This pamphlet was written in the aftermath of the zoning debate that took place in Houston in the early 1990’s. The ideas remain relevant today. References are listed at the end of part 7.
The Nature of Zoning
The purpose of zoning, and its sole reason for existing, is to give government control over the use of all land within the community. While the rightful owner remains responsible for that property, the government will determine how that property is used. Under zoning, individuals may use their property only for the purpose dictated by law, and violators are subject to fines and/ or imprisonment.
Under zoning, a property owner may use his property, not by right, but by permission. Yet ownership without control is a fraud. Under zoning, land ownership is nothing more than nominal ownership.
Zoning officials may zone a parcel of land for any purpose they choose-- industrial, retail, residential, etc., using criteria they establish and may change at any time. Or they may prohibit any land use whatsoever in a given area. 6
Zoning officials may attach any conditions they choose to a building permit. A builder might be required to install "public art", or "donate" land to the government, or repair city facilities. A builder might be required to "contribute" money to an official's favorite social cause. 7
Zoning officials not only have the power to zone an area for a particular use, such as single-family homes, they also have the power to define what constitutes that use, such as defining the term "family" to exclude students, gays, minorities, or other "undesirable" people. 8
Zoning officials thus have complete reign over every aspect of land use. They may impose their interpretation of what is right and proper upon the individuals in a community, whether or not those individuals share the values thus coercively imposed.
By imposing "community standards" upon individuals, zoning forces individuals to sacrifice their values to the group. Zoning is thus an assault on the freedom of every productive citizen. It limits one's choices as both an employee/ businessman, and as a consumer. This remains true regardless of the adjectives placed before zoning, e.g., "Houston-style" zoning, and neighborhood zoning. While the details of implementation may differ, the principles underlying these variations do not.
© J. Brian Phillips and Warren S. Ross 2008