About Amerisurv| Contact    
Magazine | Newsletter    
Flickr Photos | Advertise    
HomeNewsNewsletterAmerisurv DirectoryJobsStoreAuthorsHistoryArchivesBlogVideosEvents

Sponsored By

Software Reviews
Continuing Series
An RTN expert provides everything you need to know about network-corrected real-time GNSS observations.
Click Here to begin the series,
or view the Article PDF's Here
76-PageFlip Compilation
of the entire series
Test Yourself

Got Answers?
Test your knowledge with NCEES-level questions.
  Start HERE
Meet the Authors
Check out our fine lineup of writers. Each an expert in his or her field.
Wow Factor
Sponsored By

Product Reviews
Partner Sites







Spatial Media LLC properties




Home arrow Archives   The American Surveyor     

Vantage Point: Haunted by the Past Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM   
Saturday, 20 April 2013

A 211Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

They never die. They continue to haunt us long after they should have been retired once and for all. But once approved, old subdivisions and developments often manage to sustain a faint heartbeat years beyond changes in zoning, changes in topography, and changes in how we want our communities to look and function.

Zombie subdivisions! The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy uses this phrase to describe development plans born in some of our western states during speculation during recent boom times but now struggling or not even begun in the aftermath of burst real estate bubbles and declining real estate lending. The repercussions of plans no longer reflective of current market demand are both economic and environmental.

Incomplete developments cost municipalities and counties dearly in trying to service scattered private owners within these now nearly deserted dream ventures. For projects never begun, many local governments find themselves bound by agreements to extend infrastructure to zombie developments without knowing how long they must reserve capacity and (shrinking) funds. Meanwhile, striving to uphold those old agreements means creating cumulative environmental effects that cannot be amortized over the previously anticipated tax base, so there is less opportunity for mitigation to counteract disturbed soils, drained or rerouted water bodies, and altered floodplains.

Endless extensions of permits to encourage completion of such developments can result in an array of problems while pursuing a balance between current codes and those in effect at the time of approval. This is not a western phenomenon. On the other side of this continent, the City of Brotherly Love, better known as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has a few notorious instances of its own.

One of the newer examples is formerly commercial land that has been (by request of developers) rezoned for hotels and apartments, located on what is appropriately known as Venice Island. Ground has not yet been broken for construction of one particular project in the more than five years since the city's zoning board approval and permit for demolition of existing structures. Such permits require projects to be started within six months and completed within two years of the issued date. Meanwhile the flood maps have been updated and the city's zoning and planning ordinances have been rewritten since the permits were issued but not acted upon. But the developer claims a right to proceed on the plans already approved. A zombie in the making? The court may need to rule on how dead "expired" is.

In 1961 the Eastwick area of the city, in the shadow of Philadelphia International Airport, was the subject of an agreement between a developer and the city to create the largest urban renewal project in the country. Philadelphia's Redevelopment Authority wielded its power of eminent domain to condemn 2300 acres of already occupied but semi-rural land in the late 1950s, evicting about 10,000 residents and acquiring approximately 2000 parcels, some being low-lying farmland, most of it being floodprone. In the days before FEMA and Flood Insurance Rate Maps and Army Corps of Engineers' permits for filling wetlands, there was no one with a strong enough voice to stand up against Philadelphia's actions and plans.

An estimated two-thirds of the original Eastwick development plan came to fruition under a contract that had no real end and has been extended more than once in the last five decades since it was awarded to the developer. The successor to the original developer--with an option to buy any remaining undeveloped land at a price set back in 1961--now wants to move ahead with completing construction. But instead of single family homes as the area had been zoned for the redevelopment plan (and built as suburban townhouses), it wants to construct 722 rental units and 1034 parking spaces on 35 acres of the last remaining 128 undeveloped acres.

Now we have a zombie of a different sort, one in the midst of a community that doesn't want to be bound by a 50-year old plan and is willing to protest it loudly. Zombie planning rooted in zombie contracts! It doesn't help that Eastwick's City Councilman agreed to introduce legislation on behalf of the developer to rezone those 35 acres, apparently uninformed and out of touch with his constituents, who rapidly organized to raise a variety of significant concerns to substantiate their protests. The Councilman eventually withdrew his proposal after hearing more than one side of the story.

The original Eastwick was a vibrant if small community in the midst of meadows crossed by creeks making their way to drain into the Delaware River, but it was also home to industry and agriculture. The airport was nearby, but had not yet expanded to within its present proximity. The bordering marshes had not yet been federally protected as the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum (originally the Tinicum National Environmental Center), a thousand acres of tidal wetlands on the Atlantic migratory flyway. Contamination and leachates from the abutting oil refineries and landfills had not yet been identified as the causes for localized illnesses.

