Do Community Benefits Agreements Benefit Communities?
54 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2016 Last revised: 7 Sep 2016
Date Written: June 29, 2016
Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) campaigns and public discussions about community benefits are becoming the norm in deciding how large urban projects are built outside of formal public land use approvals. CBAs have revolutionized land use approvals for large, public-private economic development projects: now developers and coalitions representing low-income communities can settle their disputes before formal project approval. As a result, CBAs are now commonplace nationwide.
Legal scholarship, however, has failed to keep up with these important developments. This Article aims to do just that by examining how CBAs, when properly negotiated, lower transaction costs, enhance civic participation, and protect taxpayers. It argues that CBAs achieve all these outcomes well, and more efficiently than existing government processes. Indeed, this Article’s central argument is that to the extent that scholars have analyzed CBAs, their analyses have gone astray by either dismissing CBAs as harmful to communities or by focusing on the role of the state in negotiating what really should be a private contract between a coalition of community groups and a developer. It is a mistake to give the state’s role in CBAs primacy over the community coalition because the inclusion of government in the CBA bargaining process creates a host of constitutional protections for developers — namely that the community benefits must be connected to and proportional with the instant government approval.
This Article places focus back on CBAs as private contracts enforceable by inclusive and representative community coalitions. It presents a case study of a successful CBA negotiated for the development of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx. This Article proposes a framework for assessing the impact of CBAs in economic development — one that recognizes the nuanced role that states and municipalities play in the formation and enforcement of CBAs. The framework focuses on the extent to which CBAs (1) lower transaction costs by effectively resolving disputes among developers and community groups, (2) increase civic participation in public processes, (3) protect taxpayers, and (4) avoid government intervention and constitutional protections for developers. This Article concludes with recommendations for the appropriate, limited role of government in CBA negotiations.
Keywords: Community Benefits Agreements, Land Use, Development Agreements, Community Economic Development
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