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pianoman11686
December 2nd, 2006, 11:17 PM
The antidote for zoning: the "Coming to the Nuisance" doctrine

By David Wilens
web posted May 8, 2000

Real estate developers have good reason to feel cannibalized when they attempt to develop something today. Building permits for their projects are often exceedingly difficult to secure, requiring thousands of dollars in architect's and attorney's fees, and months (if not years) of submitting plans to boards and commissions, sometimes a repeat number of times. Many projects end up abandoned because the developers simply run out of money for the holding costs involved, not to mention spiritual energy to fight the psychological battles. Even if the developer is lucky enough to eventually get the project built, the costs to sell or lease the space end up far higher than they should be due to all of the red tape involved. This in turn means needlessly higher rents and prices for homes, apartments, and commercial space. (For the sordid details of the land development approval process, read Dr. Gary Hull's article "The Collapse of Building" in The Intellectual Activist, Summer 1989.) The cause of this mess is, in a word, zoning.

Zoning creates the problem by subjecting development to the arbitrary whim of government, which can virtually make or break a project on any basis the bureaucrats wish. Zoning operates as follows: a local government, either a city or county, breaks its jurisdiction up into zoning districts. The government then drafts an ordinance stating which types of land uses are allowed in each district. For example, a city may have an ordinance which has several zoning districts, some of which allow only residential uses, a few more allowing only commercial uses (i.e., stores, offices, etc.), a couple which allow industrial uses, etc. But zoning involves more than merely the specific use to which the property may be put; considerations such as the size, height, and architectural style of the development, setback distances from the lot lines, the amount of ground it covers, how much parking is required, and a myriad of other aspects of a project's design are also among the arbitrary rules found in zoning ordinances.

When a developer proposes a project and applies for a building permit, before he can build he must first obtain approval from the local government in whose jurisdiction the project is planned, which comes only if the project conforms to the local zoning ordinance. If it does not, then he must change the project to conform or receive the government's permission to deviate from the ordinance; if he can not do either of these, he must then try to persuade the public, in an open hearing, to allow him to change the ordinance. These moves are subject to political pressure from constituents (such as competing real estate developers) of the elected officials from whom approval must be sought; if local politics are against him, the developer may have to give up on the project altogether.

Zoning is an evil because it is a violation of the property owner's right to develop and use his property for purposes of his choosing. It is a gun pointed at the head of anyone who wants to develop his land in any way, before such a person has used any force himself against anyone else-i.e., before he has used his property in any way, constructed anything, or harmed anyone through his use; and, it is being wielded by an entity which has no ownership interest in the property and thus no right to set the terms of its use. If someone wants to develop his property, thanks to zoning he no longer has any real right to do so. With zoning a developer may only develop by the government's permission, which, though it may not be de jure withheld arbitrarily under the law, may still be de facto withheld for so long through stonewalling and political maneuvering that the developer may run out of money merely trying to get the permit.

The proponents of zoning claim that such initiation of force is necessary against developers to prevent the occurrence of nuisances. A ‘nuisance' is defined as the effect from an activity on others which unreasonably interferes with another's lawful use of property, or causes undue inconvenience, hardship, or discomfort to another person. Examples aren't hard to visualize. For example, a factory which emits harmful fumes that cause breathing problems for nearby residents is a nuisance, as is a restaurant which does nothing to prevent bad odors emanating from its dumpster to the properties nearby. A college fraternity house near a residential neighborhood which plays loud music late into the evenings might also be considered a nuisance, if it affects the ability of neighboring residents to sleep. But nuisances may work the other way as well: for example, a house in a noisy industrial district may be a nuisance there-if the residents' desires to sleep affect the ability of the factory owners to operate their businesses.

Because one has a right to use his property, and because nuisances unreasonably interfere with one's use of property, it follows that nuisances are a violation property rights and, as such, must be addressed objectively by a proper legal system. While the need to do this hasn't escaped western intellectuals, unfortunately the means of doing this for the most part has.

What has thrown thinkers for centuries regarding nuisances is that they are different from other forms of force because there is nothing inherently unlawful about the acts which constitute the nuisance; all that is unlawful is their effect on other property owners. In contrast, almost all other forms of force have some act associated with them which, because the act itself represents a forcing of the arbitrary on another person, is clearly unlawful. For example, consider the physical attacks or threats associated with assault, battery, or manslaughter. Then consider whether it is unlawful merely to use one's house to sleep, or to play loud music. Both activities, by themselves, would be legally fine, so long as they do not affect anyone else's ability to use property.

Because the acts which contribute to nuisances are not in themselves unlawful the way acts constituting other forms of force are, there is confusion about the principles regarding whom to hold accountable for the creation of a nuisance. The proponents of zoning claim that there are no objective principles for doing so and that, without the initiation of force, there would be no means in the event of a nuisance to determine which of the two contributing uses would have the right to continue and which would have to yield. Nuisances would therefore proliferate everywhere, with the government powerless to enjoin them.

The zoning proponents, however, are wrong. There is an objective means by which the rights of two property owners can be determined in the event of a nuisance, without the initiation of physical force against anyone: by means of a doctrine called Coming to the Nuisance.

‘Coming to the Nuisance' means exactly what it sounds like: if a property owner is using his property so as to cause a nuisance to another property owner, then the property owner who was the earlier to start his particular use is the one who has the right to continue his use. The other property owner, who started his use subsequently on his own property, has lower priority and thus must either yield or quit complaining, since he came to the nuisance and therefore could have stayed away. For example: if a farmer has on his property a feedlot for his animals that is being properly operated [1] and yet which still causes bad odors, a developer who later constructs single-family residences on a nearby parcel can't complain about the feedlot's odor, effluent, or other negative attributes (nor can the purchasers of the residences); if he does, he won't prevail in a nuisance action against the farmer because of Coming to the Nuisance-i.e., because the feedlot was there first.

It is important to emphasize that the Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine does not give a property owner priority to engage in any and all uses of his property; it only gives him priority to engage in particular uses of property-namely, only those uses which one starts prior to the uses made by other property owners. For example, if I purchase a piece of land and use it solely as a residence, I have a right to continue using it as a residence as against the rights of all newcomers. Let's assume that, subsequent to my purchase and commencement of use as a residence, someone moves in next door to me on a vacant piece of land and uses it as his residence. Then, subsequent to that, I open a hog farm on my land which causes a nuisance to my neighbor. I do have the right to use my property as a residence as against the rights of my neighbor, since my residence was there first, before his residence was. However, I do not have the right to use my property as a hog farm as against the rights of my neighbor if doing so causes him a nuisance, since his residence was there before my hog farm was. When I opened the hog farm, I started a new use-and thus my hog farm has lower priority than the uses of other property owners which commenced before my hog farm. (Other factors, such as when I bought my property, etc., are for the most part irrelevant. It is when I started my particular use which matters.)

‘Coming to the Nuisance' is a corollary of the right to keep and use property. One must have the ability, without permission from others, to use property indefinitely (unless, of course, one voluntarily agrees to use it only for a specific time period, such as with a lease). If one does not have such an ability – meaning, in essence, that someone can come along at any time and arbitrarily demand that one no longer may use his property – then all use of property in effect ends up being by permission of those who have the power to stop its use, and the right to property in effect vaporizes. For example, if the government decides to stop a particular owner's use of his property simply because a majority of people in the area find it offensive for one reason or another, then ultimately everyone's use of property is no longer by right but rather by permission.

Because the right to property means the right to use it indefinitely, it follows that, once a property owner has started using his property in a particular fashion, he has the right to stop others from interfering with that particular use. This is the rationale behind the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine's requirement that, when uses of two properties conflict with each other, the use which has priority is the one started first, and the owner has the right to stop others from interfering with this prior use (the ‘first in time, first in right' rule).

Since the right to property necessarily implies the right to use it indefinitely, and since the right to use property indefinitely implies the first in time, first in right rule, it follows that respecting property rights ultimately means respecting the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine too. The two are inseparable. Also, because the only objective means by which men can properly deal with one another is for them to respect each other's rights, then in the appropriate context the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine is the only objective means for men to deal with one another as well. To summarize: the Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine is the only objective means of determining who has the right to continue using his property in the event of a nuisance. If zoning is to be replaced, therefore, it must be replaced with the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine. And, since it is the only objective means of determining who has the right to continue using property in the event of a nuisance, the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine must be regarded as an absolute in all nuisance cases where it is at issue, determining the rights of the parties without being watered down by less important doctrines.

Unfortunately, this is not the present state of American law. Although it is still used in nuisance cases, Coming to the Nuisance is not regarded as an absolute, but rather as merely "one factor among many" by the courts. For example, courts today very often determine the rights of property owners in nuisance cases not solely by who started his use first, but rather by factors such as the "trend of development in an area"-meaning that, if there is a farm or factory in an area that previously was agricultural or industrial but which is becoming residential, the government will force the farmer or factory owner to shut down. [2] This opens the door to unjust decisions in nuisance cases, and provides an excuse for government intrusions on property rights such as zoning.

Replacing zoning with the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine as an absolute would mean the end of the government's initiation of physical force in the land development process due to zoning. This is because the government would not be able to tell anyone how to use his land prior to the creation of a nuisance. Once a nuisance occurs, however, the government may use force to stop it, as the result of a lawsuit. The government is justified in doing this because it is the nuisance (rather than the government's remedial actions) which, since it is a violation of the right to use property, constitutes the initiation of force-and the government's remedial measures are simply force used in retaliation.

Ending the initiation of force brought about by zoning will greatly help to restore objectivity to the land development process. This is because decisions regarding land use will no longer be in the hands of the government but rather will be handled by the owners of the property to be developed. Instead of being forced to design projects to conform to the whims of bureaucrats, developers will be free to design their projects to conform to reality-in this context, to the rights of other property owners who started using their properties previously, and who might be adversely affected by the developer's proposed project. This would necessarily involve figuring out which property owners might be affected by a proposed project and what uses these owners are already making of their properties, so that the developer can design his project to be compatible with these uses. (Unfortunately there isn't space to go into the mechanics of this here; it will have to be the subject of future work.)

Finally, replacing zoning with the Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine should bring the prices of homes and building space down dramatically because the design criteria for development projects will be objective rather than arbitrary, and development costs will thus become more predictable and manageable.

In conclusion, because property rights are a necessity if men are to live together, it follows that they must be respected in every area of one's life, including land development. Humans must develop land; we can not live, as the environmentalists insist we do, in the world ‘as it is' without creating the buildings, roads, and utility systems we need in order to live. But these must be built with total respect for everyone's rights. This means ending zoning-and its only antidote is the Coming to the Nuisance doctrine.

Copyright ©2000 by David Wilens Mr. Wilens is a real estate attorney in South Florida.

[1] If a nuisance results solely because a use is being improperly operated, then there is no Coming to the Nuisance issue and the doctrine doesn't apply. For example: if the feedlot caused odors only because of improper operation, and proper operation would end the odors and thus the nuisance, a court would simply order the owner of the feedlot to take measures to end the odors, and would not apply Coming to the Nuisance.

[2] See Hadacheck v Sebastian, 239 U.S. 394; Spur Industries, Inc. v. Del E. Webb Dev. Co., 494 P.2d 700.

http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/0500zoning.htm

lofter1
December 3rd, 2006, 09:59 AM
Something that appears like logic can be found within all those words ^^^

However, the writer assumes that (for the most part) people behave in a way that is in the best interest of others. Life experience for anyone over the age of 13 proves otherwise.

And anyone with a knowledge of NYC Zoning history is aware that NYC Zoning Regulations came about because one particular building (the Equitable Building (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5159&highlight=equitable)) was built in such a way that, had development been allowed to continue in that fashion, adequate light and air for existing (and subsequent smaller buildings) would be put in jeopardy.

While Zoning Regulations -- both in NYC and elsewhere -- are clearly not perfect, to label them "evil" -- as the writer here does -- is wrongheaded.

ZippyTheChimp
December 3rd, 2006, 10:40 AM
‘Coming to the Nuisance' means exactly what it sounds like: if a property owner is using his property so as to cause a nuisance to another property owner, then the property owner who was the earlier to start his particular use is the one who has the right to continue his use. The other property owner, who started his use subsequently on his own property, has lower priority and thus must either yield or quit complaining, since he came to the nuisance and therefore could have stayed away. For example: if a farmer has on his property a feedlot for his animals that is being properly operated [1] and yet which still causes bad odors, a developer who later constructs single-family residences on a nearby parcel can't complain about the feedlot's odor, effluent, or other negative attributes (nor can the purchasers of the residences); if he does, he won't prevail in a nuisance action against the farmer because of Coming to the Nuisance-i.e., because the feedlot was there first.The author is arguing a case for zoning. If the area was properly zoned for farming/manufacturing, the developer would not have been permitted to build the residence, and the problem would not have occurred.


Zoning is an evil because it is a violation of the property owner's right to develop and use his property for purposes of his choosing. It is a gun pointed at the head of anyone who wants to develop his land in any way, before such a person has used any force himself against anyone else-i.e., before he has used his property in any way, constructed anything, or harmed anyone through his use; and, it is being wielded by an entity which has no ownership interest in the property and thus no right to set the terms of its use.The gun lobby uses the same argument of immutable rights.

The author assumes that all cases are as clear-cut as the hog farm. As an attorney, he should know that the real world is more complicated. Before long, as cases come before the court, a body of rules would develop - zoning.

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 12:44 PM
It is my hope that by bringing this topic to debate, we take the time to examine the merits and drawbacks of zoning, and really question its necessity. Among one of the many drawbacks is the simple reality that zoning, by its nature, is restrictive - and thus inhibits the market from making critical demand and supply decisions. Studies have been done that link zoning with a decrease in affordability of housing. As one of the most heavily regulated zoned cities, New York is no exception to that.

The following is the "conclusion" section of an empirical study done by a couple Harvard economists several years ago. It summarizes their findings:


America is not facing a nationwide affordable housing crisis. In most of the country, home prices appear to be fairly close to the physical costs of construction. In some of the country, home prices are even far below the physical costs of construction. Only in particular areas, especially New York City and California, do housing prices diverge substantially from the costs of new construction.

In the areas where houses are expensive, the classic urban model fares relatively poorly. These areas are not generally characterized by substantially higher marginal costs of land as estimated by a hedonic model. The hedonic results imply that the cost of a house on 10,000 square feet is usually pretty close in value to a house on 15,000 square feet. In addition, these high pricesoften are not associated with extremely high densities. For example, there is as much land per household in San Diego (a high price area) as there is in Cleveland (a low price area).

The bulk of the evidence marshaled in this paper suggests that zoning, and other land use controls, are more responsible for high prices where we see them. There is a huge gap between the price of land implied by the gap between home prices and construction costs and the price of land implied by the price differences between homes on 10,000 square feet and homes on 15,000 square feet. Measures of zoning strictness are highly correlated with high prices. While all of our evidence is suggestive, not definitive, it seems to suggest that this form of government regulation is responsible for high housing
costs where they exist.

