Everyone that has been around small children knows their favorite questions – “Whatcha doing?” and “Why?” In the drafting of Florida land development regulations, it’s a good idea to ask these same questions (hopefully in a more adult way) – “What are we trying to prevent or achieve?” and “Why do we want to prevent or achieve that; what purpose will the regulation serve?”
Based on common sense, it would seem obvious that there should be a reason to regulate; that every regulation should serve some purpose. And, based on common law (relevant case law), that is the requirement—regulations must be based on legitimate public purposes, which protect the public health, safety, or welfare and have a substantial relationship to the promotion of that public purpose.1 But too often, in the rush to get something written to try to address the latest issue or crisis, only the terms of the regulation get debated and decided, not the purposes the regulation is to achieve. Without a clear understanding of what is to be achieved and why it needs to be achieved, it is all but impossible to achieve it. If everyone is advancing their own agenda, their own reasons for the proposals being made, you most likely will get regulations that advance conflicting purposes (or no real purpose). So, before we get started drafting new regulations, we should all ask “What are we trying to do” and “Why?”
Regulating To Prevent Harm
Preventing harm is a traditional purpose for the exercise of the local government’s police powers. A regulation is more likely to be considered an exercise of its police powers if it prevents a public harm.2 Accordingly, land development regulations typically have at least a strong core of regulating to prevent harm. The following are examples of some of the harms that LDRs may be intended to prevent (check back for future articles on some or all of these):
- Economic harm
- Harm to public health
- Visual impacts
- Noise impacts
- Light – whether blockage of sunlight or the intrusion of artificial light
- Unsafe situations – whether in structural safety, hazards, or from crime
To be sure that the regulation is actually going to prevent the harm that is of concern, however, it is important to regulate the actual causes of the harm, rather than trying to regulate the resulting harm. Two examples of regulating results rather than cause can be seen in regulating to prevent negative impacts on property values and, to a large degree, in regulating aesthetic impacts.
In preventing harm to (a decrease in) property values, the real question to be answered is what factors would cause the harm to the property values;3 what is it that future purchasers of the neighboring properties4 wouldn’t want around.5 These factors (such as noise, smells, or intrusive lights) should be what the regulations address, not the end result of lower property values. An attempt to regulate the results rather than the cause is likely to end in vague, inconsistently applied, or ineffective regulations.
Similarly, in regulating to prevent negative aesthetic impacts, the real question is whether it is the appearance of the use or structure itself that is of concern or the impact of that appearance; is the regulation to prevent ugly uses or structures or to prevent the appearance of the use or structure from negatively impacting other areas, uses, or structures. If, for example, a use with significant outdoor storage is to be placed in an area of an established protected scenic vista, the regulation should address the question of whether the proposed type of outdoor storage at the proposed location would impair or prevent the achievement of the purpose of the scenic vista. The question would not be whether the outdoor storage itself is ugly or not, but whether having the proposed outdoor storage would be so visible and obtrusive as to defeat the purpose of having the scenic vista.
Regulating To Advance A Goal
The concept of the use of police power to “protect and promote the public welfare” has continued to expand to encompass a large variety of regulatory purposes, many of which can be grouped under the heading of those intended to advance a goal or goals (the “what are we trying to do” question). A few examples of these goals (many of which future articles will discuss) include:
- Amenity enhancement
- Regulatory efficiency
- Economic stability or growth
- Job stability or growth
- Coastal protection and management
- Environmental protection
- Quality of life protection
- Efficiency in the provision of services
- Energy efficiency and green design
- Aesthetic advancement
- Urban infill and redevelopment
- Neighborhood planning
- Regulating based on need
Once the goal that is to be achieved is identified, the question of why that goal is to be advanced—what purpose is to be achieved—becomes the focus. And, as with preventing harm, it is the identification of the relevant factors impacting that purpose that is important, to be sure the regulations actually achieve the goal.
Regulatory goals are often grouped under more general names, such as “smart growth,” form-based or design oriented regulations, “innovative” design and planning, or “planned” developments. It is good to have comprehensive and coordinated goals, but it is important that the grouping or method of the approach doesn’t become identified as the goal itself. By way of example, if the approach of a form-based code is chosen, having a form-based code shouldn’t become the goal itself, but rather the focus should be on having the approach actually advance the desired goals a form-based approach can address, such as walkable communities or encouraging mixed use developments, and aspects of the approach that don’t advance the jurisdiction’s goals should not be included.6
Regulating for Inappropriate Purposes
Another reason to ask “Why?” is because it is also entirely possible to regulate for inappropriate purposes. Our country’s regulatory history, unfortunately, includes doing just that, such as restricting uses and property ownership based on race or economic status. Although they may not be as blatant as in the past, it is not difficult to find examples of regulations that, even if they don’t state it in the regulation, can have the effect of improper discrimination or other inappropriate purposes.
