A Few Comments about Alfred Bettman

Alfred Bettman was a land use planning attorney who practiced in this country in the first half of this century. Born on August 26, 1873, the first son of German immigrants, he lived all his life in Cincinatti. Harvard educated, he became the city attorney in 1912, and came into direct contact with the issues and difficulties which have confronted urban areas during all of the 20th Century.

He attended his first National Conference on City Planning in 1913, and began working to develop support for the adoption of a Master Plan for the City of Cincinatti. He drafted the first planning legislation for Ohio in 1915. Unfortunately, this act did not require the adoption of a Master Plan, and in Cincinatti, machine politics prevented its adoption. Instead, only an advisory commission was established. Things have not changed much in 80 years.

Bettman would write most of the Ohio enabling legislation over the next 30 years. He was on the Blue Ribbon Committee established by Herbert Hoover, then head of the US Department of Commerce, which drafted the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, the basis of most of the first generation zoning enabling statutes across the United States, and probably still the law in most of the 50 states.

He was hired by the TVA in the early 1930's to come to Tennessee and advise them on land use issues. Towards the middle of the decade, he was asked to draft what would become the Tennessee Zoning and Planning Enabling Statutes with passage in 1935. This legislation is still the basis for most zoning and planning here in the state of Tennessee. Interestingly, there are some significant differences between the Standard Act that the Blue Ribbon committee put together, and the Tennessee legislation penned almost entirely by Bettman. For one, there is not mandatory consistency with a general plan here in Tennessee; for another, the powers of a zoning board to grant variances are severely circumscribed here in Tennessee. He was paid all of $400 for this effort.

Bettman was perhaps best known nationally because he is generally credited with saving zoning from consitutional defeat practically before it got started in this country. He argued the granddaddy case, Euclid v Ambler Realty Co. Bettman himself thought the case was very difficult, but thanks to his forceful arguments concerning the validity of the underlying zoning technique (without concentrating so much on the actual facts of that case because they were so bad), a very conservative court voted 5-4 to uphold the validity of zoning in general across this country. Had the vote gone the other way, zoning as we know it probably would not exist.

Another of the innovations that Bettman was at least in part responsible for is the concept of a Capital Improvements Budget. Bettman and Segoe, a land use planner with whom Bettman has a close association, developed this idea. Known as the "Cincinattic Plan" for years, the idea is to have the Planning Commission review and evaluate needed capital improvements for the city as the planning process evolves. Hopefully, in that way, some order can be brough to the chaos that would otherwise dominate the maintennace and construction of additions to the city and regional infrastructure. This was a new idea in the early part of this century; now, there is probably not a significantly sized city in the United States that does not have some form of a capital improvements budget. It is yet one more facet of the legacy left by Bettman.

Here's a copy of the friend of the court brief Bettman filed in Euclid v Ambler Realty

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