An Appreciation: Charles M. Haar, Leading Advocate for Comprehensive Planning, Dies at 91

 

Charles M. Haar, one of the greatest land use and urban development lawyers of the second half of the 20th Century passed away Jan. 10 at his home in Key Biscayne, Florida. He will always be known for his brilliant articles on establishing the comprehensive plan as the constitution of land use planning in the United States in the 1950s, which has become increasingly important in the U.S. and California. 

It is truly sad to see one of the greats no longer with us. Charles Haar was a good friend and colleague. We solidified our friendship when I was a visiting professor of law at Harvard in 1985 and later when we taught together at the University of Miami law school as visiting professors teaching land use courses. 

Professor Haar had a brilliant career. After service in Naval Intelligence in World War II, and practice in real estate law, in 1952 he became a Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School and later on was named the Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law. Together with Professor Jacob Beuscher of Wisconsin, he pioneered one of the first classes in the nation on land use law and in 1958 wrote one of the first, and for 30 years, the most influential, casebooks in the field, Land Use Planning: A Casebook on the Use, Misuse and Re-use of Urban Land.

Professor Haar's most original work was his two 1955 seminal law review articles on the comprehensive plan. That is what Charlie will always be remembered for, as well as having conducted one of the first law school classes on Land Use Planning law. Charlie was the first to break away from the 1930's, 40's and 50’s  influence of zoning attorneys and their narrow detailed zoning and subdivision treatises by emphasizing the need for comprehensive planning to serve as the underlay for land use implementation.  

He particularly decried a series of 1950 New Jersey Supreme Court cases expressing the “majority view” rejecting the requirement of comprehensive planning to lie behind zoning.  For this alone he will always be one of the greats for having shaped a new direction for consideration of environmental, economic, architectural and planning multidisciplinary approaches and to escape from the parochialism and lack of planning embodying local controls. 

The greatest tribute to Charlie's efforts was the case of Udell v. Haas, 235 N.E.2d 897 (N.Y. 1968) in the New York Court of Appeals, which attributed the need for planning as central to rational urban growth to Charlie's articles, citing Haar, In Accordance with a Comprehensive Plan, 68 Harvard Law Review 1154 (1955), and “The Master Plan: An Imperfect Constitution, 20 Law & Contemporary Problems 353 (1955):

The mandate of the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, § 4, that zoning be in accordance with a comprehensive plan, is not a mere technicality which serves only as an obstacle to overcome in carrying out their duties. Rather the comprehensive plan is the essence of zoning. Without it there can be no rational allocation of land use. It is the insurance that the public welfare is being served and that zoning does not become nothing more than a Gallup Poll….

As Professor Haar points out zoning may easily degenerate into a talismanic word like the “police power” to excuse all sorts of arbitrary infringements on the property rights of the landowner. To assure this does not happen our courts must require local zoning authorities to pay more than mock obeisance to the statutory mandate that zoning be “in accordance with a comprehensive plan.”  

In California, the influence of Professor’s Haar’s articles resulted in the adoption of California Government Code § 65860 (in 1965) “Consistency of zoning ordinances with general plan” with one great omission, charter cities, with the exception of Los Angeles, are exempt from the consistency requirement, Cal. Gov’t Code § 65803, 65860 (d). Nevertheless in City of Del Mar v. City of San Diego, 133 Cal. App. 3d 401, 414 (1982) the court held that:

While the trial court was correct in concluding that charter cities such as San Diego are statutorily exempt from the technical zoning consistency requirement contained in Government Code section 65860, Del Mar persuasively argues that a city's general plan may be viewed in many ways as the city's articulated perceptions of what constitutes the locale's “general welfare.” Thus, to the extent that a city approves a zoning ordinance which is inconsistent with the city's general plan, the inconsistency must at least give rise to a presumption that the zoning ordinance does not reasonably relate to the community's general welfare, and therefore constitutes an abuse of the city's police power.

In the 1960s, Professor Haar’s career path shifted to working with the Kennedy and Johnson administrations on federal solutions to poverty, redevelopment and housing. His finest contributions were the drafting of the Model Cities legislation in 1966, which for the first time directed federal grants to renew poverty and minority neighborhoods through economic development and minority citizen participation, in contrast to the federal Urban Renewal program which bulldozed and obliterated inner cities through eminent domain, leaving vast wastelands, such as those discussed in Martin Anderson’s The Federal Bulldozer (M.I.T. Press, 1964).

Two years later he drafted Sections 235 and 236 of the 1968 National Housing Act which introduced the most effective federal subsidy programs the country has ever seen. Unfortunately his extensive and valuable work on national issues fell by the wayside with the demise of the Johnson Administration.

Charlie's efforts then shifted to the world of exclusionary zoning and discrimination in the provision of housing, basic services and infrastructure systems. In 1971, working with Daniel Fessler of Harvard, he won a great victory in the case of Hawkins v. Shaw, 437 F. 2d 1286 (5th Cir. 1971) in establishing the constitutional right of minorities to equal services. Charlie continued his work, over the years, in housing and exclusion, publishing a number of well received books: Housing the Poor in Suburbia; Fairness and Justice, Law in the Service of Equality; The Wrong Side of the Tracks; and Suburbs under Siege: Race, Space and Audacious Justices (highlighting the Mount Laurel Supreme Court cases in New Jersey).  He also wrote definitive works on Property and Law, The End of Innocence, and The Golden Age of American Law.

In 1982, Charlie was appointed Special Master in a state court case resolving the problems of pollution in Boston Harbor.  In 2005, he highlighted his experience in Mastering Boston Harbor: Courts, Dolphins and Imperiled Waters (Harvard University Press):

Professor Haar said the courts were indispensable in solving what was known as the tragedy of the commons. Though the harbor belonged in principle to everyone, “no single entity felt duty-bound to care for it.” Thus it was being lost to all. “The energetic judicial response to prior legislative inertia was the most extraordinary and precedent-setting feature of Boston Harbor’s journey from a national disgrace to a symbol of national pride.” 

Attorney Robert H. Frielich teaches land use law at the University of Southern California and is the author of over 10 books, most recently, of From Sprawl to Sustainable Growth, Successful Planning, Law and Environmental Systems.