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Brian J. Connolly

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Phone
303.575.7589
Email
bconnolly@ottenjohnson.com
Assistant

Brittany Frysinger, 303.575.7543

Overview

Brian Connolly represents public- and private-sector clients in zoning, planning, development entitlements, and other complex regulatory matters. His practice encompasses a broad range of land use issues, including planned-unit developments, development agreements, and private covenants and restrictions. He also represents clients in land use and zoning litigation, initiatives and referenda associated with land use approvals, and real estate transactions. Brian has built a national reputation for his work on First Amendment issues related to local government regulation – including signs and outdoor advertising and other free speech issues – as well as fair housing matters in local planning and zoning, particularly in the area of housing for people with disabilities. In addition to representing clients in these areas, Brian serves as an expert witness in cases involving these and other land use topics.

In the land use context, Brian helps clients identify and navigate the complex local, state and federal regulations impacting their projects. Brian handles zoning compliance matters, rezoning requests and appeals, protection of vested rights, subdivisions and site plans, annexations, and variance matters. When necessary, Brian utilizes litigation and alternative dispute resolution channels to negotiate a positive outcome for clients. His clients include landowners and developers, across the commercial, residential and industrial sectors. He also counsels equity investors and lenders as they evaluate investments, and he regularly represents local governments in a variety of matters.

Brian is a frequent writer and speaker on land use law topics at regional and national conferences. He serves on the advisory board of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute and is the Chair-Elect of the American Planning Association’s Planning and Law Division. Brian has served as the editor or co-author of three books addressing land use law topics, including the planning and local zoning issues associated with group homes for people with disabilities, and First Amendment issues associated with signs and advertising. 

In addition to his work at the firm, Brian teaches Land Use Planning as an Adjunct Professor at both the University of Colorado School of Law in Boulder and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Before practicing law, Brian was an urban planner in the planning department of Westchester County, New York. He also worked in planning capacities at the federal and municipal government levels.

Brian is the chair of the firm’s Marketing & Business Development Committee and currently serves on the firm's Technology and Values Committees.

Specialty practices: Sign Regulation & First Amendment; Land Use Regulation and Fair Housing

Best Lawyers Award Badge

Practice Areas

Industries Served

Projects

Experience

Representative experience includes:

  • Succeeded in obtaining entitlements on behalf of the master developer of one of the premier golf course communities in Colorado to allow for increased residential density, a broader product mix in the community, and updated infrastructure, which required working with community members, local government officials, and neighbors on mutually-beneficial plans for the project.
  • Assisted the owner and operator of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in a Colorado resort community in obtaining zoning approvals before the local board of county commissioners, and successfully defended related challenges in state and federal courts—at both the trial and appellate levels—to clear the path for a $100 million investment in community health.
  • Represented the developer of a mixed-use residential and commercial office project in downtown Denver in seeking and obtaining historic landmark approvals and in successfully defending against neighbor-initiated litigation regarding those approvals, ultimately settling the case to allow the project to proceed.
  • Successfully represented dozens of landowners and developers in seeking land use approvals, including zoning, special use permits, variances, and subdivision plats, before local public bodies such as city councils, boards of county commissioners, planning commissions, boards of adjustment, and other bodies, for development and redevelopment projects in local jurisdictions ranging from large cities to suburbs and resort communities throughout Colorado.
  • Counseled an international investor in its acquisition of thousands of acres of undeveloped, “path of growth” land in the Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins areas, providing zoning and entitlements analysis and real estate transactional assistance.
  • Advised a start-up technology company that produces and owns electric vehicle charging stations with strategic planning, entitlement negotiation, and legal analysis in several major markets around the United States.
  • Represented the owner of environmentally-sensitive land holdings near Aspen, Colorado in ensuring the protection of pristine lands in matters before the local governing body and in state courts.
  • Successfully obtained injunctive relief on behalf of a former automobile dealership property in litigation against a Colorado local government that sought to prohibit further automotive uses at the site, eventually settling the case on terms favorable to the owner.
  • Successfully represented several defendant landowners in Rule 106(a)(4) appeals and other forms of litigation challenging underlying zoning approvals.
  • Represented several owners or operators of housing for people with disabilities—which receive the special protections of the Federal Fair Housing Act—in seeking and obtaining zoning approvals, defending appeals, and challenging denials by local governments.
  • Provided pro bono representation to a small religious organization in administrative appeals and a federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act claim against a Colorado local government, as part of the organization’s quest to provide outdoor storage lockers for people experiencing homelessness, eventually settling the case so as to allow the lockers and recovering attorneys’ fees.
  • Represented multiple local governments through the United States in preparing amendments to sign and outdoor advertising regulations to conform to First Amendment requirements following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, which introduced a heightened content neutrality standard.
  • Served as an expert witness in state and federal land use litigation in Colorado, New York, and California, in matters involving disputes as to equal protection, fair housing, and nonconforming uses.