Many of these “inappropriate” purposes are recognized as improper under the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Others are addressed in the legislative statutes and regulations (U.S. Code, Code of Federal Regulations, Florida Statutes, or Florida Administrative Code). Other purposes may be improper because they advance the interests of individuals rather than those of the general public (see the article Limitations on Florida Police Power for more).
The purposes behind a regulation may also be “inappropriate” because they do not advance the local comprehensive plan. It is very easy to join the crowd rushing to implement the latest approach or to stop the problem of the day, but if the approaches or solutions are not compatible with and do not advance the relevant provisions of the local comprehensive plan, they are not consistent with the comprehensive plan (see the article Consistency with the comprehensive plan) and, therefore, cannot be allowed.
Beyond Stating The Purposes – Confirming The Regulation Does What It Is Supposed To Do
It isn’t enough to just list the purposes of the regulations at the beginning of the Code and never think about them again. It is also important to be sure the purposes are actually being advanced by the regulations. Not only must there be a substantial connection between the stated purposes and the regulations, the regulations must be tailored to actually address the public purpose(s), based on an actual analysis of the situation.7 The implementation of purposes is relevant in analyzing the legality of the regulations, but is also is relevant from a practical standpoint, in that if the regulations are not related to and advance the stated purposes, those purposes are not achieved.
In order to have effective, helpful regulations, one of the most important considerations is whether those regulations are purposeful—whether they relate to and actually implement identified and appropriate public purposes. To do so, at the start of the process and all the way through the drafting or amending of the LDRs, it is important to continuously ask “What are we doing,” “Why are we doing it,” and “Is what we are doing actually implementing what we want.”
- Graham v. Estuary Properties, Inc., 399 So.2d 1374, 1381 (Fla. 1981); Newman v. Carson, 280 So.2d 426, 428 (Fla. 1973); Burritt v. Harris, 172 So.2d 820, 823 (Fla. 1965); City of Miami Beach v. 8701 Collins Ave., Inc., 77 So.2d 428, 430 (Fla. 1954) ; City of W. Palm Beach v. State ex rel. Duffey, 30 So.2d 491, 492 (Fla. 1947). See the FloridaLDRs.com article The Rules of the Game – Analyzing Development Standards for more on this point.Click here to return to text.
- As opposed to it being the exercise of eminent domain when the regulation creates a public benefit. See Graham v. Estuary Properties, Inc., 399 So.2d 1374, 1381 (Fla. 1981). Click here to return to text.
- As outlined in 1 American Land Planning Law § 16:3 (Rev. Ed.) (“An allegation that something will affect property values says nothing whatever on the subject of whether a prohibition of that something would further the appropriate goals of zoning; the question always is, what is the factor in question? … In other words, the fact that something allegedly will have an “adverse” effect on property values does not constitute a separate goal for public action; such an effect on property values is purely derivative, reflecting the presence of something else—and the latter is the primary factor, to be looked into and evaluated. The validity of public action depends in every instance on this primary factor, which must be identified, analyzed, and classified as a valid (or invalid) goal. To put the point rather strongly, then, an allegation that a given action will reduce property values really tells nothing about whether that given action is or is not appropriate”) and Land Use Planning and Development Regulation Law § 3.14 (2d ed.) (“While none would likely quarrel with the preservation of value as a legitimate factor in zoning, it cannot stand alone. Value is a consequence of action or inaction, and it is the action or inaction that matters”). Click here to return to text.
- Because it is usually the neighbors’ property values that are said to be of concern, rather than that of the property owner seeking to use his or her property. Click here to return to text.
- This is under the concept that having something undesirable in the neighborhood would decrease the number of potential purchasers, and, therefore, reduce the price that could be achieved in a sale (the property value). Click here to return to text.
- If too many of the approach’s aspects are not consistent with the jurisdiction’s goals, then that may not be the right approach to use. Click here to return to text.
- See the FloridaLDRs.com article The Rules of the Game – Analyzing Development Standards for more. Click here to return to text.