Friday, October 8, 2010

The Voluntary and the Coercive

On Thursday the Chronicle reported that a vote on the new preservation ordinance has been delayed for a week. That was an expected development, as the various parties are trying to reach a compromise. What is more noteworthy is a comment left by a reader:
I don't understand why it's okay for suburban neighborhoods (and some inside the Loop) to have deed restrictions, but the older neighborhoods can't have essentially the same thing, which is what these preservation ordinances basically are. 
This argument was used by zoning advocates in the 1990s. It ignores a crucial distinction between deed restrictions and zoning/ preservation ordinances. The former are voluntary and consensual, while the latter are mandatory and coercive.

Those who equate deed restrictions and government land-use regulations see a similarity--restrictions on the use of property--and conclude that they are essentially the same. In the process, they ignore the nature and source of those restrictions.

Deed restrictions are a contractual agreement between property owners in a given area. An individual is free to accept the restrictions imposed by that contract, or simply not purchase the restricted property. The choice is his and he can act according to his own judgment. Land-use regulations however, are imposed by government force. The desires and judgment of a property owner are irrelevant--he must abide by the dictates of government.

As evidence, consider the preservation ordinance. Preservationists want to permanently prohibit the demolition of certain buildings, regardless of the property owner's judgment.

Those who see no difference between voluntary choice and coercive mandates are guilty of the worst kind of package-deal. To them, a restriction is a restriction, when it is accepted voluntarily or imposed coercively. To them, it does not matter if an individual agrees to the restriction or is forced to act against his own judgment. Sadly, if they ever do discover the difference it may be too late.

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