Sunday, May 25, 2008

Zoning Horror Stories

Zoning advocates make many claims about the benefits of imposing land use restrictions on property owners. But they conveniently ignore both the immorality and destructive consequences of zoning. In other cities, zoning has destroyed lives, wrecked dreams, and harmed individuals. The same will ultimately happen in Houston if zoning is enacted.

In Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, zoning was systematically used during the late 1970s and early 1980s to drive the town's small black population out of the community

An elderly couple in Provo, Utah wanted to hire a live-in caretaker to help them maintain their home and assist them with health issues. A zoning ordinance allows home owners to have live-in help, but not a second kitchen. They were forced to abandon their plans.

In Fairfax, VA a golf range owner was jailed for 98 days and fined $48,000 for violating a zoning ordinance pertaining to landscaping. A lien was also placed on his property.

A Santa Monica, CA resident sought to build an addition to his home. After 15 months and $30,000 in expenses, he abandoned the project because of continued delays imposed by the City’s Planning Department.

These stories are not isolated examples. They occur in every city with zoning. The very nature of zoning vests zoning officials with immense powers and those powers are often used to inflict harm on citizens.

Zoning proponents may call the examples cited above “scare tactics”. They may claim that such things would not happen in Houston. They may claim that zoning officials in Houston will not succumb to the temptations offered by such political power.

Such claims however, are an evasion of the fact that there are principles which underlie zoning, and those principles can be used to predict the consequences of zoning in Houston. Zoning, by its very nature, is a violation of property rights and destructive to human welfare.

Some Houstonians may have benevolent intentions by proposing a zoning ordinance. They may believe that zoning will improve Houston. But can they guarantee that their successors will wield power with benevolence and good intentions? Can they guarantee that future zoning officials will not use their power for malicious purposes?

If they cannot make such a guarantee—which they can’t—we must question their motivations. We must wonder why they would desire such absolute control over land use when the horrors of zoning are so well documented. We must wonder why they seek to grant such power to successors whose motivations are unknown. We must wonder why.

The premise underlying zoning is that individuals should sacrifice their values for the “welfare” of the community. This is precisely what occurs in every city that has zoning. When individuals do not do so willingly, they are jailed, fined, and/ or their property is seized.

To deny the horrors of zoning is intellectually dishonest. To pretend that some Houstonians will not be forced to sacrifice their values is equally dishonest. There will be victims of zoning.

Are you willing to be one of those victims? We aren’t.

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