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Taking a Closer Look

What’s So Bad About Zoning?

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... Dealing With the "Z" Word

So what about those folks who think zoning is a dirty word? Why do they get so upset whenever zoning is proposed in a previously unzoned municipality or county, or whenever a community wants to strengthen its zoning ordinance?

In my experience, the most common objection to zoning is a perceived loss of control. Zoning opponents say "if you own a piece of land, you should be able to do what you want with it." Related to this is a pervasive fear that regulation of any kind will reduce property values. Overcoming these objections is not easy, but it can be done, particularly if you separate the facts from the myths.

MYTH #1 - Zoning is un-American.

Fact: A county commissioner from a western North Carolina county once told me how he was called a Communist at a public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance. He replied that while he was a Methodist, he was certainly no Communist.

Zoning disputes often inspire inflated rhetoric. Perhaps this is because zoning does mean that the interests of individual property owners must sometimes yield to the interests of the public. But this is as American as baseball or apple pie. In fact, for more than 150 years our courts have consistently held that the Constitution allows for the public regulation of private land.

To understand this, consider the old principle of law that says "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins." This principle applies to real estate as well. It means that with rights come responsibilities. Even political philosopher John Locke held as a basic assumption that "free men would never exercise their rights without recognizing the obligations that the exercise of those rights implied.

End of excerpt

Article continues with a look at:
Myth # 2 - Sparsely populated rural areas don't need to control uses of land.
Myth # 3 - Land use controls will increase taxes and reduce property values.
Myth # 4 - Planning is a bad idea.

photo of Ed McMahonEd McMahon is one of the country's most incisive analysts of planning and land use issues and trends. He holds the Charles Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC. McMahon is a frequent speaker at conferences on planning and land development.

Over the past 21 years, we've been pleased to have published more than two dozen articles by McMahon in the Planning Commissioners Journal, and now on PlannersWeb.com.

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