We have not considered the benefits from zoning which could certainly outweigh these costs. However, if policy advocates are interested in reducing housing costs, they would do well to start with zoning reform. Building small numbers of subsidized on housing units is likely to have a trivial impact on average housing prices (given any reasonable demand elasticity), even if well targeted towards deserving poor households. However, reducing the implied zoning tax on new construction could well have a massive impact
on housing prices.

Of course, it may well be that the positive impact of zoning on housing prices is zoning’s strongest appeal. If we move to a regime with weaker zoning rules, then current homeowners in high cost areas are likely to lose substantially. To make this politically feasible, it is crucial that any political reform also try to compensate the losers for this change.

For anyone interested in reading the entire study, which includes some mathematical models, here is the link for the pdf:

http://post.economics.harvard.edu/hier/2002papers/HIER1948.pdf

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 12:59 PM
However, the writer assumes that (for the most part) people behave in a way that is in the best interest of others. Life experience for anyone over the age of 13 proves otherwise.

It's not necessarily that they have the best interest of others in mind; I think it has more to do with the belief that rational self-interest, when left unpressured by restrictions such as zoning, has a way of benefitting all parties involved. It's all very theoretical and philosophical, I know, but there isn't a lot of recent precedent for us to know whether it would work or not. For the past 100 years or so, America as a whole, and especially places like New York City, have developed more regulation for everything.


And anyone with a knowledge of NYC Zoning history is aware that NYC Zoning Regulations came about because one particular building (the Equitable Building (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5159&highlight=equitable)) was built in such a way that, had development been allowed to continue in that fashion, adequate light and air for existing (and subsequent smaller buildings) would be put in jeopardy.

True. However, one has to wonder just how development would have proceeded without the very reactionary zoning regulations were put in place. Somehow, before 1916, the city got along without zoning. I don't know, it just seems somewhat unjust for such pervasive regulations to be set up for all future developers in response to a single event.

And that brings up another example of the pros and cons of zoning: surely, a lot of us here appreciate the classic "setback" NYC skyscraper, which developed in direct response to those regulations requiring sunlight to reach down into the street. But a few decades later, when Modernism arrived, look what happened: we started gaining all those dreaded plazas, with their accompanying un-setbacked boxes. The reason for doing so was the same: allow light to reach the street. The result, however, was much different and much less favorable.


While Zoning Regulations -- both in NYC and elsewhere -- are clearly not perfect, to label them "evil" -- as the writer here does -- is wrongheaded.

I think he uses the label, again, purely on philosophical grounds, and not necessarily as something that suggests zoning "produces" evil.

It is thought-provoking, though, because it is an issue that affects so many people. (Last time I checked, I believe Houston is the only major American city that does not have any zoning regulations in place). For something that has such wide applications, and whose roots we can trace back to a single event 90 years ago, it can't be "wrongheaded" to question its merits/purpose and think about changing it.

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 01:45 PM
Another study done by those Harvard guys addressed specifically the issue of housing prices in Manhattan. Here's what that analysis concluded:


Home building is an enormously competitive industry with virtually no natural barriers to entry. Therefore, price markups over construction costs are a strong indication of artificial barriers to new construction. In the bulk of the United States, the costs of producing housing are hard to estimate because of the lack of reliable data on the cost of land. Nevertheless, available data indicate that especially in expensive coastal areas, there often is a substantial gap between the price of housing and construction costs. This gap suggests the power of land use controls in limiting new construction.

Even stronger evidence of a regulatory impact can be found in the borough of Manhattan. Since the marginal cost of bringing a new apartment to market is well approximated by the cost of building up, construction costs for apartments are much easier to estimate. After examining several sources, we find that $300 per square foot is about the maximumconceivable value of those construction costs in Manhattan. Although this level is high, condominium prices in Manhattan are now routinely two times that amount, implying that one half or more of the value a condominiums can be thought of as arising fromsome type of regulatory constraint preventing the construction of new housing. Other evidence also supports the importance of regulation. For example, over the past 40 years in Manhattan, we have seen a substantial contraction in the number of residential building permits, a decline in the share of new units in tall buildings, and substantial heterogeneity in the height of what does get built.

In principle, regulations limiting building need not be economically inefficient. However, we can find no externality associated with new housing units in Manhattan that is remotely large enough to warrant a development tax that would make up for the current gap between construction costs and apartment prices.

Why is the construction environment so restrictive and why has it become worse over time? Our view is that there has been a re-allocation of property rights over the past 30 years. In the 1960s, land-owners were generally free to develop their property in the manner they desired. However, neighbors have become increasingly effective in opposing new construction in more recent decades. As illustrated by the Battle of Carnegie Hill, media-savvy local residents have become adept at using every means possible to restrict new construction. The result has been a reassignment of property rights from developers to local homeowners.

Of course, the Coase theorem tells us that this reassignment need not be inefficient. However, the reassignment of property rights appears to have resulted in rights that are both diffuse and poorly defined. The large amount of real estate litigation suggests that ownership is hard to clearly establish. Moreover, that politics is frequently involved in property rights may be more closely linked to the ability to generate votes than any pre-ordained legal right. These poorly defined, widely diffused property rights help explain why sensible mechanisms have not come about to allow developers to efficiently compensate existing homeowners for any losses due to new construction. Furthermore, existing residents will always have an incentive to behave like monopolists, and to attempt to reduce supply in order to boost the value of their own home.51In future work, we hope to explore why the impediments to new construction in Manhattan and certain other markets have grown to be so high.

Full version available here (http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&lr=&q=cache:HH4VFqN5IuEJ:www.millersamuel.com/pdf-tank/1106013654NOEow.pdf+)

Fabrizio
December 3rd, 2006, 03:36 PM
"It's all very theoretical and philosophical, I know, but there isn't a lot of recent precedent for us to know whether it would work or not."

Pianoman, oh yes there is. Why dont you take a trip to some third world countries?.... pehaps Eastern Europe, a hell hole like Albania comes to mind. Or you could even come here to Italy, to see Mafia governed areas in the South where zoning is ignored.

"Somehow, before 1916, the city got along without zoning."

No it did not. Thats why zoning laws were created. That article was written for those will a superficial Disney-fied view of the past.

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 04:09 PM
Pianoman, oh yes there is. Why dont you take a trip to some third world countries?.... pehaps Eastern Europe, a hell hole like Albania comes to mind. Or you could even come here to Italy, to see Mafia governed areas in the South where zoning is ignored.

I won't pretend to know what kinds of policies are used in places like Albania or Southern Italy. I don't think, however, that those are appropriate examples to raise. In both instances, in fact, people were/are in charge of making decisions about development, but it was not within the context of an open market. Albania was socialist, and Southern Italy is, as you say, ruled by mafiosos. Surely you must know that socialism or a small, powerful group of crime families would be the last alternatives to our American system of zoning that I would recommend. In both cases, the resulting "hell holes" are undoubtedly bleaker still because of other factors, such as the civil wars in Albania and inept government rule that maintained a depressed economy. Let's try to stick to examples that are easily applicable to things as they are here.


No it did not. Thats why zoning laws were created. That article was written for those will a superficial Disney-fied view of the past.

What do you mean by "it did not"? Things didn't get built, the city didn't thrive? Please elaborate on this. And if you aren't familiar with it, the idea of zoning and the eventual laws created were in direct response to a single building.

Fabrizio
December 3rd, 2006, 04:43 PM
Pianoman: there is at least one major city in the US without zoning and thats lovely Houston Texas.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Greenway_Plaza.jpg

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 05:08 PM
That's correct. I also mentioned that in one of my earlier posts.

I take your usage of "lovely" to imply that the lack of zoning in Houston is responsible for its poor aesthetic appearance. The picture you used is just one of many images of Houston. In fact, from the same Wikipedia article comes this image:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c0/METRORail_7.jpg

That would be the MetroRail system in the downtown area.

But even going aside from that, do I need to point out the rather obvious fact that there are so many other cities that look similar, and in many cases, much worse, than Houston? All of those cities have zoning. Does that make zoning responsible for the unappealing parts of Phoenix, Detroit, New Orleans, St. Louis, Los Angeles (I could go on and on here) that we so often criticize on this forum?

Let's say those cities aesthetics were a nonissue, and that we're only talking about Houston here. What exactly does Houston do so much worse than zoned cities? If you read that Wikipedia article, you'd see that apparently, it does a lot of things pretty well:


Houston is internationally known for its energy (particularly oil) and aeronautics industries, and for its ship channel. The Port of Houston ranks first in the country in international commerce and is the sixth-largest port in the world. Second only to New York City in Fortune 500 headquarters, Houston is the seat of the Texas Medical Center, which contains the world's largest concentration of research and healthcare institutions.

Houston is ranked as one of 11 U.S. world-class cities by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group & Network. The city has an active visual and performing arts scene as Houston is one of the few U.S. cities that offer year-round resident companies in all major performing arts. In addition, the Houston Theater District is ranked second in the country for the number of theatre seats in a concentrated downtown area per capita.

[...]

Locations in Houston are generally classified as either being inside or outside Interstate 610, known as the "610 Loop" or "the Loop." Inside the loop encompasses the central business district and many residential neighborhoods that pre-date World War II. More recently, new higher-density residential development has resulted in an urban lifestyle and state of mind. The appellation “inner loop Houston” carries with it the expectations of cosmopolitan-style city life.

[...]

Houston, being the largest city in the United States without zoning laws, has grown in an unusual manner. Rather than a single "downtown" as the center of the city's employment, five additional business districts have grown throughout the city—they are Uptown, Texas Medical Center, Greenway Plaza, Westchase, and Greenspoint. If these business districts were combined, they would form the third-largest downtown in the United States.

Houston ranks second in employment growth rate and fourth in nominal employment growth among the 10 most populous metro areas. In 2006, the Houston metropolitan area ranked first in Texas and third in the U.S. within the category of "Best Places for Business and Careers" by Forbes.

[...]

Having an active visual and performing arts scene, Houston's Theater District has the second largest number of theatre seats in a concentrated downtown area in the United States, with 12,948 seats for live performances and 1,480 movie seats. The Theater District is located in the center of downtown and is home to nine of Houston's performing arts organizations and six performance halls. Houston is one of only five cities in the United States with permanent professional resident companies in all of the major performing arts disciplines: opera (Houston Grand Opera), ballet (Houston Ballet), music (Houston Symphony Orchestra), and theatre (The Alley Theatre). In addition to its visual and performing arts organizations, the city is host to local folk art such as its art cars. Houston is recognized as an important city for contemporary visual arts. The city is a prime stop for touring companies from Broadway, concerts, shows, and exhibitions for a variety of interests, ranging from the nation's largest quilting show to auto, boat, home, and gun shows.

[...]

Houston's skyline has been ranked fourth-most impressive in the United States when ranked primarily by height, being the country's third-tallest skyline (after Chicago and New York City) and one of the top 10 in the world; however, because it is spread over a few miles, most pictures of the city show only the main downtown area. Houston has a system of tunnels and skywalks linking buildings in downtown. The tunnel system also includes shops, restaurants, and convenience stores.

Is any of this sounding bad yet? And should I assume we've moved on from your points about Albania/South Italy?

lofter1
December 3rd, 2006, 07:47 PM
Let' take it one step further ...

Do away with all zoning regulations -- too "restrictive" upon the free commerce to which all property owners are entitled.

Do away with all building codes -- similarly "restrictive" upon property owners.

Where does it end?

IMHO a "free market" is only free to those with capital. Unfettered it leads to dog-eat-dog and trickle-down BS.

Besides the USA is not a true free market. Rather the economy here is regulated / subsidized in numerous ways, shapes and forms.

The idea that a pure "free market" is workable for society as large and complex as ours is as fanciful as anything produced by Walt and the Disney Studios.

lofter1
December 3rd, 2006, 08:00 PM
Fun Facts about Houston and freedom from those darned restrictive regulations ...

Study: Urgent action needed to cut air toxics


http://images.chron.com/photos/2004/10/11/3642657/311xInlineGallery.jpg
Carlos Antonio Rios: Chronicle
The Houston area's air quality suffers from a dense
concentration of industrial plants and traffic.

Risk is higher in Houston area than in other big cities, new report says

Houston Chronicle (http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4220275.html)
September 28, 2006

Concentrations of some carcinogens and respiratory irritants are much higher in Houston's air than in other major U.S. cities', suggesting that federal and state regulations have not curbed the risk posed by toxic air contaminants locally, a study released Wednesday concluded.

The study's authors, a group of eight scientists from five local universities, called for the immediate reduction of the four chemicals in the most contaminated areas of Harris County — neighborhoods along the Houston Ship Channel, downtown and at major highway intersections. They also called on the state to establish stricter and more enforceable standards for the 189 compounds known as hazardous air pollutants.

''These are real numbers. These are concentrations where people are living," said Matt Fraser, associate professor at Rice University and the principal investigator behind the report, which was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Houston Endowment.

''The level of air toxics concentration that we're seeing in the Houston area indicates a high risk to community health," he said ...

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 08:25 PM
I could take the opposite stance just as easily and say: let's regulate everything. But we all know what that leads to, right?

Here's a question: do you think zoning, as it exists now, is good? Would you change certain things about it? Make it more restrictive, less restrictive? I'm just trying to elicit some opinions here, which are more founded than "look at Houston" or "look at Albania".

Here's my opinion: I think zoning is too restrictive, plain and simple. I think a lot of the rules put in place are misguided, and unjustified on moral and rational grounds. We see the results of this in the increased costs and inefficiencies associated with dealing with zoning restrictions.

Contrary to what might first come to mind, I am not taking a purely pro-developer stance. This is easily realized once you consider that certain developers, namely the ones who have friends high up in city/state governments, will cease gaining favors for certain things such as use of public land, because there'd be no more need for approval. You'd also find a lot more smaller developers entering the market, because costs are now lowered, which means more competition for existing, larger developers.

Don't get me wrong, I think there is a place for government regulation. At some point, a third party needs to step in to protect property rights. But looking at the way it is now, especially in places like NYC, makes me think there's a lot of room for improvement. A lot of us share the opinion that government management of industries - like airlines, energy, healthcare - is inefficient and better left to the private sector. Why not extend the logic to development?

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 08:35 PM
Fun Facts about Houston and freedom from those darned restrictive regulations

Correlation=causation? I don't think so. Houston became a mecca for energy companies because of its early role in domestic oil production and an eventual shipping/refinery hub for the massive Gulf of Mexico oil reserves. Pollution is an equally big problem in all other heavy industrial areas, like the Brooklyn and Jersey waterfronts, or the Mississippi River delta.

More importantly though, pollution is recognized as an easily identifiable harm that people need to be protected from. It's a whole different ballpark than trying to decide whether you can build 10 stories higher or whether it can be a hotel-condo.

ZippyTheChimp
December 3rd, 2006, 09:02 PM
The author is advocating abolishing zoning (a boon to real-estate developers), but he is arguing against regulatory document filings.


