The Murr Case: Of Lot Mergers and the Future of Land Use Regulation

by John Echeverria | March 15, 2017

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a seemingly minor zoning case, Murr v. State of Wisconsin. In reality, the case involves a fundamental challenge to public authority to protect our communities and private property. In particular, if the Court were to rule in favor of petitioners, it would make it vastly more difficult for communities to compel large-scale developers to comply with zoning and other land use laws.

Here’s the back story. In 1972, the Secretary of the Interior approved a request by the Governors of Wisconsin and Minnesota to include the Lower St. Croix River in the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system based on its outstanding scenic and recreational values. Despite this national designation, state and local land use agencies control development along the river’s banks. The Murr case arises from the efforts by St. Croix County, Wisconsin, to protect the scenic banks of the Lower St. Croix River from overdevelopment and, more specifically, the application of an obscure “lot merger” zoning rule.

More than 50 years ago, prior to the Wild and Scenic designation, Margaret and William Murr purchased a small building lot on the Wisconsin side of the river, conveyed ownership of the lot to the family plumbing company, and built a small cabin on the lot. A few years later the Murrs bought a second lot next door to their first lot in their own names. Ever since, the Murr family ...

Lake Lanier Case a Lesson on Water Resources and Land Use Planning

by Yee Huang | August 27, 2009
In July, a federal judge settled a nearly 20-year legal dispute among Alabama, Florida, and Georgia over the use of water from Lake Lanier, dealing a tough blow to Georgia. The Army Corps of Engineers constructed Buford Dam in the 1950s, creating Lake Lanier as a reservoir for flood control, navigation, and hydropower. But Atlanta and its sprawling metropolitan area came to rely on the reservoir as a water supply, and Lake Lanier today supplies water to 75 percent of ...

Bush Administration Forest Planning Rules Struck Down -- Again

by Holly Doremus | July 06, 2009
Cross-posted by permission from Legal Planet. For much of the past decade, the Department of Agriculture regulations governing land and resource management planning in the national forests have been a kind of political ping-pong ball, bounced back and forth between administrations, and between the executive branch and the courts. Now the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has taken another swat at that ball. The planning rules are important because they govern the adoption of plans for ...

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