“I Bought This Property With the Expectation That…”

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…is never really going to be a valid argument in any land use debate.

Just because some people invested (translation: bet) their money on a certain outcome doesn’t mean public policymakers have some responsibility to those people not to do anything that changes the prospects (good or bad) of return on that investment, or changes the character of the neighborhood.

You invest with a reasonable expectation of what things are probably going to be like in the future, but that doesn’t give you some right to freeze in time the whole neighborhood, and it definitely doesn’t bar other democratic actors who prefer a different outcome from winning elections and changing the relevant laws.

Prior to 2009, some people invested in hospitals expecting big returns as health care costs were projected to rise onward and upward forevermore. Then we passed the Affordable Care Act, and that’s expected to squeeze hospital profit margins.

People who invested in hospitals made a bet on a certain outcome, and they’re going to make less money than they thought. Did the government have a responsibility to their investments? Of course not, they had a responsibility to further the public interest of universal health insurance. You can change the law even if it hurts some people’s investments.

In the Royal Theater case, sure it would be better if we had rule of law, not of man, and a pretty liberal allowance for density on South St combined with a pretty strict adherence to the letter of the zoning code.

But there’s nothing inherently illegitimate about the Councilmanic rezonings, because it’s all just politics. The root cause of the problem is that people don’t want to zone South Street in a way that makes the economics of mixed-use developments pencil out by-right, so we get all these legislative rezonings through the district Council offices and variance requests.

Any way you look at it, the process is legitimate, although clearly a stricter rule-based process such as Ori Feibush prefers would be best, since it would result in fewer process-based redevelopment obstacles, a faster pace of new construction, and lower barriers to entry for national and international development firms to work in Philly.

This entry was posted in Economic Development, Economy, Issues, Land Use.

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