Ever wished you'd have the chance to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk one-on-one with an expert in his or her area of law, especially our favorite topic, Land Use Law? Well, here's your chance to come awfully close to that, for a cost that's well below the usual hourly rates attorneys charge.
I've just completed Dwight H. Merriam's The Complete Guide to Zoning (available on Amazon here), and for anyone who plays the land use game -- property owner, planner, developer, agency official, regulator, judge, or lawyer -- the book is a plain-language guide to the process by an insider who is both a planner and an attorney, and who has been on both sides of the table.
The book contains explanations of the law and the zoning process, and is replete with practical advice and tips. It walks the reader through the regulatory maze in general enough terms to understand the broad concepts, yet specific enough to be useful in your jurisdiction. It's not McQuillan on Municipal Corporations, but it doesn't pretend to be. Instead, it is a practical overview of the process, from the perspective of landowner, regulator, and development opponent.
Favorite chapters: "A Short Course in the Law" (naturally), "Create and Leverage Relationships," and all chapters in Part V ("Winning Strategies").
It also contains various "war stories" and anecdotes, and nuggets of practical advice, which are among the best parts of the book. Favorites:
Let's put one aspect of money right on the table and be done with it. Paying local officials, directly or indirectly, is illegal; you can go to jail for it, and it is wrong. Don't even think about it. . . But how about paying the neighbors? That's a different story. (Page 123)
Now, let's talk about substantive due process. Not everyone would agree with me, but I think this may be the most important constitutional principle in terms of end result. While procedural due process is by far the predominant principle when it comes to absolute number of cases, court reversals, and general turbulence, substantive due process is what is at the heart of local regulation and decision making. (Page 49)
I tell my young lawyers -- and I can imagine one of them in particular smiling as he reads this because he hears it from me often -- that it is "all about relationships." That is, of course, an overstatement, but I have found in my long years in this business that building, maintaining, and then using good relationships is essential to our success. (Page 103.) [Or, as the late, great Dicky Fox said, "the key to this business is personal relationships."]
Good advice. And there is much more of it in Mr. Merriam's little guide. The holidays are upon us, and this book would make an excellent gift for "land users" in your circle. For more, follow his land use law blog here.