Thursday, July 2, 2009

Zoning in Chama, New Mexico

In response to my article in The Objective Standard, I was contacted by the owner of a newspaper in Chama, New Mexico. Initially she wanted to run the article in her paper, but length and the specifics of the article made that impractical. I volunteered to write a series of articles for her to publish. The first is below.

Many claims are made about zoning. It will promote our “quality of life”, it will protect neighborhoods, it will prevent “incompatible” land uses, and much more. But zoning is not a benevolent tool for achieving these ends. Instead, it is a weapon that is wielded by the politically powerful to destroy property rights. As is always the case when individual rights are violated, the cure is more destructive than the alleged disease.

Rights are a sanction to freedom of action in a social setting. Rights allow an individual to act as he chooses, free from the interference of others, so long as he respects their mutual rights. Our rights place boundaries on others—they may not interfere with our actions—just as their rights prohibit us from interfering with their actions.

This applies to land-use as well as all human activities. The right to property is the right of use and disposal—the right to use one’s property as one chooses. Again, one may not use his property to violate the rights of others.

The purpose for zoning is to control land-use within a community. Under zoning, a land owner may not use his property as he chooses, but as dictated by zoning officials. He may not use his property by right, but only with the permission of zoning officials. And if he refuses to abide by those dictates, he is subject to criminal penalties, such as fines, imprisonment, or both.

Zoning rests on the premise that the individual is to be subservient to the community. He must abide by “community standards”. He must place the “general welfare” above his own interests and desires. And if he refuses to do so “voluntarily”, “the community” may properly force him to do so.

Each individual has a moral right to his own life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. He has a moral right to live as he chooses, in the pursuit of his own values. This is true of each individual—gay or straight, male or female, Anglo or Hispanic. All individuals possess the same inalienable rights—the right to take the actions necessary to sustain and enjoy their lives.

Zoning is an abrogation of this right. Zoning forces the individual to live by the values of zoning officials, no matter his own individual values or judgment. The individual is forced to serve others; he is forced to sacrifice his interests, desires, and welfare to the demands of others.

That Chama’s zoning officials were meeting behind closed doors certainly raised suspicions about their motives. But holding zoning meetings in public does not change the nature of zoning. Zoning remains a violation of individual rights. It is time for Chama’s government officials to recognize and protect the rights of its citizens. It is time to abolish zoning in Chama.

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