Building lines were among the oldest forms of municipal land use controls in New Haven.(79) Between 1908 and 1910, conflicts surrounding the creation and enforcement of building lines in New Haven focused on accusations made by the Mayor(80) and the Corporation Counsel(81) that the Board of Aldermen was violating established formal procedures for the passage of building lines, especially by granting variances for individual property owners.(82) In addition, civic groups played an important role in pressing the Aldermen to enforce existing laws.(83) By early 1910, the Civic Federation and the Chamber of Commerce asked Olmsted to prepare a brief proposal for building lines in the city's first ward while the Gilbert-Olmsted report was in production.
The Building Lines Commission, therefore, was a governmental entity intended to perform one regulatory task that the city charter had initially authorized almost ninety years before.
Gilbert and Olmsted's report, intended to describe the current state of New Haven in its entirety and to propose a plan for its future, was published less than a year before the establishment of the Building Lines Commission.(96) The report's contents and influence would replicate the process seen in the conflict over building lines: the identification of a problem, the identification of available legal and political solutions, and the establishment of a bureaucratic institution unable to overcome the limits of legal doctrine and governance in the municipal context.
For example, the report's promotion of a piecemeal approach to street widening and building lines demonstrated a reluctance to exploit the city's power of eminent domain to its full potential.
Besides building lines, the two areas for which the report emphasized regulation of private land use were commercial advertising and building heights around the New Haven Green.
As with the conflict over building lines, the wider call for city planning that the report articulated remained largely unfulfilled despite an administrative solution that temporarily placated those leading the campaign for planning.
buildings, and the establishment of building lines, or the failure to do