I just returned from the American Planning Association’s National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. I look forward to this conference every year to get together with planners from across the country, eat some local food, and drink some local beverages. This year, I spoke about the Religious Land Use & Institutionalized Persons Act as part of a session with Professor Alan Weinstein of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law and Don Elliot of Clarion Associates, with about 200 planners and lawyers in attendance. Alan and Don spoke about the Telecommunications Act and the Fair Housing Act.  Here are 5 takeaways from the conference.

1) A large number of planners have not received RLUIPA training.  About half of the planners listening to me speak responded that they have not been trained. This is a trend that needs to change, as at least one federal decision has found a RLUIPA violation in part because of a lack of proper training and knowledge of the federal statute. The United States Department of Justice has issued some great materials that all planners and local officials should have at their desks.  They’re available here and here.

2) There is some confusion about what is a “land use regulation” under RLUIPA.  Remember, the statute applies only to land use regulations, defined in part to mean “a zoning or landmarking law.”  Building and safety codes do not invoke the statute, environmental review might, and eminent domain probably does not. Check out slide 7 of my PowerPoint, here.

3)  When the unforeseen happens, sometimes you just have to go with the flow. During our presentation, Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” suddenly started blaring throughout the auditorium. It was a little strange, but we continued on. This translates nicely into zoning hearings regarding religious land use proposals. Planners and local officials need to be prepared for the unexpected (including comments from members of the public and, even, fellow officials that do not reflect the views of a municipality).

4)  Phoenix has a great selection of breweries. I recommend Mother Bunch Brewing. When you’re there, try the Old Skool IPA. Their smoked wings, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans are also highly recommended.

5)  Phoenix is making great strides in promoting public transit, greenspace, and outdoor art.   Check out the photo album from Lexington, Massachusetts planner David Fields here.  There’s a lot to see in Phoenix if you have time to enjoy the dry heat and explore.