Building permits for their projects are often exceedingly difficult to secure, requiring thousands of dollars in architect's and attorney's fees, and months (if not years) of submitting plans to boards and commissions, sometimes a repeat number of times. Many projects end up abandoned because the developers simply run out of money for the holding costs involved, not to mention spiritual energy to fight the psychological battles.


Zoning creates the problem by subjecting development to the arbitrary whim of government, which can virtually make or break a project on any basis the bureaucrats wish.

Zoning laws are not arbitrary. The developer knows going in what the rules are. If his project conforms to zoning, he can build it as-of-right.

What does not go away if you eliminate zoning are building codes, and other regulatory procedures. A federal EIS is mandated throughout the country, and various states have EIS procedures of their own.

These document filings and approvals are what escalate development costs, and I think they should be combined and streamlined. But the zoning rules tell the developer what is allowed, and it is up to him to determine if he can complete his project within the guidelines. If not, he can either walk away, or request a variance.


True. However, one has to wonder just how development would have proceeded without the very reactionary zoning regulations were put in place. Somehow, before 1916, the city got along without zoning.It didn't.

In the half century before zoning, the city (Manhattan) did a poor job of providing housing stock, unless you had money. Opponents of zoning argue that its existence drives up housing costs, but look at the city and its outer boroughs (at that time separate municipalities) before zoning.

Manhattan real estate was always at a premium. The best neighborhoods were just ahead of the advancing city, and north of the city, poor people lived (shanty towns at what is now Central Park). As the city advanced north, rich people moved with it, and poor people repopulated the downtown neighborhoods that were abandoned, the resulting squalor right out of a Dickens novel.

In the outer boroughs, there was less pressure on real-estate prices, and a more stable housing stock was developed. Just look at the incredible variety and amount of housing that exists in Brooklyn. Both areas had no zoning, and then zoning. The difference was the cost of real estate.

Today, real estate value is high throughout the city. no one is much interested in providing affordable housing, and eliminating zoning won't change that.

If I own a vacant lot in Manhattan that I'm willing to sell to a developer, what do you think will happen to my asking price if zoning is removed?

debris
December 3rd, 2006, 10:20 PM
Two points to consider:

1. Houston: I'm guessing the lack of zoning is the result of pressure from the oil & gas industry. They actually drill for oil in the city center, I believe. Can't imagine other cities will ever replicate this. Houston is first and foremost an oil town, asthetics have nothing to do with it.

2. NYC: Glaeser is absolutely right about restrictive zoning in Manhattan driving up prices citywide. Economists usually divide these types of distortions into "income" and "substitution" effects. The "income" part has been repeated often on this board: raising the cost of building housing results in less housing built, which then results in higher prices as there are more bids on the existing homes. This is certainly what is happening in NYC (to some extent) and in California (almost entirely). Look at Boston and San Francisco: why in hell are apartment prices so high there? Yeah, the economy is pretty good, but no Wall Street jobs like New York. But they both have super-restrictive zoning.

The substitution effect, on the other hand, might be a positive for New York. Namely, restictive zoning and higher prices in Manhattan leads to the gentrification of the outer boroughs. Put another way, if there were no zoning in Manhattan, the borough's population would eventually mushroom to something like 3 million, and the outer boroughs would be drained of middle class residents, who could now live in the old Manhattan apartments vacated by rich people (who just moved into the shiny new supertall apartment towers). Not so sure this would be a good thing.

pianoman11686
December 3rd, 2006, 10:30 PM
Zoning laws are not arbitrary. The developer knows going in what the rules are. If his project conforms to zoning, he can build it as-of-right.

It's not that zoning is an arbitrary decision-of-the-moment. As you say, the rules are established before the developer enters the picture. However, those rules themselves are often arbitrary. City planners regularly carve up swaths of land and denote uses; often times, entire districts will be rezoned to respond to changing market conditions.

But there's another arbitrary dimension to it all: the granting of zoning variances. How often do we see certain developers get preferential treatment to build something closer to what they want, while others get turned away? It happened just recently with Trump's project in SoHo.


What does not go away if you eliminate zoning are building codes, and other regulatory procedures. A federal EIS is mandated throughout the country, and various states have EIS procedures of their own.

Right - there are certain regulations and laws that must be in effect, and enforced. These almost always have to do with safety, either structural or health-related. It is within the government's interest, and responsibility, to protect citizens from threats. Easy example is the airline industry: still private enterprise, but the government spends money to reduce the likelihood of another hijacking or terrorist attack.


These document filings and approvals are what escalate development costs, and I think they should be combined and streamlined. But the zoning rules tell the developer what is allowed, and it is up to him to determine if he can complete his project within the guidelines. If not, he can either walk away, or request a variance.

But how much do we actually know about the developer's ability to "complete the project within the guidelines"? If there must be document filings and approvals to get a building off the ground, then there's also a point at which the developer realizes a return on investment. The thing is, if zoning is restricting the size, shape, or use of your building, you're less likely to turn a profit, and your motivation for development is gone.


In the half century before zoning, the city (Manhattan) did a poor job of providing housing stock, unless you had money. Opponents of zoning argue that its existence drives up housing costs, but look at the city and its outer boroughs (at that time separate municipalities) before zoning.

And yet the one thing we keep hearing about the city's housing market today is its lack of affordability.


Manhattan real estate was always at a premium. The best neighborhoods were just ahead of the advancing city, and north of the city, poor people lived (shanty towns at what is now Central Park). As the city advanced north, rich people moved with it, and poor people repopulated the downtown neighborhoods that were abandoned, the resulting squalor right out of a Dickens novel.

Right. John Jacob Astor made his fortune by buying up parcels of land north of the population center, then selling them off at premiums when the city expanded. But how much of the squalor was because of a lack of zoning? Buildings and districts that had exceedingly high population densities had to be that way because thousands of new immigrants were streaming into the city every day. The market could not possibly have met the demand that quickly, especially when the majority was too poor to afford a single room, not to say anything of a one bedroom.

Another question is: did squalor start going down right after zoning was put in place? If it did, you have to take into account natural increases in prosperity, which automatically leads to lower housing densities. Jane Jacobs described this process as "unslumming" - previously crowded, filthy slums losing residents as wealthier families move out, while the existing ones spread out and fix up their homes.

(Something else she talked about is diversity of uses, and its implicit benefits for city life. Once you stop dictating what kind of buildings can go where, you can gain a much more vibrant urban environment. Just another thing to think about.)


Today, real estate value is high throughout the city. no one is much interested in providing affordable housing, and eliminating zoning won't change that.

And real estate will continue to be expensive in areas that are desirable places to live in, and are in high demand. But if you take a look at some of the empirical findings in that study, you'll see that heavily-zoned areas do have higher per-square-foot marginal costs of construction. Cataclismic shifts in the market won't occur, but if there's an opportunity to reduce costs, it should be explored.


If I own a vacant lot in Manhattan that I'm willing to sell to a developer, what do you think will happen to my asking price if zoning is removed?

You'll increase it. However, in a place where building up is much more common than building out, a developer's marginal cost per unit, or per square foot, will go down if you ease zoning restrictions. Suddenly, more developers will see an opportunity to make a profit, and more will end up taking advantage of that opportunity.

Price for land is only one element of the equation. But sticking with it, just think of how much publicly-owned land the city is sitting on, all kinds of reclaimed vacant lots that are left over from the 70s. Suddenly, if all that land is put up for sale at the same time, and developers can themselves determine what the optimal FAR will be, and what kind of uses their buildings will have to take full advantage of market conditions, instead of accepting the city's determination of it, then you simply have a lot more land that is developable. And, because there are more developers, competition will be greater, and prices will naturally go down.

lofter1
December 3rd, 2006, 11:38 PM
I guess you'd toss out Landmarking restrictions along with all the Zoning regulations ...

Bye bye Greenwich Village. Bye bye Chelsea. Bye bye Brooklyn Heights ...

Who wants to live in that version of NYC?

(ps: If that's the plan then please wait about 30 years before you put it into effect -- I'll be dead and gone by then ;) )

ZippyTheChimp
December 4th, 2006, 01:40 AM
But how much do we actually know about the developer's ability to "complete the project within the guidelines"? If there must be document filings and approvals to get a building off the ground, then there's also a point at which the developer realizes a return on investment. The thing is, if zoning is restricting the size, shape, or use of your building, you're less likely to turn a profit, and your motivation for development is gone
You've missed the point of my criticism of the article.

In the first paragraph, he mentions building permits, years of submitting plans, and long running battles. Then he states a project can be made or broken "on any basis the bureaucrats wish." None of this has anything to do with zoning, and as a real estate attorney, he should know this.

That zoning restricts the size, shape and use of the building is a known, fixed commodity. The variables that cause delays and escalating costs that the developer cannot anticipate are the other things I mentioned.

A perfect example of this is Atlantic Yards. Ratner designed a project to comply with zoning. No one has changed the zoning on him; no bureaucrat has reinterpreted the existing rules to state he is in violation. The delays have come from the EIS, Eminent Domain, lawsuits, and his continual downsizing to appease politicians and the local community.

As far as the Dept of City Planning is concerned, Ratner's original design is in compliance with their regulations.

The only instance in NYC where zoning requires the developer to submit plans that could be subjectively rejected is in historic districts.


(Something else she talked about is diversity of uses, and its implicit benefits for city life. Once you stop dictating what kind of buildings can go where, you can gain a much more vibrant urban environment. Just another thing to think about.)
If you removed zoning, you would, in all probability, get the opposite. All Manhattan would look the same.


But how much of the squalor was because of a lack of zoning?I never said it was. You said the city got along well before zoning; I said it didn't.


But there's another arbitrary dimension to it all: the granting of zoning variances. How often do we see certain developers get preferential treatment to build something closer to what they want, while others get turned away? It happened just recently with Trump's project in SoHo.It wasn't a variance.

Punzie
December 4th, 2006, 07:17 AM
It's not necessarily that they [people] have the best interest of others in mind; I think it has more to do with the belief that rational self-interest, when left unpressured by restrictions such as zoning, has a way of benefitting all parties involved. It's all very theoretical and philosophical, I know, but there isn't a lot of recent precedent for us to know whether it would work or not.

I wish that rational self-interest existed, but at least in my neighborhood, it does not. My neighborhood, consisting of houses only, can be one "recent precedent":

The town zoning board says that it is tough on zoning variances, the reality does not appear to be so. Almost inevitably, when a homeowner gets a variance, what ensues is of benefit to the homeowner and not at all a benefit to the neighbors.

There's the woman four houses down from me who paved a freak-show driveway on her front lawn. Down the block, a man with a walker had a gigantic handicapped ramp installed on his front lawn, only to flip the real estate at a large profit right after its installation.

Driveways are doubled to allow for boats. Underground swimming pools draw parties and loud noise from June to September. Ugly boxy monster houses are an epidemic -- being erected all over the neighborhood. All of the above obtained by zoning variances.

Zoning laws are the saviour of my neighborhood. Just enough people like me show up at zoning hearings where residents ask for variances. No neighbor too near me has ever succeeded in getting a zoning variance; needless to say, I am not very popular. If they just wanted to build a house extension, I would give them my blessing, but the variances they have asked for would lower my quality of life.

And they KNOW they're doing something that won't benefit their neighbors! Last summer, my neighbor tried to quickly obtain a zoning variance while I was recovering from major surgery and was out-of-action. So much for rational self-interest.

pianoman11686
December 4th, 2006, 01:56 PM
You've missed the point of my criticism of the article.

For this I apologize. The first article I posted was just a launching point to get the discussion going. There are certain things in it that I agree with, others that I don't. My point has been, throughout the thread, that there are criticisms of zoning given from different perspectives, and that we should consider revising the system based on its pros and cons.


The only instance in NYC where zoning requires the developer to submit plans that could be subjectively rejected is in historic districts.

Not so. Areas in close proximity to historic districts, or even areas whose residents believe should be historic districts, almost regularly bring up the issue of zoning when new developments are proposed. Sometimes it's clear-cut, other times it's not. You can't deny, however, that opposition often takes advantages of zoning restrictions such as FAR and primary use to stop projects from getting off the ground.


If you removed zoning, you would, in all probability, get the opposite. All Manhattan would look the same.

What is your basis for making this claim? Almost immediately, you'd have to realize that certain developers will focus on commercial uses, while others will specialize in residential. Still others will focus on retail or leisure. That alone implies diversity. The only way all of Manhattan would look "the same" is that more areas would be similarly diverse.


I never said it was. You said the city got along well before zoning; I said it didn't.

I guess this comes down to semantics, which rules out the lack of zoning as being responsible for "the city not getting along well." How well it got along, though, must be looked at relatively. How many other cities of similar size, at that time in history, had similar living conditions?


It wasn't a variance.

Again, semantics. It was the city's interpretation of the zoning code that, in Trump's case, sided with the developer. Others on this forum have brought up the fact that smaller developers had received different (i.e., unfavorable) interpretations from the city in the past.

Still, it doesn't change the fact that variances are given on a seemingly random and subjective basis all the time. They are often a function of how wealthy and politically connected the developer is.

pianoman11686
December 4th, 2006, 02:11 PM
I guess you'd toss out Landmarking restrictions along with all the Zoning regulations ...

Bye bye Greenwich Village. Bye bye Chelsea. Bye bye Brooklyn Heights ...

Who wants to live in that version of NYC?

(ps: If that's the plan then please wait about 30 years before you put it into effect -- I'll be dead and gone by then ;) )

This is a tough one for me, because I do think there are a lot of historic buildings worth preserving, and I would not like to see entire neighborhoods demolished and paved over with new highrises.

There is a counter-argument, though. Realize that there are many people out there who simply prefer to live in historic buildings and neighborhoods, and will pay handsomely to do so. Also realize that there are many people who would gladly "hold out" and refuse selling their property to a developer. (How many times has that stopped big projects from getting off the ground?)

The thing to realize here is that different people have different values, and as long as there are no restrictions on obtaining and holding those values, it is unlikely that an entire section of them will be wiped out. Sure, historic buildings will be lost (as they continue to be lost now), but there must be a point of equilibrium.

Ninjahedge
December 4th, 2006, 03:51 PM
Piano, the key here is not to get rid of zoning, but to see what zoning in what areas makes sense.

One thing I have noticed that just astounds me. Around the corner of Broadway and 30th street. I was walking there the other night and I saw several HUGE lots that were just sitting there! They were PARKING LOTS! Easily cleared and redone for low rise (if on top of subway and other underground infrastructure that would limit it).

I do believe that they could easily go midrise at least, even with PATH or Subway under them, but for some reason, in this rabid real estate market, they just sit there, empty.

Nearby you get 2-4 story buildings whose only history they posess is the mere fact that they are old. So much crap in a city that costs so much to be in, it boggles the mind.

