Remsen on Wills

It’s not land use, but I recently started reading an excellently written 1907 primer on the law of estate planning and trusts, The Preparation and Contest of Wills, by Daniel S. Remsen. It often strikes me how well the authors of a century ago were able to tackle complex subjects with both precision and clarity, in contrast to the blather that characterizes a lot of today’s law books. It’s also interesting to see how much the essential doctrines of common law property have stayed the same, and have continued to dominate their field (land use, of course, being a major exception), in contrast to the statutization that’s taken place in areas like commercial or criminal law. That is to say, other than the always-idiosyncratic specifics of taxes and local procedures, Remsen’s book tracks the same issues that any current hornbook on estate planning would cover, and most of the rules he describes still remain in effect. To illustrate his exposition of the law, Remsen includes an appendix containing 78 wills and trust settlements made by 19th century luminaries, including Jay Gould, August Belmont, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Leland Stanford. You can’t make this stuff up.

One of the most valuable online resources is the seemingly endless selection of old law books that have gone into the public domain, and are now available in PDF through Google Books. Everything from Story on Equity to Wigmore on Evidence can be found there. And it’s all free.

Subprimes into Land Banks

Here’s an interesting proposal for all of the disused properties that have been tied up in the MERS mess: Use eminent domain to assemble them into land banks for future equitable purposes. I suspect, at the end of the day, the real banks will find a way to hang on to the bulk of what’s in their portfolios. On the other hand, the sheer scale of those portfolios might be more than they want to fight for. A couple of years ago, I had a summer job where I helped to implement HUD affordable housing programs in Newark. At the time, there were blocks in the Clinton Hill and Roseville sections where nearly half the properties were in some sort of bank-owned limbo. It’s easy to forget, when you’re in the suburbs, just how much urban land investment has been wiped out in the last few years. The dearth of affordable housing in regions like the Northeast and California might be addressed if even a portion of this land could be deeded to high-density, limited-equity cooperatives.

Marijuana: Zoned Out in New Jersey

The Newark Star-Ledger has a piece about a proposed bill in the New Jersey General Assembly that would override local attempts to use municipal land use powers to block the farming of medical marijuana. The bill is being proposed by Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Monmouth County, so Governor Christie’s stated opposition sets up an interesting intra-party schism on the topic. Presumably, if it went to a vote, the Dems would also split, given the surreal political calculus of a bill that encompasses both drug policy and suburban land use. The land use aspect of the New Jersey law has come to the forefront as local opposition to both cultivation and dispensary siting has frustrated its implementation since it was signed by Governor Corzine in 2010. So far, only Montclair has approved a proposed dispensary.