and we're going to make sure you do it.'' But enough already, say opponents, mostly Republicans, who are increasingly railing against what they call ``frivolous'' proposals and embracing a term often repeated in the Capitol this legislative session: Nanny government.

illinoisreview: TIF Bashing Facts
TIFs are used extensively to create or rebuild infrastructure for new development, often in conjunction with HOAs. The increased property taxes generated by new development within the TIF go to the municipality for the TIF distict, to repay the upfront cost of building the infrastructure, instead of to other taxing bodies. So, the school districts get new students from within the TIF, but don't get the increased property taxes to pay for them. The justification is that without the TIF blighted areas couldn't be redeveloped. But many people, myself included, think that TIFs are grossly overutilized. This is a blog post that extensively quotes an article about the impact of TIFS. Here's one snippet:

Tax increment financing is usually sold to the public with assurances that ‘TIF does not increase your taxes.’ However, NCBG’s study indicates clear warning signs that the liberal use of TIFs captures the natural growth in property tax base, putting more strain on every taxpayer and all taxing bodies, a strain more acutely felt in public budget belt-tightening times.” -- Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, which includes economists at University of Illinois and Loyola, DePaul, and Chicago State Universities. “Our analysis of 235 municipalities in the metropolitan Chicago region finds cities, towns, and villages that had TIF districts actually grew more slowly than municipalities that did not use TIF.” -- Professors Richard F. Dye and David F. Merriman for a study published by the University of Illinois...Nearly the only people who defend TIF are developers and consultants who make money from TIF, and municipal officials who create TIF districts. Study after study shows that TIF districts often fail to achieve their stated goals; divert growth away from other areas of the community, resulting in no net gain in development and sometimes net losses; and enrich a favored few developers, landowners, and businesses at the expense of everyone else. | Resident Wins Bid To Keep Flag Flying
EAST WINDSOR -- The mother of a soldier in Afghanistan who has refused to take down the American flag outside her home despite warnings from her condo association received word Friday that she will be allowed to fly her flag if she agrees to certain restrictions. Teresa Richard, who in August pitched an American flag and Blue Star flag hung by mothers of soldiers at war, was warned by the Stoughton Ridge Condominium Association that she was in violation of "common area" rules and would be fined $25 a day after Labor Day. But on Friday, Richard said, she received a letter from the association offering a compromise. The offer comes after a frenzy of media coverage and growing political support from state officials, including Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and state Rep. Ted Graziani, D-Ellington. Blumenthal has been working with Kevin Carson, president of the condo association, and Richard to strike a deal.
Grand Canyon Skywalk opens deep divide - Los Angeles Times
This is the main attraction of a planned commercial development for an impoverished Hualapai Indian reservation. Down at the bottom of the article is mention of one big sticking point: H2O.

GRAND CANYON WEST, ARIZ. — Perched over the Grand Canyon close to a mile above the Colorado River, a massive, multimillion-dollar glass walkway will soon open for business as the centerpiece of a struggling Indian tribe's plan to lure tourists to its remote reservation. An engineering marvel or a colossal eyesore, depending on who is describing it, the horseshoe-shaped glass walkway will jut out 70 feet beyond the canyon's edge on the Hualapai Indian Reservation just west of Grand Canyon Village. Buttressed by 1 million pounds of steel and supporting 90 tons of tempered glass, the see-through deck will give visitors a breathtaking view of the canyon. When the cantilevered structure opens to the public next month, it will be the most conspicuous commercial edifice in the canyon. And, if the tribe's plans come to fruition, the Skywalk will be the catalyst for a 9,000-acre development, known as Grand Canyon West, that will open up a long-inaccessible 100-mile stretch of countryside along the canyon's South Rim. The cost of the Skywalk alone will exceed $40 million, tribal officials say.