I guess it's no surprise that the ruckus over the City's historic landmark program has sparked a lawsuit. Mike Levy is one of the plaintiffs. The plaintiff's petition is here. Their lawyers, Jim George and John W. Thomas, are serious lawyers.
I'm not sure one can make a lawsuit out of Council's lax definition of "historic," but we'll see. Levy & Co. want a court to enjoin enforcement of the City's historic landmark program. The plaintiffs claim the city must find it "needs" to grant a tax exemption for historic preservation before it does so -- and the city does not (and, presumably, could not) make such a finding. There's some support for their argument in the enabling statute: it authorizes the city to grant tax breaks if the historic site is "in need of tax relief to encourage its preservation . . . " So the statute does require that the tax breaks be "needed." But the tax breaks must be needed only to "encourage" preservation. "Encourage" is a vague, wiggly word. If a homeowner says, "I'll agree to preserve my home in perpetuity as a historic landmark if you give me a tax break," and the City does, isn't that tax break "encouraging" historic preservation? The real beef, I think, is with Council's often frivolous landmark designations, but I'm skeptical a court will second-guess these.
This could get interesting. The city risks being squeezeed from the other direction if it gets too stingy with tax breaks, as a commenter noted yesterday. That makes sense, since city-initiated landmark cases are economically (if not legally) equivalent to an inverse condemnation.