Publications

Books

  • Editor:  Local Government, Land Use, and the First Amendment:  Protecting Free Speech and Expression (American Bar Association, 2017)
  • Co-author with Dwight H. Merriam:  Group Homes:  Strategies for Effective and Defensible Planning and Regulation (American Bar Association, 2014).
  • Co-author with Mark Wyckoff:  Michigan Sign Guidebook:  The Local Planning & Regulation of Signs (Scenic Michigan, 2012) (winner of Michigan Chapter of the American Planning Association’s 2012 Planning Excellence Award for Best Practice).

 

Book Chapters

  • Co-Chapter Author:  Zoning, in Donald L. Elliott, Ed., Colorado Land Planning and Development Law (Colo. Bar Association, 2018).
  • Chapter Author:  Government Regulation of Art and Architecture, in Brian J. Connolly, Ed., Local Government, Land Use, and the First Amendment:  Protecting Free Speech and Expression (American Bar Association, 2017).

 

Articles

  • Brian J. Connolly et al, Land Use Applications:  Putting The Petition Clause In Context, 42 ZONING & PLAN. L. REP. (Sept. 2019).
  • Brian J. Connolly, Reed, Rembrandt, and Wright:  Free Speech Considerations in Zoning Regulation of Art and Architecture, 41 ZONING & PLAN. L. REP. (Dec. 2018).
  • Brian J. Connolly, Understanding the First Amendment Limitations on Government Regulation of Artwork, STATE & LOCAL LAW NEWS (Vol. 40, No. 2, Winter 2017).
  • Brian J. Connolly, Promise Unfulfilled? Planning, Zoning, and Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, 48 URB. LAW. 785 (2016).
  • Brian J. Connolly & Alan C. Weinstein, Sign Regulation After Reed: Suggestions for Coping With Legal Uncertainty, 47 URB. LAW. 569 (2015).
  • Brian J. Connolly & Dwight H. Merriam, Planning and Zoning for Group Homes: Local Government Obligations and Liability Under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 47 URB. LAW. 225 (2015).
  • Brian J. Connolly, Commentary, Supreme Court Preview: Reed v. Town of Gilbert to Address Content Neutrality in Sign Regulation, 66 PLAN. & ENVTL. L. 4 (2014)
  • Brian J. Connolly, U.S. Supreme Court Deals Setback to Some Rail-Trails in the West, PLAN. & ZONING NEWS (Vol. 32, No. 9, Mar. 2014), at 6-7.
  • Brian J. Connolly, Note, Environmental Aesthetics and Free Speech: Toward a Consistent Content Neutrality Standard for Outdoor Sign Regulation, 2 MICH. J. ENVTL. & ADMIN. L. 185 (2012) (cited in the petition for certiorari and amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert)

 