So instead of caterwalling about zoning itself, maybe it needs to be re-addressed to see what zoning is needed, and could benefit all the best, and not some greedy political factions or developers.

Punzie
December 4th, 2006, 04:44 PM
The bottom line:

With zoning laws, it is the onus of builders to prove that their proposed structures are worthy of zoning variances.

Without zoning laws, it is the onus of the neighbors and/or public to prove that the builders' proposed structures should NOT be erected.


You can talk abstractly and philosophically, but it ultimately boils down to whether your sympathy lies with the neighbors/public or with the builders.

pianoman11686
December 4th, 2006, 06:12 PM
Piano, the key here is not to get rid of zoning, but to see what zoning in what areas makes sense.

There's only one thing you're not considering: who decides it, and how do we know that what they decided "makes sense"?


One thing I have noticed that just astounds me. Around the corner of Broadway and 30th street. I was walking there the other night and I saw several HUGE lots that were just sitting there! They were PARKING LOTS! Easily cleared and redone for low rise (if on top of subway and other underground infrastructure that would limit it).

I do believe that they could easily go midrise at least, even with PATH or Subway under them, but for some reason, in this rabid real estate market, they just sit there, empty.

And why do you think they're sitting empty? I wouldn't be surprised to find out that those parcels are not zoned properly, if not for their use, then for their density. If you're a developer, and you can't build something that will provide you returns because the gov't says you can't, then the lot will sit empty, no matter how hot the market.


Nearby you get 2-4 story buildings whose only history they posess is the mere fact that they are old. So much crap in a city that costs so much to be in, it boggles the mind.

Which is why I brought up the empirical studies that analyze cost in highly-zoned areas. Why does it cost so much to build in New York? (Hint: one of the answers starts with a Z.)


So instead of caterwalling about zoning itself, maybe it needs to be re-addressed to see what zoning is needed, and could benefit all the best, and not some greedy political factions or developers.

That's all fine and good, but do you really think that government can find a solution that benefits "all the best"? What makes them so well qualified to determine what gets built where?

Notice that I haven't come out and said: "We have to abolish zoning completely." There could be some good that comes of it. But for now, I think it is just too restrictive and not flexible enough. And about those greedy political factions: if you take politicians out of a process, then you won't find any one of them making money off of it.

pianoman11686
December 4th, 2006, 06:29 PM
The town zoning board says that it is tough on zoning variances, the reality does not appear to be so. Almost inevitably, when a homeowner gets a variance, what ensues is of benefit to the homeowner and not at all a benefit to the neighbors.

You know, you just admitted that the zoning laws in effect are not working. If they're not working, why are they in place?


Driveways are doubled to allow for boats. Underground swimming pools draw parties and loud noise from June to September. Ugly boxy monster houses are an epidemic -- being erected all over the neighborhood. All of the above obtained by zoning variances.

I don't understand. You don't think people should have the right to store a boat on their property? How is that any of your concern?

Underground swimming pools: no different than having a back yard filled with drunk teenagers during the summer. That's not a zoning issue; that's a "disturbing the peace" issue. There are laws in place to address that.


Zoning laws are the saviour of my neighborhood. Just enough people like me show up at zoning hearings where residents ask for variances. No neighbor too near me has ever succeeded in getting a zoning variance; needless to say, I am not very popular. If they just wanted to build a house extension, I would give them my blessing, but the variances they have asked for would lower my quality of life.

And they KNOW they're doing something that won't benefit their neighbors! Last summer, my neighbor tried to quickly obtain a zoning variance while I was recovering from major surgery and was out-of-action. So much for rational self-interest.

You bring up issues to your quality of life. But what about the people who actually own the property? Why should you have a say over their quality of life? Telling them they can't have a pool would probably really lower it, wouldn't it? Same goes for the wheelchair ramp for the disabled person.

You say that you're not very popular. Have you ever wondered why that is? Instead of telling people they can't do something on their own property, have you ever considered approaching them to set up a private block agreement, instead of seeming like an overly sensitive person during these town hall meetings?


The bottom line:

With zoning laws, it is the onus of builders to prove that their proposed structures are worthy of zoning variances.

Without zoning laws, it is the onus of the neighbors and/or public to prove that the builders' proposed structures should NOT be erected.


You can talk abstractly and philosophically, but it ultimately boils down to whether your sympathy lies with the neighbors/public or with the builders.

That's how some people will inevitably see it. In my view, it boils down to whether you're in favor of private property rights, or third-party control of them.

Let me just add one more thing, which goes back to your first post. Private citizens can just as easily form organizations to oversee a block, or a neighborhood. There are many examples of this all around us in condominium associations, where in most cases, things such as the style/appearance of the houses, the landscaping, the level of exterior home improvement that a resident can do, etc., is all regulated and outlined in a private contract when you sign your deed. Lots of times, these contracts only serve to increase the value of the homes, and the quality of life of its residents. And if you have a problem with it, it's simple: don't live there. Smaller disputes are resolved through the association's board meetings, where voting procedures and required percentages for approval are all outlined in the homeowner's contract.

Now, doesn't that sound like a better alternative than having to go to all these town meetings and sound like you hate your neighbors?

Ninjahedge
December 4th, 2006, 06:33 PM
There's only one thing you're not considering: who decides it, and how do we know that what they decided "makes sense"?

Who says I am not? Are you putting words in my mouth?

Are you saying that the developers would be better to decide which is which?

Blaming zoning for all the world evils is not accurate. I know what over-zealous zoning regulations can do (come to Hoboken if you want to know how long it takes to get permits for anythnig if you really want to know). But saying that they are the reason for stagnation is not accurate either.

They are meant to be a buffer, not a barrier or a motivator.


And why do you think they're sitting empty? I wouldn't be surprised to find out that those parcels are not zoned properly, if not for their use, then for their density. If you're a developer, and you can't build something that will provide you returns because the gov't says you can't, then the lot will sit empty, no matter how hot the market.

The question is, how are they zoned? And why? Instead of complaining about it, why doesn't someone take it up with City Hall publicly? I have heard NOTHING about it! Also, I see office space and commercial space all over that area, I would think that the things holding up deveopment may not be zoning so much as added cost of cleanum/construction OR unwilling landowners.


Which is why I brought up the empirical studies that analyze cost in highly-zoned areas. Why does it cost so much to build in New York? (Hint: one of the answers starts with a Z.)

Hint, no it isn't.

Question: How big a section of steel do you think tehy can get into and around manhattan w/o having special permissions and road closings? How expensive do you think that is?

Question: How musch space (sidewalk/roadway) do you need for construction on a lot in NYC? How much will construction cost the neighboring facilities?

Question: What happened to the cost of steel with China's industrial boom?

Question: How many inflatable rats have you seen at large developments in the city?

Question: How much do you think an Operating Engineer gets paid?

Question: How many guys does it take to pick up a single 10" CMU?

Question: When something is in high demand, and the supply is low, what happens to cost?

Question: Would it be in the best interest of ANYONE but the buyer to build large quantities of units that are desired, or would that hurt the market?

The key to the issue, really, and the last question is that you cannot flood the market or you may produce a number of undesirable results. And the development of teh city does not insure that the cost of living here would go down either. The more people, the more need, the less resources, the more cost. Milk costs me less in NJ than here, why is that? Zoning?


That's all fine and good, but do you really think that government can find a solution that benefits "all the best"? What makes them so well qualified to determine what gets built where?

That is not the issue, you are sidestepping the question because you know it can't be refuted.

We are responsible for bringing these issues into the public forum. We need to go to these community events, We need to vote and be active in the development and management of our neighborhoods or we will get just what we have now. A bunch of factions all looking out for themselves and saying they are looking out for you.


Notice that I haven't come out and said: "We have to abolish zoning completely." There could be some good that comes of it. But for now, I think it is just too restrictive and not flexible enough. And about those greedy political factions: if you take politicians out of a process, then you won't find any one of them making money off of it.

That does not solve the issue. Politicians are anyone on a committee or the like that has this power. So whoever you put into power, whoever you appoint to a zoning board, becomes the new politicians. SO instead of saying "this is wrong" we have to find a way to correct the problem at the root rather than blaming the leaves for falling off.

Ninjahedge
December 4th, 2006, 06:38 PM
Smaller disputes are resolved through the association's board meetings, where voting procedures and required percentages for approval are all outlined in the homeowner's contract.

Now, doesn't that sound like a better alternative than having to go to all these town meetings and sound like you hate your neighbors?


You mean just like that one condo association that banned the hanging of a "peace wreath" on the exterior of one of the condos as a Christmas decoration?

"condo associations" have the same problems as everything else. Not only that, things like neighborhood associations only work in developments. They do not work in urban areas like NYC where the actions of one could effect the lives of others.

Fabrizio
December 4th, 2006, 06:51 PM
Pianoman: whats funny about this for me is that...without going into a lot of detail... my family was, at one time, the largest private landholder in a particular state... well over 10,000 continuous acres. This land is worth PEANUTS today because of restrictive zoning. Most of it costs more to keep than its worth. But no matter. ALL of us are happy with the states zoning rules.... there larger issues at hand like quality of life... and the public good ( sounds almost quaint). So when I speak in FAVOUR of zoning, Im one person who was plenty penalized.

pianoman11686
December 4th, 2006, 06:56 PM
Who says I am not? Are you putting words in my mouth?

No, I am not, and it was never my intention to do so. I'm sorry I gave you that impression.

I only question why you assume that the current system can be improved so much. In New York, it's been in place for 90 years. Isn't that a lot of time to recognize that certain parts of zoning code are not benefitting anybody, while others only benefit a few?


Are you saying that the developers would be better to decide which is which?

In a word, yes.


Blaming zoning for all the world evils is not accurate. I know what over-zealous zoning regulations can do (come to Hoboken if you want to know how long it takes to get permits for anythnig if you really want to know). But saying that they are the reason for stagnation is not accurate either.

They are meant to be a buffer, not a barrier or a motivator.

Ninja, come on: when did I ever blame it for all the world evils? And another thing: if you really think it's meant to be a buffer, then why are there so many motivational clauses that are put in place? Inclusionary zoning? Also, something that restricts is by definition a barrier.




The question is, how are they zoned? And why? Instead of complaining about it, why doesn't someone take it up with City Hall publicly?

If the zoning needs to be changed, the developer will have to ask for a variance. I don't think I need to remind you how often variances are not granted because of community opposition.


Question: When something is in high demand, and the supply is low, what happens to cost?

Demand and supply for steel, and for housing, is cyclical. Zoning regulations are not. In response to all your other questions, I remind you I said that zoning is "one of the answers." Also, since certain things are out of our control, such as the costs of construction and the demand for housing, wouldn't it make sense to try to address one of the contributing costs that can be controlled? I refer you again to one of the two empirical studies I posted.


The key to the issue, really, and the last question is that you cannot flood the market or you may produce a number of undesirable results. And the development of teh city does not insure that the cost of living here would go down either. The more people, the more need, the less resources, the more cost. Milk costs me less in NJ than here, why is that? Zoning?

Actually, when the government first put in regulations on the cost of milk (not sure if they still are in place), it was calculated according to how far away you live from Wisconsin. How's that for common-sensical?

And Ninja, about flooding the market: builders won't continue to put up condos and rentals if the demand is not meeting them. That's why there are cycles in housing, as well as office construction, and almost any other commodity you can think of. Again, I'm not saying that zoning singlehandedly makes a certain area expensive, but it is one of the main factors.


That is not the issue, you are sidestepping the question because you know it can't be refuted.

Actually, it comes right to the core of the issue. Why should people blindly accept that the government should control what gets built where? Why do they have the power to do so, and what is the justification? Saying that "they have the public's best interest in mind" is not an adequate answer to these questions, for two reasons: 1) They just don't know what's best. 2) Even if they do, they'll often choose to go against that.


That does not solve the issue. Politicians are anyone on a committee or the like that has this power. So whoever you put into power, whoever you appoint to a zoning board, becomes the new politicians. SO instead of saying "this is wrong" we have to find a way to correct the problem at the root rather than blaming the leaves for falling off.

Short answer, because this is taking a long time to respond to: you don't put "certain people" in power. You put everyone on an equal footing by ensuring everyone's right to property. As I said to Rapunzel, private interests already have a way of combining their interests to serve a broader agenda, and those interests are guaranteed in a binding, but uncoerced contract.

lofter1
December 4th, 2006, 07:41 PM
Re: The lots along and near Broadway / 30th Street ...




The question is, how are they zoned? And why? Instead of complaining about it, why doesn't someone take it up with City Hall publicly? I have heard NOTHING about it!

The first thing to do is go HERE (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zone/mn_zonedex.shtml) and look at the zoning maps for NYC.

This is the MAP (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/pdf/zone/map8d.pdf) for that area (Manhattan / Section 8d).

You'll see that stretch of Broadway and the surrounding area is Zoned M1-6. Same as the area to the west of 6th Avenue.

6th Avenue in that area was recently re-zoned to become a C6-4X District -- ergo all the new and banal towers along that stretch.

Now you can discuss what is and isn't allowed and what you want to happen there ;)

pianoman11686
December 4th, 2006, 09:49 PM
Man, what a mess that zoning map is! So many delineations, restricted areas, hardly any rhyme or reason to it...

So this area is zoned for manufacturing with a max FAR of 6, right?

Question: if the area around 6th is zoned C6-X4, doesn't that mean it's commercial? If so, why are there all those banal condo towers that you speak of?

MrSpice
December 4th, 2006, 10:22 PM
"It's all very theoretical and philosophical, I know, but there isn't a lot of recent precedent for us to know whether it would work or not."

Pianoman, oh yes there is. Why dont you take a trip to some third world countries?.... pehaps Eastern Europe, a hell hole like Albania comes to mind. Or you could even come here to Italy, to see Mafia governed areas in the South where zoning is ignored.

"Somehow, before 1916, the city got along without zoning."

No it did not. Thats why zoning laws were created. That article was written for those will a superficial Disney-fied view of the past.

Just because some 3-rd world countries and mafia in Italy abose building codes and create ugly building does not mean that zoning in a developed country like the US is justified. Some of the most beautiful buildings in New York - from Crysler to the Emire State Building - were built in the period where virtually no zonin rules existed. Zoning laws don't prevent developers from building ugly buildings. They just dictate artificial rules for height and size even when market demands otherwise. There's no question that in some areas of historic significance you don't want developers to build bland skyscarpers. But that would only concern just a few truly historical areas in the city. Restrictive zoning exists in some of the areas already built up with some of the ugliest buildings in the world, including housing projects. It's all done in the name of public good. But any time there's a government restriction of any kind that limits the market force, it backfires in higher prices. One of the reasons Manhattan is so expensive is the restrictive zoning laws.

lofter1
December 4th, 2006, 11:15 PM
Oh, Spice, you're wrong again ^^^

Why do you think both the Chrysler and ESB have those great setbacks?

(clue: 1916 )

lofter1
December 4th, 2006, 11:16 PM
Question: if the area around 6th is zoned C6-X4, doesn't that mean it's commercial? If so, why are there all those banal condo towers that you speak of?