Present-day Eastwick is already besieged by repetitive flooding, so that many residents sandbag their homes against every pending storm, often unsuccessfully. Studies reporting that flooding will not be worsened by building 51 new apartment buildings in the floodplain don't begin to placate those who want the situation to improve rather than remain at status quo.

To kill a zombie, you must destroy its brain (unlike vampires, whose hearts must be pierced by stakes). Some zombies seem not to have real brains of their own, but rely on those of others who knowingly or unknowingly lend them life support. Presuming those supporters have not been irreversibly infected by the zombies, the rest of us, alive and vibrant, must let them know how being drawn into the darkness of the past will harm us all. Can we limit extensions on permits? Can we set real expiration limits for construction contracts? Can we pursue more encompassing studies of cumulative effects? What we have learned from our mistakes should advise our plans for the future.

Wendy Lathrop is licensed as a Professional Land Surveyor in NJ, PA, DE, and MD, and has been involved since 1974 in surveying projects ranging from construction to boundary to environmental land use disputes. She is a Professional Planner in NJ, and a Certified Floodplain Manager through ASFPM.

A 211Kb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE

< Prev

 American Surveyor Recent Articles
Marc Cheves, PS 
Editorial: A Great Year to be a Surveyor
Some magazines have what are called "theme" issues. That is, most of the content is focused on one particular subject. In my 22+ years of survey magazine publishing, my philosophy has always been to have a little bit of everything in each issue, thereby eliminating the possibility that ....
Read the Article
Jason E. Foose, PS 
Decided Guidance: Case Examinations: Halverson v. Deerwood Village
Whew! We really beat the snot out of Bryant v. Blevins and practical locations. Well this month we're back on new case that hit the Minnesota Supreme Court's docket in 1982. We've got the familiar gymnastics of jurisprudence featuring an extraordinary array of flying rope stretchers ...
Read the Article
Michel Philips 
Extreme Environment Surveying
A Franco-Chilean team of cave divers used the Nautiz X8 rugged handheld for marine cave surveying, gathering data to classify the inaccessible northern half of Madre de Dios for UNESCO World Heritage. The team of cave divers used the Nautiz X8 ....
Read the Article
Erik Dahlberg 
The Original Green Engineers
Sometimes, it's best just to leave things as you found them. That's the lesson shared by Dr. Richard Miksad and his students at the University of Virginia. As a result of studies covering nearly a decade, Miksad's teams have developed detailed ....
Read the Article
Dave Lindell, PS 
Test Yourself 49: No Dimensions
In square A-C-D-B with side S, C-E is tangent to the semicircle Q1 with diameter B-D. Q2 is the inscribed circle of A-C-E. The tangent to Q1 and Q2 meets the sides of the square at F and H and intersects C-E at t G. Q3 is the inscribed circle of C-G-H. What is the ratio of the radii of circles ....
Read the Article
Jerry Penry, PS 
Discovery on Grizzly Peak
When First Lieutenant Montgomery M. Macomb arrived in Carson City, Nevada, from Washington D.C., on July 28, 1878, his assigned survey crew from the 4th Artillery was waiting and ready for the new field season. At age 25, Macomb was the leader ....
Read the Article
Wendy Lathrop, PS, CFM 
Vantage Point: Fighting City Hall Over Land
Once upon a time (1989 to be exact) in a place not so far away from where I live, a man (Francis Galdo) bought a home across the street from a vacant parcel owned by the City of Philadelphia. That parcel, along with others, had been acquired by condemnation back in 1974 subsequent to a 1956 ....
Read the Article
Patrick C. Garner, PS 
Book Review: Boundary Retracement: Processes and Procedures
When I was in my mid-twenties and learning the honorable profession of land surveying, I was lucky to be guided by a mentor who would grab a book off his office shelf and say, "Every surveyor should have a copy of this!" The first example he waved at me was Davis, Foote and Kelly's Surveying ....
Read the Article


Amerisurv Exclusive Online-only Article ticker
Featured Amerisurv Events
List Your Event Here
contact Amerisurv


Javad Intros
Total Solution

press [at] amerisurv.com
Online Internet Content


News Feeds

Subscribe to Amerisurv news & updates via RSS or get our Feedburn
xml feed

Need Help? See this RSS Tutorial

Historic Maps

post a job
Reach our audience of Professional land surveyors and Geo-Technology professionals with your GeoJobs career ad. Feel free to contact us if you need additional information.


Social Bookmarks

Amerisurv on Facebook 

Amerisurv LinkedIn Group 

Amerisurv Flickr Photos 

Amerisurv videos on YouTube 



The American Surveyor © All rights reserved / Privacy Statement
Spatial Media LLC
7820B Wormans Mill Road, #236
Frederick MD 21701
301-695-1538 - fax