Selected Presentations

  • Co-Presenter with Dwight Merriam, Steven Polin, and Steve Elkins, Group Homes For Those In Recovery:  Recent Developments and Understanding What Stakeholders Want, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference, Denver, Colo. (Mar. 2020)
  • Co-Presenter with Matt Goebel & Matt Seubert, Everything Old Is New Again:  Legal and Practical Approaches to Nonconformities, National Conference of the American Planning Association, San Francisco, Calif. (Apr. 2019)
  • Co-Presenter with Chris Shears, Nore Winter, Don Brandes & Analiese Hock, Achieving Aesthetic Excellence:  Zoning & Design Review Requirements and Processes, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference, Denver, Colo. (Mar. 2019)
  • Co-Presenter with Don Elliott, Victoria Polidoro & Natalie Quinn, A Sign (Code) of the Times, Land Use Law Center Annual Conference, White Plains, N.Y. (Dec. 2018)
  • Co-Presenter with Michael Allen & Patricia Link, Land Use:  A Local Government’s Obligations Under the Fair Housing Act, IMLA Annual Conference, Houston, Tex. (Oct. 2018)
  • Co-Presenter with Tim Cox, Planning By Direct Democracy:  Initiative and Referendum, Annual Conference of the Colorado Chapter of the American Planning Ass’n, Keystone, Colorado (Oct. 2018)
  • Presenter:  Entitlements for the Long Term:  The Intricacies of Vested Rights in Colorado, Colo. Bar Ass’n Real Estate Symposium, Vail, Colo. (Jul. 2018)
  • Presenter:  Reed:  Practical Strategies, Three Years Later, Ariz. State Bar Land Use Update, Tempe, Ariz. (Jun. 2018)
  • Co-Presenter with David Callies, Don Elliott, & Edwin Voss, After Inclusive Communities:  Disparate Impact Revisited, National Conference of the American Planning Ass’n, New Orleans, La. (Apr. 2018)
  • Co-Presenter with Erin Clark, Justin Pidot, and Don Elliott, Relevant Parcel Analysis and Murr:  Understanding the Supreme Court’s Latest Takings Case, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference, Denver, Colo. (Mar. 2018)
  • Presenter:  Zoning, Aesthetics, and the First Amendment:  New Challenges to Old Problems, National CLE Conference, Vail, Colorado (Jan. 2018)
  • Co-Presenter with Evan J. Seeman, David S. Silverman & Brian R. Smith, Real Estate Law for Planners, National Conference of the American Planning Ass’n, New York, New York (May 2017)
  • Co-Presenter with Anne Castle & Beorn A. Courtney, Homes on the (Front) Range: Residential Development and Assured Water Supply Laws in the American West, American Bar Ass’n, Section of Real Property, Trusts, and Estates Symposium, Denver, Colo. (Apr. 2017)
  • Co-Presenter with Matt Goebel & Richard K. Mahrle, Untangling Construction Defects: Consumer Protection, Affordable Housing & Planning, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference, Denver, Colo. (Mar. 2017)
  • Presenter:  Brian J. Connolly, Fair Housing in Big Cities, Big City Planning Directors Institute, National Conference of the American Planning Ass’n, Phoenix, Arizona (Apr. 2016)
  • Co-Presenter with Arthur C. Nelson, FAICP & Dwight H. Merriam, FAICP, Housing in the West: Looking Backward and Forward, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference (Mar. 2016)
  • Co-Presenter with John M. Baker, Susan L. Trevarthen, FAICP, Daniel R. Mandelker, FAICP, & Dwight H. Merriam, FAICP, Signs, Int’l Municipal Lawyers Ass’n Webinar (Feb. 2016).
  • Presenter: How the Supreme Court Has Shaped First Amendment Issues for Local Governments: Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Annual Conference of the International Municipal Lawyers Ass’n, Las Vegas, Nevada (Oct. 2015)
  • Brian J. Connolly, Mary Kay Peck & Dominic Mauriello, Getting To Kum Ba Yah in the Development Process, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference, Denver, Colorado (Mar. 2014)
  • Brian J. Connolly, J. Thomas Macdonald, Bill Kyriagis & Bryan Treu, When It All Goes Wrong, Dynamics of the Land Use Case Workshop, Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Annual Conference, Denver, Colorado (Mar. 2014)
  • Brian J. Connolly & Mark A. Wyckoff, Sign Regulation in Michigan, training sessions for Michigan municipal officials and attorneys, various locations in Mich. (Jan. 2012-Jan. 2013)

Awards & Involvement

  • International Municipal Lawyers Association, Amicus Service Award (2020)
  • Super Lawyers Rising Star (2016-2020)
  • American Planning Association, Planning and Law Division:  Chair-Elect (2019-present), Secretary-Treasurer (2017-2018), Amicus Committee (2019-present)
  • National CLE Conference, Environmental Law, Land Use, Energy and Litigation Co-Chair (2018-2019)
  • Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute: Board Member
  • American Bar Association, Section of State and Local Government:  Land Use Committee Vice Chair
  • American Bar Association, Section of State and Local Government, Jefferson B. Fordham "Up and Comer" Award (2018)
  • Downtown Leadership Program, Class of 2014

Jurisdiction

  • State of Colorado
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
  • U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
  • U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals 
  • U.S. Supreme Court

Education

  • J.D., University of Michigan, magna cum laude (2012); Order of the Coif; Dean's Scholarship, First-Year Legal Practice Honors recipient; Managing Articles Editor, Michigan Journal of Environmental and Administrative Law
  • Master of Regional Planning, Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art & Planning (2008)
  • B.S., Urban and Regional Studies, Cornell University, College of Architecture, Art & Planning (2007)

News

Generosity

“I support the Sierra Club Foundation because I believe that it is imperative that we protect our fragile environment for ourselves and future generations.”