Residential is allowed in Commercial zones :cool:

Fabrizio
December 5th, 2006, 04:53 AM
Mr Spice writes:

"Some of the most beautiful buildings in New York - from Crysler to the Emire State Building - were built in the period where virtually no zonin rules existed."

I love the way this guy just invents history.

The truth:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/zone/zonehis.shtml

Punzie
December 5th, 2006, 04:59 AM
. . .
You don't think people should have the right to store a boat on their property? How is that any of your concern?
. . .

You bring up issues to your quality of life. But what about the people who actually own the property? Why should you have a say over their quality of life? Telling them they can't have a pool would probably really lower it, wouldn't it? Same goes for the wheelchair ramp for the disabled person.

You say that you're not very popular. Have you ever wondered why that is? Instead of telling people they can't do something on their own property, have you ever considered approaching them to set up a private block agreement, instead of seeming like an overly sensitive person during these town hall meetings?
. . .

Do I really have to say what's wrong with having a huge, filthy boat stored in the front of a house in the suburbs, when zoning laws allow for it to be stored in the sideyards and backyards?

Do what I have to say what's wrong with my neighbors getting angry that they can't install an underground pool, when they knew when they bought the house that it's only zoned for above-ground pools? (It's not like they can't have a pool!)

Do I really have to say what's wrong with putting a handicapped ramp on the whole front lawn -- when zoning laws allow for it to be installed on one side of the front lawn -- solely to get a $100K profit? (It's doubtful if the zoning board will allow this again.)
_______________

I should reword my declaration of my unpopularity to say that every resident in my neighborhood who actively sees to it that the zoning laws are enforced is unpopular. It's nothing personal. I always smile and am friendly to everybody; I'm sure that if I stopped my zoning activities, I would be "popular" -- for what it's worth.

I am very much for negotiating with people personally, and I always begin with this step. In most cases, however, it is impossible to negotiate with somebody in my neighborhood who wants a zoning variance.

The most popular response: "I'll get back to you." When you follow up, it's still: "I'll get back to you." Other concerned residents try to follow up, and it's "I'll get back to you all." Meanwhile, the person is trying to hurry the variance through.

The second most popular response: "Call my lawyer." Sometimes the person doesn't even have a lawyer. When the person does, the lawyer invariably tries to delay talks until the variance is obtained.

The third most popular response is hopelessly flakey behavior. You can't get through. Sometimes it's real and sometimes it's faked; you learn the truth when you see them at the zoning hearing.

Perhaps my neighborhood is the only one in all of New York where greed and self-indulgence are pervasive, but I doubt it.
_____________________

I worship Manhattan; it's a big emotional sacrifice and time sacrifice to live where I do. I live here, the suburbs, because I'm surrounded by natural beauty: unobtrusive, low-rise houses, sprawled out lawns, trees, flowing shrubbery, flowers blooming for half the year, and tranquility. If the residents in my neighborhood take away too many of the advantages of living in surburbia, then I could just as well move to a house in Western Queens and have wonderful access to Manhattan.

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 06:05 PM
A few things, Rapunzel.

It seems to me that a lot of the problems you're having arise not because your neighbors are uncaring, thoughless individuals who are out to make your life a living hell, but because of the very existence of zoning.

Think about it from their perspective: here you come along, saying it's against the zoning rules to build a pool, or a wheelchair ramp, whatever. You're basically policing them, and using the (implied) threat of force to prevent them from doing with their property what they should have the right to do.

You ask if you have to explain what's really wrong with your neighbor having a boat on his/her driveway. I ask: why should there be rules against it? Who is it hurting? Specifically, why should government have the ability, and obligation, to restrict something as minimally obtrusive as keeping your boat on your own driveway?

I say: it's not the government's place to be regulating that. As long as someone is not infringing on another person's private property, or causing them physical harm in anyway, then they're not doing anything wrong. I also believe that once the threat of force (in the form of gov't upholding law) is removed, you'd find it much easier to talk to your neighbors about issues that affect all of you collectively. Maybe you'll come to the conclusion that 9 out of the 10 neighbors on your block can't sleep when one guy has a pool party running late into the night. Next time, maybe he'll end earlier. The point is, I don't we need government to be policing and regulating what people do with their private property.

Fabrizio
December 6th, 2006, 06:16 PM
Pianoman: isnt it strange then, that most of the more physically beautiful cities and neighborhoods in the world fall under strict zoning rules? Why is that?

Could you please show us some beautiful neigborhoods where people are allowed to do as they please with their property?

Boats parked in a driveway, and hey, lets add some rusting cars on cinderblocks.

Burp.

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 06:37 PM
Zoning is so ubiquitous, I wouldn't know where to start to find a good example of unregulated private property. Maybe I'll dig up some pictures of Houston's residential neighborhoods, since that's the only one I know offhand.

The better question though, is this: if you believe strict zoning is directly responsible for so much beauty, then why do so many strictly zoned cities have such wide swaths of filth? We need look no further than New York, outside of the most expensive areas of Manhattan. The better explanation is money. If you live in a neighborhood where people are wealthy enough to pay for housing built out of quality materials, expensive landscaping, etc., then it's going to look nicer than a blue-collar neighborhood that has overgrown front lawns and houses with aluminum siding.

Oh, let's also not equate unsophisticated behavior with a lack of zoning. Some people are slobs, and will always be that way, no matter what the zoning rules are.

Fabrizio
December 6th, 2006, 06:42 PM
Yes, but according to you its ALL OK.

"You ask if you have to explain what's really wrong with your neighbor having a boat on his/her driveway. I ask: why should there be rules against it? Who is it hurting? Specifically, why should government have the ability, and obligation, to restrict something as minimally obtrusive as keeping your boat on your own driveway?

I say: it's not the government's place to be regulating that. As long as someone is not infringing on another person's private property, or causing them physical harm in anyway, then they're not doing anything wrong".

http://www.missouritrailertrash.com/page1.htm
http://www.missouritrailertrash.com/page2.htm
http://www.missouritrailertrash.com/page3.htm

infoshare
December 6th, 2006, 06:48 PM
A few things, Rapunzel.


Think about it from their perspective: here you come along, saying it's against the zoning rules to build a pool, or a wheelchair ramp, whatever. You're basically policing them, and using the (implied) threat of force to prevent them from doing with their property what they should have the right to do.




Government zoning regulations (in this case) is empowering Rapunzel to bully others .......... and that will garner resentments. But, I do believe there does need to be some zoning regulations.

ZippyTheChimp
December 6th, 2006, 07:08 PM
My[/i] point has been, throughout the thread, that there are criticisms of zoning given from different perspectives, and that we should consider revising the system based on its pros and cons.Are you criticizing zoning as a concept that should be abolished, or that the rules should be changed? The topic title and your last response to Repunzel indicates you want the former. If the latter, you already have that. Zoning parameters can be, and are, changed.


Not so. Areas in close proximity to historic districts, or even areas whose residents believe should be historic districts, almost regularly bring up the issue of zoning when new developments are proposed. Sometimes it's clear-cut, other times it's not. You can't deny, however, that opposition often takes advantages of zoning restrictions such as FAR and primary use to stop projects from getting off the ground.I'm going to take one more shot at explaining what I'm saying.

Let's assume a neighborhood in proximity to a historic district (not necessary, but I'll keep your example), with a proposed development. If the project violates zoning, there is no argument. If the city is stupid enough to grant the permits, it goes to court - a winner every time. You never see this happening.

What often happens, is that the project conforms to zoning requirements, but for one reason or another, residents think it is too tall or out of scale with the surrounding area. This is what happened at Hearst and TWC.

Putting it into numbers: If a 40 story building proposal is as-of-right in a zoned area and the neighbors complain, what do you think would happen if zoning was abolished and a 50 story building was proposed in the same spot?

As I stated earlier, it is the overlapping land-use reviews that escalate costs. What the author is proposing is not so much a fix to that logjam, but the abolishment of rules that would create an environment for the real estate industry akin to striking the Mother Lode. Rape of the landscape.


What is your basis for making this claim? Almost immediately, you'd have to realize that certain developers will focus on commercial uses, while others will specialize in residential. Still others will focus on retail or leisure. That alone implies diversity. The only way all of Manhattan would look "the same" is that more areas would be similarly diverse. I meant similar in scale.


I guess this comes down to semantics, which rules out the lack of zoning as being responsible for "the city not getting along well." How well it got along, though, must be looked at relatively.
I didn't imply that it was the lack of zoning that caused the housing problems. I noted that in both circumstances, with and without zoning, Manhattan had a housing problem. The constant in both circumstances was real-estate prices.


How many other cities of similar size, at that time in history, had similar living conditions?Not many with the wealth of New York.


Still, it doesn't change the fact that variances are given on a seemingly random and subjective basis all the time. They are often a function of how wealthy and politically connected the developer is.Variances are suspensions of zoning law. They are ruled by the BSA. The basis is usually financial hardship, and is easily manipulated. It was attempted continually by the original owner of the River Lofts site. Complicated foundation work, expensive renovation of the old warehouse (actually, it was gutted in construction), blah, blah. He finally sold the property, and the new owners had no trouble developing the site.

I think variances should be abolished, except in unique circumstances.

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 07:09 PM
Fantastic links, Fabrizio. They really prove your point, which I interpret to be: "Poor slobs don't have the right to live like poor slobs. They should spend money (what money?) on better landscaping, a home that doesn't look like it's about to collapse, and trash removal. (Question: how does a 10-ton garbage truck drive up there if there are no roads?)

Is there any reason that whenever I ask you a substantive question, you provide meaningless links or distractions to change the subject? I'll ask again: if you believe zoning is responsible for so much beauty, why is there so much crap out there?

Meanwhile, turns out it wasn't that hard to find a beautiful, historic place that has no zoning laws. Houston Heights:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/0/0f/HoustonHeightsSign.JPG/800px-HoustonHeightsSign.JPG

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/61/HoustonHeights.jpg

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/6/67/HoustonHeightsLibrary.JPG/800px-HoustonHeightsLibrary.JPG

http://www.rcmckee.com/houston/heights-trolley.jpg

http://www.txrealestatecafe.com/houston-heights-real-estate/images/features/FeatureHeights1.jpg

http://www.bighummer.com/Heights4040440.JPG

--------------------------------------------

infoshare: I'd be interested to know which regulations you think we should do away with, and which should we keep.

infoshare
December 6th, 2006, 07:27 PM
infoshare: I'd be interested to know which regulations you think we should do away with, and which should we keep.

Fire and other safety issues, lot coverage, building height: and thats about it. :D

Fabrizio
December 6th, 2006, 07:27 PM
Pianoman, you write:

"I'll ask again: if you believe zoning is responsible for so much beauty, why is there so much crap out there? "

Sorta like asking: if cars now have shoulder harnesses and airbags: why are there so many traffic deaths?

Duh... uh... gee...

----------------------------

Now you answer me: boats in the drive way... cars on cinder blocks... maybe a couple of old refrigreaters on the "lawn". OK?

Yes or No.


About Houston Heights:
http://www.houstonheights.org/historicdistrictmaps.htm

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 07:32 PM
Are you criticizing zoning as a concept that should be abolished, or that the rules should be changed? The topic title and your last response to Repunzel indicates you want the former. If the latter, you already have that. Zoning parameters can be, and are, changed.

Changing parameters every now and then (such as the city does when it rezones huge swaths of manufacturing sites) is not what I'm talking about. I am criticizing zoning, as a concept, in its current form. I'm still not sure if it should, or can, be abolished completely, but in its current form, I think the law wields too much influence over the right to private property.


I'm going to take one more shot at explaining what I'm saying.

Let's assume a neighborhood in proximity to a historic district (not necessary, but I'll keep your example), with a proposed development. If the project violates zoning, there is no argument. If the city is stupid enough to grant the permits, it goes to court - a winner every time. You never see this happening.

Okay, I'm with you on that. I guess since it never happens, I have to backtrack and redirect the focus again on variances. Assuming a developer wants to build in a historic neighborhood, or one where residents are very active at stopping new developments, the decision to grant a variance is then rests with the government. It can, and often is, heavily influenced by the community. My problem with that is: the developer, who owns the land, has virtually no say in the matter. He should have the most to say; after all, it's his land.


What often happens, is that the project conforms to zoning requirements, but for one reason or another, residents think it is too tall or out of scale with the surrounding area. This is what happened at Hearst and TWC.

Putting it into numbers: If a 40 story building proposal is as-of-right in a zoned area and the neighbors complain, what do you think would happen if zoning was abolished and a 50 story building was proposed in the same spot?

My question is: what is the justification for neighbors to complain? And why are their unwarranted complaints honored so often? My firm belief (which you may not share) is that the very existence of decision-making power with the government is what leads to community complaints. The irony of it all is that the government often sympathizes with the side that has no rights to the property, and the developer has to reduce the height or abandon the project altogether.


As I stated earlier, it is the overlapping land-use reviews that escalate costs. What the author is proposing is not so much a fix to that logjam, but the abolishment of rules that would create an environment for the real estate industry akin to striking the Mother Lode. Rape of the landscape.

Look, let's drop the article. It was just a way to get the discussion going. I don't question that there are many necessary procedural reviews that influence costs. But there is also empirical evidence that areas of strict zoning tend to have a higher cost of housing.


I meant similar in scale.

Again, not necessarily. There are only a limited number of developers that can manage to construct a massive tower, and get the financing for it. Certain areas are also not structurally/geographically conducive to high rises. There's a lot of room for diversity.


I didn't imply that it was the lack of zoning that caused the housing problems. I noted that in both circumstances, with and without zoning, Manhattan had a housing problem. The constant in both circumstances was real-estate prices.

Not many with the wealth of New York.

Okay, so what do you think caused it?


I think variances should be abolished, except in unique circumstances.

I'd be interested in finding out what's your reasoning behind that.

Fabrizio
December 6th, 2006, 07:37 PM
More from Houston Heights:

http://savethebungalows.org/FAQs.html

http://savethebungalows.org/uploads/AshlandHouseStory.pdf

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 07:44 PM
Sorta like asking: if cars now have shoulder harnesses and airbags: why are there so many traffic deaths?

How is it like that at all? I'm not trying to be difficult. I just don't see any connection at all.


Now you answer me: boats in the drive way... cars on cinder blocks... maybe a couple of old refrigreaters on the "lawn". OK?

Yes or No.

Absolutely okay with me. Who am I to tell my neighbors if they can keep junk on their property? If I'm not wealthy enough to afford living on an immaculate street where the neighbors spend thousands of dollars every year on landscaping, drive luxury cars, and invite me over for the occasional cocktail party...who am I to complain? As long as there is no direct harm being done to me, it's none of my business. If I don't like it, I can always go live in the middle of an open field somewhere, where there's no one to annoy me.



