Zoning laws got their start in the United States in 1916, in New York state. A watershed SCOTUS case, Euclid vs. Ambler, came 10 years later and established the local community police power to enforce land use restrictions.
Zoning policies throughout the country have been rapidly expanding ever since. Coincidentally, the recently flood ravaged city of Houston is the only large U.S. city without extensive single-use zoning laws. The United States is unusual in the world for its largely de-centralized approach to planning and zoning. Still, de-centralization does not guarantee a lack of tyranny. Zoning and code enforcement policies are often the most tyrannical policies of local government.
The National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and other federal rules and regulations have enabled “double veto” approaches to stifle development. If local zoning laws are insufficient to stop development, obstructionists have a multitude of fallback strategies to block progress. There are also national groups advocating for policies such as “conservation easements,” which are intended to limit use of property for ages to come. No doubt there are many, perhaps most, cases in which these second level reviews make some sense to defend the property rights of others from being infringed by development, but there are certainly many examples of blockages which have no good technical merit.
Be aware that for big cities, zoning policies often contribute to what we call “urban sprawl.” Whereas dictionary definitions of urban sprawl tend to put blame upon uncontrolled expansion, it’s more likely controlled expansion which is at fault. Anti-poor, even racist zoning concepts intend to limit the poor and lower middle class from building modest homes with smaller lot sizes near working centers. Upscale homes with large lots command top dollar, but force lower income commuters to live far away from the city, with commute times of two hours each way to work not uncommon. Industrial concentration, also set up by zoning, may be at fault as well for long commutes. Quality of life suffers for the travelers. Windshield time is unproductive time, not something any city planner should advocate for.
But locally, we don’t have the potential for the large city urban problems. What we can do, is to carefully limit zoning policies so as to not damage entrepreneurs. My wife has a massage therapy business operating out of our home in the Town of Owego. That kind of activity should not be stifled by zoning policies. Property owners should have maximum latitude in what they can do on their own property, with careful consideration before applying limits on the grounds of “nuisance” or “safety.”
Read or Share this story: http://press.sn/2jfJleQ