About Houston Heights:
http://www.houstonheights.org/historicdistrictmaps.htm

Didn't expect you to catch on to that so quickly. Here's why it's irrelevant: the Houston Heights Association is a private, non-profit organization, not a government council with the power of the law behind them. I've read through some of the website, which includes architectural guidelines for new construction, urges 'sympathy' from people looking to tear down historic gems, and prides itself on being on the register of National Historic Places. There are no strict "rules," although there might be if this petition goes through.

Fabrizio
December 6th, 2006, 07:58 PM
"Absolutely okay with me."

Well then while were at it, lets throw in a few old refrigerators.

Pianoman fine. For me its really all I needed to know.

I believe that no people interested in civilized living will agree with you.

---------
As for:

"Didn't expect you to catch on to that so quickly. "

Thanks for the complement.

(march of the imbeciles indeed...)

ZippyTheChimp
December 6th, 2006, 08:09 PM
the decision to grant a variance is then rests with the government. It can, and often is, heavily influenced by the community. My problem with that is: the developer, who owns the land, has virtually no say in the matter. He should have the most to say; after all, it's his land.Current zoning influences land value. If I decide to buy a vacant site, the price I am willing to pay will be higher if it is zoned C5, as opposed to C4. So I buy the lot. If I ask for a variance, I am in effect asking the government to increase the value of my land by upzoning my lot. The only one that should be pissed is the guy across the street.


My question is: what is the justification for neighbors to complain? And why are their unwarranted complaints honored so often? My firm belief (which you may not share) is that the very existence of decision-making power with the government is what leads to community complaints. The irony of it all is that the government often sympathizes with the side that has no rights to the property, and the developer has to reduce the height or abandon the project altogether.I believe that everyone should be able to build to what zoning allows, and not have to downsize. The empowerment of the community often comes from the fact that developers get various financial breaks from government, and that opens the door.


Look, let's drop the article. It was just a way to get the discussion going. I don't question that there are many necessary procedural reviews that influence costs. But there is also empirical evidence that areas of strict zoning tend to have a higher cost of housing.Even if that is true, A leads to B does not alone justify eliminating A. Higher material costs also inflate housing costs; not a rationale to make all buildings as crappy as possible.


Okay, so what do you think caused it?I think I said it. High real-estate prices, and related, New York's insatiable demand for housing. It predates zoning.


I'd be interested in finding out what's your reasoning behind that.Granting of a variances is subject to corruption. There is little accountability.

Punzie
December 6th, 2006, 08:32 PM
Government zoning regulations (in this case) is empowering Rapunzel to bully others .......... and that will garner resentments. But, I do believe there does need to be some zoning regulations.
"Bully" is a strong word, and an inaccurate one, in this case. I do not bully my neighbors who seek zoning variances. I seek enforcement of laws that have been on the books, and have been enforced, since the late 1940s. By-the-books law enforcement is not bullying.

Every so often, one of my neighbors will say something like, "If you let us get the variance, you won't have to take another unpaid day off from work to go to a zoning hearing." I could turn the tables and say that this is bullying. But I won't, because bullying implies malice and intent to cause harm, and they are not that way.

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 09:42 PM
I believe that no people interested in civilized living will agree with you.

Not to worry. There are plenty of people interested in civilized living, and they will always find others who feel the same way. The uncivilized can continue to live in Missouri trailer parks. For the most part, things won't change too much in that regard.


As for:

"Didn't expect you to catch on to that so quickly. "

Thanks for the complement.

(march of the imbeciles indeed...)

Sorry. It wasn't meant to be an insult. Just didn't think you'd actually go to the town's website and read through everything.

pianoman11686
December 6th, 2006, 09:53 PM
Current zoning influences land value. If I decide to buy a vacant site, the price I am willing to pay will be higher if it is zoned C5, as opposed to C4. So I buy the lot. If I ask for a variance, I am in effect asking the government to increase the value of my land by upzoning my lot. The only one that should be pissed is the guy across the street.

We're both correct. In either case, there's a losing party, and they feel cheated. All the more reason to remove government from what is all too often an unobjective process.


I believe that everyone should be able to build to what zoning allows, and not have to downsize. The empowerment of the community often comes from the fact that developers get various financial breaks from government, and that opens the door.

I don't think community empowerment happens exclusively in cases where developers get financial breaks, but the very fact that it does happen sometimes is just more evidence, in my opinion, that government should be left out of the process. Get rid of the favors, the corruption, and the subjectivity.


Even if that is true, A leads to B does not alone justify eliminating A. Higher material costs also inflate housing costs; not a rationale to make all buildings as crappy as possible.

Logical reasoning, but with one important caveat: buildings need to adhere to codes because of the potential harm inflicted on residents as a result of developer negligence during the construction process. This is a matter of government fulfilling its primary duty: protect the lives of its citizens. Same goes for environmental laws: there are proven adverse effects from not following them. I'd be a fool to argue for us doing away with regulations on factory pollution. The harms are just too substantial to ignore.


I think I said it. High real-estate prices, and related, New York's insatiable demand for housing. It predates zoning.

Sorry. I was talking about the high level of squalor.


Granting of a variances is subject to corruption. There is little accountability.

Agreed, 100%.

lofter1
December 6th, 2006, 10:22 PM
So just to be clear ...

If I own a 3-story townhouse mid-block in, say, the Village on a block with similar sized buildings full-block on either side of the street (and I can raise the money needed) then I should just be able to tear down the townhouse and build a 30 story building on that lot?

Punzie
December 6th, 2006, 11:05 PM
. . . I also believe that once the threat of force (in the form of gov't upholding law) is removed, you'd find it much easier to talk to your neighbors about issues that affect all of you collectively. Maybe you'll come to the conclusion that 9 out of the 10 neighbors on your block can't sleep when one guy has a pool party running late into the night. Next time, maybe he'll end earlier. . .

If zoning laws were loosened, my neighbors would not talk things over and compromise. Not with me, not with any neighborhood resident, not with the most astute diplomat in the world. They have a win-lose, black & white, "my way or the highway" attitude. In other aspects of living, they turn against each other.

They have little sense of community or civic responsibility. We have an understaffed civic association and I'm the newsletter editor. The same residents who regularly apply for zoning variances are usually the ones who make large (unrelated) demands of the association and don't volunteer any time in return. The demands usually are only of financially benefit to them. They are users, and the law is needed to set boundaries for them.

Punzie
December 6th, 2006, 11:16 PM
So just to be clear ...

If I own a 3-story townhouse mid-block in, say, the Village on a block with similar sized buildings full-block on either side of the street (and I can raise the money needed) then I should just be able to tear down the townhouse and build a 30 story building on that lot?

Yes, because you would feel benevolence towards the residents on either side of your proposed 30-story. You would hold a meeting and discuss a compromise with them. Surely they could derive some benefit from the building. Maybe seeing you so happy would do it.

Fabrizio
December 7th, 2006, 12:41 AM
Pianoman:

"Just didn't think you'd actually go to the town's website and read through everything."

I enjoy learning.

I was also SURE that the neighborhood you showed photos of could not be so historic, attractive and gracious without zoning. Read through the material. Zoning is just around the corner. It is the ONLY solution for a place like that in todays fast-buck climate.

lofter1
December 7th, 2006, 09:15 AM
Oregon has been going through a legal dance over zoning issues regarding open space / agricultural land ...

The Oregon State Legislature passed a law a few years back restricting building on parcels of land of a certain acreage in agricultural areas and which had no structures on them -- rendering them basically unbuildable sites -- as it was determined that "open space" was in the public interest. This law was challenged by certain property owners as an "illegal taking" --and a ballot measure (Measure 37 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A58185-2005Feb27?language=printer)) turning the restrictions of that law on its head was passed overwhelmingly by Oregon voters in 2004.

(Full Disclosure: I had a parcel of land out that way that I had owned for many years and where I planned to build a house one day -- the law as passed made those plans unworkable, so I sold the property a few years back, before the passage of Measure 37. It has since been put back on the market at more than 5 times the price I got for it :( . C'est la F**ing vie, eh?)

That part of the country is beautiful. Unfortunately, lots of other folks think so too and have been moving there in swarms over the past few years -- particularly those who made a killing by selling long-held houses / properties in California and moving north across the border to the wide open spaces of Oregon.

But the same California sprawl that they tried to escape has now followed them north. The Oregon zoning laws were an attempt to control such bad planning -- and the Oregon voters, by repealing that law, may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

As reported last July in the NYTimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/25/us/25oregon.html?ex=1311480000&en=dff89de28813b9d8&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss):


Voter approval of Measure 37 was a shot heard around the property rights world. Several states, including neighboring Idaho and Washington, now have similar measures on their ballots this fall.

The Oregon law could remake the face of the state, where some of the most restrictive land-use rules in the nation are designed to keep forest and farm areas intact and cities compact. After a bumpy ride through the courts, backers of the measure were handed a clear victory this year.

Government officials say the measure has essentially knocked out “the Oregon way,” the distinct set of rules that have long angered many property owners but delighted the urban-planning community. It has made for chaos at the county level, many officials say, by taking away local government’s ability to plan for development in an orderly fashion.

In some suburban neighborhoods, residents say property claims would allow gravel pits, industrial plants and used-car lots to be built next to their parks and homes. And some farmers say Measure 37 threatens Oregon’s rural economy.

“One thing is clear,” Sheila A. Martin, a professor of urban planning at Portland State University, wrote earlier this year in a report on the initiative, “Measure 37 has disabled the tools used over four decades to prevent sprawl and preserve agriculture and forest land in Oregon.”

pianoman11686
December 7th, 2006, 06:43 PM
Lofter, the quick answer to your question is: yes. It's your property, therefore you should have the right to do whatever you wish with it, provided it does not cause demonstrable physical harm to others.

The Oregon case is interesting, in that for one, it was actually the people who decided what they wanted, not the government doing it for them. I really am curious to see how this plays out. Secondly, Oregon is the only state that has legalized physician-assisted suicide. Seems almost like the zoning referendum is a logical extension of natural rights.

To all those who share the belief that the abolition of zoning will result in a chaotic hodgepodge of different uses (industrial next to single family home next to office tower), think about this: why is it that many industries/businesses tend to concentrate together? Why do places like Silicon Alley have so many high-tech firms gravitating toward each other? Why does Hollywood exist? Why did Detroit become the center of the auto industry? Why does Houston, despite the lack of zoning, have a dense commercial core? The answer is: uses have a way of separating themselves out in a way that is logical and beneficial to all parties involved.

Now lofter, going back to your question: you seem to harbor Zippy's concern, that all of Manhattan will be covered over by highrise condos. But yet again, I have to point out a few things: real estate is cyclical, as we've already observed given this recent boom and gradual slow-down; also, different developers have different limits on how grand the scale of their buildings can be. Only a limited number of them can build highrise condos; most of the ones out there build single family homes or condos/apartment buildings under 5 stories. And finally, there's the fundamental concept of differing consumer tastes. Not everyone wants to live 20, 30 floors up in the sky. Many people like having backyards; others like to live in factory lofts. As long as there is a diverse range of consumer preferences (which seems only to be getting more diverse as time goes on), there will be demand for lowrise housing, even in Manhattan.

pianoman11686
December 7th, 2006, 07:02 PM
If zoning laws were loosened, my neighbors would not talk things over and compromise. Not with me, not with any neighborhood resident, not with the most astute diplomat in the world. They have a win-lose, black & white, "my way or the highway" attitude. In other aspects of living, they turn against each other.

Rapunzel, the problem with that outlook is that you judge a conditional outcome based on the way things exist now. You think that attitudes won't change if, all of a sudden, your neighbors aren't faced with (what I think to be) overly stringent regulations on what they can do with their private property. People have a tendency to react differently when they are no longer facing the threat of force in making their decisions, and at least some times, the outcome is beneficial and is something the law itself cannot produce. An anecdotal example: many of my friends who have turned 21 no longer drink as much as they used to. When it was illegal for them to do so, they drank as much as they wanted to - through fake IDs, older people who bought for them, etc. Now that it's legal, many of them have lesser urges.


They have little sense of community or civic responsibility. We have an understaffed civic association and I'm the newsletter editor. The same residents who regularly apply for zoning variances are usually the ones who make large (unrelated) demands of the association and don't volunteer any time in return. The demands usually are only of financially benefit to them. They are users, and the law is needed to set boundaries for them.

What demands are they making, and if they're unreasonable, why are they being honored? Do these neighbors make logical arguments for having their demands met, or are they just saying "give it to me"? You think the law is needed to set "boundaries." On what: the demands that they make of the association? Or the usage of their private property?


I was also SURE that the neighborhood you showed photos of could not be so historic, attractive and gracious without zoning. Read through the material. Zoning is just around the corner. It is the ONLY solution for a place like that in todays fast-buck climate.

That doesn't change the fact that the place does exist after not ever having any zoning in place. All regulations set up thus far have only been guidelines that private citizens have formulated, in order to benefit everyone equally from continuing to live in an aesthetically desireable place that has high land values.

I hope the government of Houston doesn't step in, in this case, and negate the reputation of this community as a place where zoning wasn't needed to produce beautiful, desireable results. Today's fast-buck climate is no different than the 1920s, the post-WW2 boom in housing, or any other up-cycle in real estate. Anyone who thinks we will indefinitely continue on this path until new construction has destroyed everything that is old and historic does not know how the real estate market, and the overall economy, operates.

ZippyTheChimp
December 7th, 2006, 07:14 PM
real estate is cyclical, as we've already observed given this recent boom and gradual slow-down;

New York Daily News - http://www.nydailynews.com

Manhattan apt. prices in 6% jump

By SHARON L. CRENSON
BLOOMBERG NEWS
Thursday, December 7th, 2006

There's no housing slump in Manhattan, according to a survey from the Real Estate Board of New York.

The median price of an apartment in the most expensive urban real estate market in the U.S. rose 6% in the third quarter to $767,000, the board said.

"I haven't seen any slump, I've seen the opposite," said Dottie Herman, CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman. "It's a healthy, good market."

Manhattan prices rose even as they declined in the rest of the country. Nationwide, the median price of a previously owned home fell 3.5% in October to $221,000, the biggest year-over-year decline on record, according to the National Association of Realtors, the largest industry trade group.

Wall Street is the prime driver behind the city's real estate market, providing 4.5% of jobs and 19% of workers' pay in New York. This year, the world's top five investment banks are poised to dole out $36 billion in bonuses.

The latest figures contradict an October report by Miller Samuel, the borough's largest appraiser. Its data showed median prices fell 4% to $845,147.

The real estate board's numbers are compiled from a confidential survey of brokers and from public records. The board represents commercial and residential landlords in the city.

The neighborhood with the highest median price per square foot was the East Side, where it was $1,100, a 9% increase. The West Side was close behind at $1,050 per square foot.

There may be no end to rising New York prices thanks to low unemployment, low crime rates and rising population, said Michael Slattery, senior vice president of the real estate board.

Median prices for East Side condos soared 45% in the quarter to $1.35 million. First-time buyers seeking a toe-hold in the surging New York market pushed the median price in northern Manhattan neighborhoods to $558,000, a 60% spike, the board said. Northern Manhattan includes areas such as Washington Heights and Inwood.

The median cost of East Side co-ops rose 13% to $856,000, and downtown the number jumped 20% to $662,000.


Not everyone wants to live 20, 30 floors up in the sky. Many people like having backyards; others like to live in factory lofts. As long as there is a diverse range of consumer preferences (which seems only to be getting more diverse as time goes on), there will be demand for lowrise housing, even in Manhattan.The only houses with backyards that are going to be built in Manhattan in the foreseeable future are multi-million dollar townhouses.

The diversity of housing preferences have one common denominator - all expensive.

ZippyTheChimp
December 7th, 2006, 07:24 PM
More...


December 6, 2006

Manhattan Skyscraper to Be Sold for $1.8 Billion

By CHARLES V. BAGLI

Records are still being broken as fast as they can be set in New York real estate.

Tishman Speyer Properties, the company that bought Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village for $5.4 billion in the biggest real estate deal in the country, has agreed to sell the 41-story skyscraper at 666 Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street for $1.8 billion to a New Jersey real estate family, the Kushners.

The price is more than three times what a group led by Tishman Speyer paid for it only six years ago and the highest price ever paid for a single office building in the United States.

The Kushners, who owns 22,000 apartments and more than 5 million square feet of office and industrial buildings in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, are relatively unknown in Manhattan. But they are making a head-turning splash buying a tower that has served as a symbol of corporate power and elegance since it opened in 1957.

Brooks Brothers has a store on the ground floor. Tenants include high-powered law firms and bankers. At the top of the building is the Grand Havana Room, an exclusive cigar bar that offers stunning views to the politically connected and the fabulously wealthy who are its members.

“This is a great acquisition for our company,” said Jared Kushner, a 25-year-old principal at Kushner Companies, who signed the contract to buy the building on Monday night. “We are upping our presence in Manhattan. It’s a logical expansion for us.”

Mr. Kushner also owns the Puck Building downtown. Earlier this year, Mr. Kushner paid an estimated $10 million for a majority stake in The New York Observer, a weekly newspaper with a small but influential readership in New York’s real estate, political and media circles.

Mr. Kushner’s father, Charles B. Kushner, is a company founder and a newsmaker in his own right. A major Democratic fund-raiser, Charles Kushner was convicted last year of 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations. He was released from prison earlier this year.

Now the Kushners have acquired a major trophy.

“This’ll wind up being the highest price in the country for a single building,” said Dan Fasulo, director of market analysis for Real Capital Analytics, a research and consulting firm. “It’s amazing. But nothing surprises me anymore in this market.”

With vacancy rates low, rents rising and few new buildings coming on line, local and international tycoons, pension funds and other investors have lined up with billions of dollars to buy New York real estate.

The sale of 666 Fifth will surpass the previous record for an office building, which was set last year when Tishman Speyer bought the MetLife Building for $1.72 billion. But if Tishman Speyer bought the MetLife Building for $604 per square foot, the company sold 666 Fifth for twice that, or $1,200 per square foot.

In 2000, Tishman Speyer led a group that bought Rockefeller Center, a commercial and retail complex, for $1.85 billion.

“New York City is the greatest place in the world to own real estate,” said Rob Speyer, a senior managing director at Tishman Speyer. “We’re thrilled with the outcome and wish the Kushners’ great success.”

Mr. Speyer said the partnership that owns 666 Fifth, which includes TMW, a German investment firm that also owns the Chrysler Building in partnership with Tishman Speyer, had planned when it acquired the tower to improve it and then sell it off. He said this deal was unrelated to the partnership that bought Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, a collection of 11,200 apartments in 110 buildings overlooking the East River.

But the Tishman family’s history is intertwined with 666 Fifth. The 1.5-million-square-foot tower was developed by Tishman Realty and Construction and was originally known as the Tishman Building. The firm broke up in 1976 and the building was sold two years later for $80 million. Tishman Speyer and TMW bought it in 2000 for $518 million. They expanded and upgraded the retail portion of the tower and allowed Citigroup to put its corporate logo at the top of the building, for a seven-figure annual rent.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

pianoman11686
December 7th, 2006, 08:23 PM
The diversity of housing preferences have one common denominator - all expensive.

Not true at all. Who were the first people to move into all the abandoned factories and popularize "loft living"? Artists, and young single people. Granted, having a backyard in Manhattan is almost unimagineable these days, but everywhere else, people still have the option whether to live in single family homes, duplexes, highrises, etc. You don't have to be wealthy to have a choice.

As for all those articles: what does it prove? That Manhattan's real estate market is stronger than the rest of the nation's? (which is going down, after a long trend upward) Do you really think that either the Manhattan housing market or commercial market will never see a decline in prices again?

Fabrizio
December 7th, 2006, 08:55 PM
Pianoman you write about Houston heights:

"That doesn't change the fact that the place does exist after not ever having any zoning in place."

But apparently its beauty and charm are threatened. "Guidlines" maybe enough for individual homeowners but apparently not for developers.... they need to follow law.

"I hope the government of Houston doesn't step in, in this case, and negate the reputation of this community as a place where zoning wasn't needed to produce beautiful, desireable results".

Donìt hold your breath.

"Today's fast-buck climate is no different than the 1920s, the post-WW2 boom in housing, or any other up-cycle in real estate."

True... and even back then, a place like Manhattan had zoning laws.... which helped produce abeautiful city.

"Anyone who thinks we will indefinitely continue on this path until new construction has destroyed everything that is old and historic does not know how the real estate market, and the overall economy, operates."

You are just simply wrong. Greenwich Village and Soho for example, would have been destroyed by decree.

The Houston Heights web site mentions:

" An average of 2.4 houses a week in the Heights are being demolished or moved. In ten years, if this continues, we would lose the equivalent of 45 blocks as well as our historic neighborhood character which is a unique asset to Houston and the reason many of us have chosen to live here. "

!0 more years of a healty real-estate climate is certainly feasable. Enough to destroy Houston Heights.

Are you saying they should just be sitting ducks.... and pray for a market turndown to save their neighborhood?

ZippyTheChimp
December 8th, 2006, 05:35 PM
Not true at all. Who were the first people to move into all the abandoned factories and popularize "loft living"? Artists, and young single people.

People moved into these areas because they were abandoned by industry: displaced from SoHo into Tribeca; DUMBO; etc. When developers finally noticed these areas and moved in to develop, they didn't renovate the old factories for affordability. Prices in these areas speak for themselves. And unlike landmarked Tribeca, there is pressure in DUMBO to build tall.


As for all those articles: what does it prove? That Manhattan's real estate market is stronger than the rest of the nation's? (which is going down, after a long trend upward) Do you really think that either the Manhattan housing market or commercial market will never see a decline in prices again?The only way you're going to see housing prices in Manhattan decline is if a major real estate collapse occurs. You don't want to see that, since the city is so dependent on property taxes for revenue.

Our differences here are fundamental. You seem believe that property rights are absolute, and there should be little, if any, public interference. That sort of unfettered capitalism hasn't existed, thankfully, for almost a century.

I agree that zoning rules in many cases are inadequate, and need to be adjusted. There is a mechanism within the rules to change them, like all laws. I believe that power should remain in the public realm, not scrap all controls and leave it up to developers to do the right thing.

What annoys me about debates on zoning is the lament that it is the cause of high prices in Manhattan (now becoming all New York). It's a red herring - sounds noble, but masks the true reason to abolish it.

Make money.


Lofter, the quick answer to your question is: yes. It's your property, therefore you should have the right to do whatever you wish with it, provided it does not cause demonstrable physical harm to others.What are your thoughts on Eminent Domain; do inviolate property rights apply?

pianoman11686
December 8th, 2006, 06:24 PM
People moved into these areas because they were abandoned by industry: displaced from SoHo into Tribeca; DUMBO; etc. When developers finally noticed these areas and moved in to develop, they didn't renovate the old factories for affordability. Prices in these areas speak for themselves. And unlike landmarked Tribeca, there is pressure in DUMBO to build tall.

Maybe they're not affordable now, but I doubt that prices for lofts in these factories were, at the onset, what we consider "expensive" these days. It was a relatively new concept in urban living. It has since gained immense popularity, and with it, developers can charge higher prices. At the same time, other types of housing aren't as desireable anymore. Much of the older housing stock on the upper East Side, for example, is not as expensive, relative to the rest of the Manhattan market, as it used to be. The Upper West Side and Soho/Tribeca have taken over as the priciest districts.


The only way you're going to see housing prices in Manhattan decline is if a major real estate collapse occurs. You don't want to see that, since the city is so dependent on property taxes for revenue.

We're not talking about what we want/don't want to see, and what is beneficial/harmful to the city. There have been upswings in real estate before, and I'm sure people thought they would go on indefinitely. History has shown us differently, and I see no reason for it not to repeat itself.


Our differences here are fundamental. You seem believe that property rights are absolute, and there should be little, if any, public interference. That sort of unfettered capitalism hasn't existed, thankfully, for almost a century.

Yes, the difference in opinion is definitely fundamental, and won't be reconciled by taking up isolated examples. Let me clarify my stance: I think property rights are (should be) absolute, unless there is demonstrable harm caused to others by someone's misuse of them. I also believe that politicians should not be involved in or appoint who they see fit to involve themselves in land use decisions. It should be left up to the property owner with any disputes about possible harmful effects to the neighbors left to the courts.


What annoys me about debates on zoning is the lament that it is the cause of high prices in Manhattan (now becoming all New York). It's a red herring - sounds noble, but masks the true reason to abolish it.

Make money.

And is that necessarily a bad thing? By easing restrictions, you effectively encourage more people to enter the industry (something called "barriers to entry"). I think we can agree that there would be more development in such a case. The fact that some people will make money off of that shouldn't be a reason to oppose it. And, let's not forget that whole political corruption argument. You take the politicians out of the process, and you level the playing field. No one gets any favors anymore.


What are your thoughts on Eminent Domain; do inviolate property rights apply?

I used to be for eminent domain in certain cases. Just reading the thread about Atlantic Yards, I've come to the decision that it should be illegal, except in the rarest of cases where it is obvious the government should take over the land because of harms being caused to people living nearby (e.g. a contaminated industrial site).

Those people holding out for Atlantic Yards should not have their property seized. They have every right not to sell, as it is theirs and only theirs. The government should not presume to know what is in the best interest of the public good, and use that as justification to force individuals to sacrifice.

On the other hand, I still think that a lot of the opposition to Ratner is illogical and unjustified. If Goldstein et al. are holding out because they don't think Ratner should have a right to build tall, cast shadows, etc., then they're wrong, in my opinion. If they're holding out because he's getting government subsidies, I don't agree with them on that either; while it shouldn't be the government's place to dole out subsidies, you cannot fault a businessman for taking advantage of them to ensure his investment has a higher chance of success.

If, and only if, the decision not to sell is done on the grounds that it is their property, and they refuse to give up their rights to the government based solely on principle, then I applaud their decision.

pianoman11686
December 8th, 2006, 06:48 PM
You are just simply wrong. Greenwich Village and Soho for example, would have been destroyed by decree.

By decree...you mean the Lower Manhattan Expressway? That's a government thing (and equally unjustified, in my opinion).


Are you saying they should just be sitting ducks.... and pray for a market turndown to save their neighborhood?

I'm saying that I don't want government making it illegal for someone to put up a house just because it doesn't look like it's 100 years old. It shouldn't be their prerogative.

Out of all the people that are fighting for preservation (and it seems like there's a good bunch), you already know that a sizeable chunk of the historic houses will remain. If it's really that important to some of these individuals to stop a particular house from being torn down, why don't they raise the funds to buy it and preserve it? God knows, they'll probably be losing a lot of money as is on lawyers to get the government involved and hammer out all the regulations, as well as all the lost time spent organizing everything. On the other hand, maybe if they acquire it, and fix it up really nice, they can sell it to someone looking for an authentic, historic home who's willing to pay big bucks. In the meantime, they'll make some money, and perhaps put it aside into a community fund that they can tap into when a new threat comes along.

Another possibility: it's been mentioned on their website that the government may not want to enact the new law because it would mean less tax revenue for them. So, if the government's going to lose money anyway, why don't the residents convince it to buy up some of these historic properties, and keep the tax revenues by allowing development to continue as is.

All I'm saying is, there are other means to tackle a problem in a way that benefits everybody, and doesn't punish someone just because others don't like what you're doing with your property. Currently, people just accept that they can turn to the government to outlaw certain things, if it's in their interest to do so. It's also the easiest way out, usually. I'm challenging that notion, and saying it shouldn't have to work that way.

ZippyTheChimp
December 9th, 2006, 07:22 PM
You seem to be ignoring my main objection with the premise presented in this thread: The elimination of NYC zoning law will create substantially more affordable housing in New York (especially Manhattan).
I've reposted comments in order:


And finally, there's the fundamental concept of differing consumer tastes. Not everyone wants to live 20, 30 floors up in the sky. Many people like having backyards; others like to live in factory lofts. As long as there is a diverse range of consumer preferences (which seems only to be getting more diverse as time goes on), there will be demand for lowrise housing, even in Manhattan.


The only houses with backyards that are going to be built in Manhattan in the foreseeable future are multi-million dollar townhouses.

The diversity of housing preferences have one common denominator - all expensive.


Not true at all. Who were the first people to move into all the abandoned factories and popularize "loft living"? Artists, and young single people. Granted, having a backyard in Manhattan is almost unimagineable these days, but everywhere else, people still have the option whether to live in single family homes, duplexes, highrises, etc. You don't have to be wealthy to have a choice.


People moved into these areas because they were abandoned by industry: displaced from SoHo into Tribeca; DUMBO; etc. When developers finally noticed these areas and moved in to develop, they didn't renovate the old factories for affordability. Prices in these areas speak for themselves. And unlike landmarked Tribeca, there is pressure in DUMBO to build tall.


Maybe they're not affordable now, but I doubt that prices for lofts in these factories were, at the onset, what we consider "expensive" these days. It was a relatively new concept in urban living. It has since gained immense popularity, and with it, developers can charge higher prices. At the same time, other types of housing aren't as desireable anymore. Much of the older housing stock on the upper East Side, for example, is not as expensive, relative to the rest of the Manhattan market, as it used to be. The Upper West Side and Soho/Tribeca have taken over as the priciest districts.


What annoys me about debates on zoning is the lament that it is the cause of high prices in Manhattan (now becoming all New York). It's a red herring - sounds noble, but masks the true reason to abolish it.

Make money.


And is that necessarily a bad thing? By easing restrictions, you effectively encourage more people to enter the industry (something called "barriers to entry"). I think we can agree that there would be more development in such a case. The fact that some people will make money off of that shouldn't be a reason to oppose it.

Since we are talking about the elimination of zoning and its effect on development, your example of abandoned factory and commercial space is not valid. That was existing space. In a no-zoning environment, if a developer chooses to renovate one of these buildings, they would do exactly what they are doing now - create upscale housing. That these buildings once contained affordable housing has nothing to do with real-estate price cycles. They were cheap because the neighborhoods were abandoned; they will only be cheap if happens again.

There is nothing wrong with making money. But that should be the argument, not a packaged trickle down for the public good rationale about affordable housing. Making money - ROI. Investors will demand the maximum. That means bigger buildings everywhere.

pianoman11686
December 9th, 2006, 08:38 PM
Since we are talking about the elimination of zoning and its effect on development, your example of abandoned factory and commercial space is not valid. That was existing space. In a no-zoning environment, if a developer chooses to renovate one of these buildings, they would do exactly what they are doing now - create upscale housing. That these buildings once contained affordable housing has nothing to do with real-estate price cycles. They were cheap because the neighborhoods were abandoned; they will only be cheap if happens again.

Zippy, my point concerning the usage of abandoned factories as housing was meant to highlight the importance of diverse tastes. My hope in doing so was to refute the quick conclusion that many people would make, upon hearing that zoning has been eliminated, namely: all of Manhattan will look identical. Now, since this particular taste in housing has become popular and, for the most part, upscale, you say that it doesn't fit into the affordability argument, which is a whole different concern. My response to that is: it does, insofar as there are no restrictions on development (whether that be totally new construction or reuse/readaptation of the old) to meet the demand. If it can do so, the upward pressure on prices will relax, and wages will eventually catch up to the point where the development is more affordable.


There is nothing wrong with making money. But that should be the argument, not a packaged trickle down for the public good rationale about affordable housing. Making money - ROI. Investors will demand the maximum. That means bigger buildings everywhere.

I think what you're saying here is that I shouldn't use affordability as a reason to further my position. My core reason for being against it, however, is based on principle. The fact that stricter zoning leads to higher prices is just another thing to take into consideration when debating the pros and cons.

Not sure what connection you're trying to draw between lack of affordable housing and bigger buildings. It is projected that the city will have to accommodate one million extra residents within 20 years. What percentage of those will be able to pay for luxury housing? Developers won't stop building just because the ROI for non-luxury housing is lower when the alternative is to build nothing.

Fabrizio
December 10th, 2006, 05:31 AM
"My hope in doing so was to refute the quick conclusion that many people would make, upon hearing that zoning has been eliminated, namely: all of Manhattan will look identical."

One thing for sure it would be extremely ugly. Everyone could do what ever they want with their property. It sounds so incredibly piggish, selfish. A nightmare. Third worldish.

Democracy is not anarchy.

Now, lets think about it. Tommorrow NYC has no zoning laws. Everyone can do WHAT EVERR they want with their property. No limits.

What WOULD the city look like? Lets write the scenario...

lofter1
December 10th, 2006, 10:27 AM
You really must consider the ramifications of No Zoning in situations where the owner of a property does not reside there ...

Sure, if someone buys a beautiful townhouse on a block of similar buildings and chooses to live in that building then it is much more likely that the owner will maintain and preserve the original building.

However if the owner is a speculator then it is much more likely that the property will become nothing more than a money generator -- in which case the townhouse would come down and be replaced with something new and bigger in order to generate more cash. This would inevitably impact the properties in the immediate vicinity -- and others would seek to maximize profits in similar ways. Buy-outs of resident owners would follow (few would resist the offers -- particularly if their backyard garden now was shadowed by a new 30-story neighbor).

It really comes down to the question: Does the city exist ONLY to generate capital -- or are there other equally important issues that make a city liveable in the best sense.

pianoman11686
December 10th, 2006, 02:58 PM
That's a good question, lofter - and it gets to the heart of what we're debating. I can't predict the extent of the types of changes that would happen if we got rid of zoning. But what I can say is that preservation shouldn't have to be a lost cause in that scenario. Suppose you're one of those people who owns a historic townhouse, and doesn't want to see it destroyed, ever. Suppose also that you have to move out of it, for one reason or another, and must sell it. Couldn't you draft a contract with the potential buyer that stipulates, in one way or another, that you are not selling full ownership of the property? Perhaps you agree to sell only 95% of it, and maintain ownership of 5% of the ground and everything that is built directly above it. Then, the owner would not be able to tear it down, and you'd only sell it to someone who was interested in living in the structure as is.

I don't know how plausible that is, but it's just a thought. For something that people value so much, and in many cases it's the wealthy that lead these preservation efforts, I can't just admit that any and all historic structures would be fair game for demolition in a no-zoning system. Perhaps we'd have to amend certain parts of the new system, to in some way "grandfather in" those structures that are most valuable to society as a whole. I know this has been done on several occasions, even in New York, concerning department stores that, when built, were larger than recent zoning restrictions allow.

And Fabrizio: democracy isn't anarchy, but we're not really talking about democracy here. If we were, then you wouldn't mind if the public voted in a referendum (like the one in Oregon) about the issue. Democracy is about people making the rules, not about some local politicians appointing unknown "experts," through unknown processes, to declare certain types of building illegal here, and other types illegal there. The process just seems too ad-hoc for me. And because as a society, we value property rights so highly, there's just something very un-democratic about the current system.

Fabrizio
December 10th, 2006, 04:06 PM
"And because as a society, we value property rights so highly, "

I believe that society values zoning highly.

"...it's the wealthy that lead these preservation efforts, I can't just admit that any and all historic structures would be fair game for demolition in a no-zoning system."

No pianoman, in a no-zoning system ALL historic structures are fair game for demolition.... by definition: "no zoning".

Also: the point isnt always about individual buildings. Historic districts are made of GROUPS of buildings. Charming, intimate streetscapes. It is a built environment but it is as delicate as a marsh is in the natural world.

In your world, Beacon Hill, Greenwich Village, Georgetown, Society Hill, etc. would be shadows of themselves.

---------
Zoning and preservation are a mark of civilized society:
http://www.nationaltrust.org/advocacy/

pianoman11686
December 10th, 2006, 05:03 PM
Some interesting points made in this book review:

Some years ago, I was asked by the editor of a regional magazine in New England to research a small piece of social history, that of a single, older house in Boston and all the families who had ever lived in it. The assignment turned out to be a captivating one for a number of reasons. The house I chose turned out to have been caught in successive waves of socioeconomic and ethnic change in ways that made those perennial dynamics of urban neighborhoods come to life.

Among the most significant revelations to emerge from the research about that one house in the city’s Dorchester district was how the small neighborhood around it had been shaped in the mid- to late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Developers seeking to create an upper-middle-class enclave on Mount Bowdoin, a hill south of the central city, used a wide range of devices. Deeds included prohibitions against “grog shops” and industrial uses. Once the homes were built, neighbors formed private associations to develop a neighborhood “reading room”—a private library. When one house became a neighborhood nuisance, the same neighbors’ group purchased it and devised ways to recruit a respectable buyer. All of which meant that, in an era before professional urban planners and the municipal power to specify which sorts of buildings should be built where—the power called zoning—cities had ways to manage rather well. Private agreements and voluntary associations combined to create pleasant residential districts and quasi-public amenities.

Obviously, then, the virtual ubiquity of zoning in American cities, suburbs, and even developing rural areas does not necessarily imply that without it the places in which we live would be a chaotic mishmash of dreaded “mixed uses.” There is even reason to believe that cities organized differently might provide better for their residents. That idea has been among the central propositions espoused by the distinguished University of San Diego law professor Bernard Siegan, both in his classic 1972 book Land Use without Zoning and now, again, in his latest work, Property and Freedom: The Constitution, the Courts, and Land-Use Regulation.

In his new book Siegan builds on his earlier work, which sketched the ways and means by which complex metropolitan areas can function without zoning, using the still-unzoned Houston as his case in point. Property and Freedom combines a review of key Supreme Court decisions of the past twenty years and an extended comparison of housing costs in comparable zoned and unzoned cities. Together, these observations provide the basis for Siegan’s core arguments: that those who believe that land-use regulation can amount to a state taking of development rights without adequate compensation can find new support in underappreciated recent court decisions; and that forgoing zoning can be a benefit, not a curse.

As a legal scholar, Siegan is, in effect, providing a road map of precedents for those who would seek to put chinks in the armor of the zoning that surrounds development in the United States today. A series of Supreme Court decisions beginning in 1987, he asserts, has greatly strengthened the hand of those who would view land-use legislation as an uncompensated legal taking, barred by the Fifth Amendment. Based in the Court’s rulings in cases such as that of a South Carolina shoreline-property owner effectively denied the right to do anything (except, perhaps, pitch a tent) on his beachfront and that of an Oregon plumbing-supply store owner denied the right to expand unless she dedicated part of her land to a public bike path, Siegan charts the Court’s application of so-called “intermediate scrutiny”—not the “strict scrutiny” of race-based claims but a heightened level of judicial scrutiny nonetheless and one greater than “minimal scrutiny.”

“As a result of [these] land-use decisions,” writes Siegan, “protection of the property right now enjoys very respectable stature at the nation’s highest court” (p. 113). Effectively, he is urging on others who believe they can show, among other things, that high-minded language about the public interest, used to justify land-use law, may actually mask private interests—including the transfer of benefits from an owner to a community or to those with other plans for the land, without payment. “Legislatures,” he writes, “must show justification for imposing restraints and must not act to bar liberty solely as a matter of preference. Their purpose must be to serve a public and not a private interest” (p. 115). Just because some people prefer their recreation in the form of bike-riding (as I, for one, do) does not mean that activity constitutes a public purpose.

A key payoff of fewer restrictions on land development, Siegan implies, is less expensive housing, a proposition he seeks to establish through a comparison of costs in unzoned Houston and conventionally zoned Dallas. Moreover, says Siegan, such costs are merely a symptom of a generally suboptimal allocation of land to which zoning—largely because it inevitably becomes politicized at the local level—is likely to lead.

“Public land-use planning in a democratic society is doomed to failure,” he writes. “[It] implies an orderly, rational process designed to best use the land for the present generation and for future generations. It also implies that there are experts in planning who know how to manage resources to achieve these goals” (p. 184). Planners, he asserts, are likely to seek to codify their own values, and, worse still, elected officials may favor cronies. Zoning, in other words, creates a vehicle susceptible to corruption, while stifling the natural adaptability of living, breathing cities and their myriad individual plans and dreams. (On Boston’s Mount Bowdoin, for example, owners of large, older, nineteenth-century homes were barred by regulation from easily converting them to multifamily use. The result was abandonment and sharp neighborhood decline.)

One wishes that, rather than being mentioned in passing, such argument had formed the heart of the book. Siegan—unless he views his audience as primarily one of legal practitioners—provides too much detail about the evolution of court decisions and neglects to weave the public-policy argument that follows from his detail. Zoning, such a policy argument might have said, is more subject to legal challenge than it has been since it was first judicially sanctioned in 1926. Such a challenge would be a good thing because of the injury zoning causes to specific private interests (in a way that affronts constitutional protection) and the ill effects it has on the general interest, even though it seems, at times, to offer protection. Further—one can again infer from Siegan, although he does not develop the theme—zoning can be safely replaced by a system of private agreements that will protect and serve the general public. Putting these arguments front and center would have forced Siegan to confront complications he avoids: zoning appears to be popular (Houston’s fascinating votes against it notwithstanding), for example, and few municipalities seriously entertain the idea of giving it up.

Bernard Siegan has provided the raw material to support a full-bore rejoinder to conventional planning wisdom. However, he does not make an integrated historical and legal policy argument himself. One wishes he had done so. The need, as he well demonstrates, is great.

http://www.independent.org/publications/tir/article.asp?issueID=28&articleID=344

pianoman11686
December 10th, 2006, 05:08 PM
I believe that society values zoning highly.

More highly than private property rights?


No pianoman, in a no-zoning system ALL historic structures are fair game for demolition.... by definition: "no zoning".

There's a difference between saying "fair game" with no qualifications, as you do, and the way I use it in the context of that post.


Also: the point isnt always about individual buildings. Historic districts are made of GROUPS of buildings. Charming, intimate streetscapes. It is a built environment but it is as delicate as a marsh is in the natural world.

In your world, Beacon Hill, Greenwich Village, Georgetown, Society Hill, etc. would be shadows of themselves.

But what you fail to mention is that historic districts tend to incorporate many unremarkable buildings just because they're surrounded by others that are more historic and valuable. In my estimation, that is an even graver violation of property rights. In essence, you're saying to someone: "Because your building is close to these other ones, and because we think they're so valuable, you cannot demolish it or put up something new that would look radically different." Not only is the owner not responsible for the property around him, he's also stripped of his responsibility for his own property because of that.

Is that a "civilized" attitude?

Fabrizio
December 10th, 2006, 05:38 PM
Pianoman you write:

"There's a difference between saying "fair game" with no qualifications, as you do, and the way I use it in the context of that post."

In an earlier post you stated:

"As long as someone is not infringing on another person's private property, or causing them physical harm in anyway, then they're not doing anything wrong."

"As long as there is no direct harm being done to me, it's none of my business. If I don't like it, I can always go live in the middle of an open field somewhere, where there's no one to annoy me."

Are you now making qualifications?

-----------

Bernard Seigan? No thanks.

About Seigan:

Bernard Siegan, 81, Legal Scholar and Reagan Nominee, Dies
By MARGALIT FOX

Published: April 1, 2006

Bernard H. Siegan, a conservative legal scholar whose unsuccessful nomination to a federal appellate judgeship was one of the most bitterly disputed judicial nominations of the Reagan era, died on Monday in Encinitas, Calif. He was 81 and lived in San Diego.

The cause was complications of a stroke he had last year, his wife, Shelley, said.

At his death, Professor Siegan was a distinguished professor of law at the University of San Diego, where he had taught for more than 30 years.

In early 1987, President Ronald Reagan nominated Professor Siegan to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which comprises nine Western states, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. In July 1988, after nearly a year and a half in which Professor Siegan was publicly denounced by liberals and also by some conservatives, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination.

Professor Siegan was best known for his ardent libertarian views on economic matters, and on property rights in particular. In his many books and articles, he maintained that the Constitution protected what he called the "economic liberties" of individuals. The courts, he argued, should return to their pre-New Deal stance of enforcing such liberties.

Though Professor Siegan had his defenders, some conservatives considered his views extreme, seeing him as a "judicial activist" who thought the courts should invalidate much of the economic and social legislation of the modern era.

Judge Robert H. Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected by the Senate in 1987, had cautioned in a 1985 speech that Professor Siegan's economic ideas could engender "a massive shift away from democracy and toward judicial rule."

Testifying before the Judiciary Committee, Professor Siegan maintained that if appointed, he would uphold the legal precedents set by the Supreme Court, regardless of his personal views.

On July 14, 1988, the committee rejected Professor Siegan by a vote of 8 to 6, along party lines. Of the 340 judicial nominations made by President Reagan until then, Professor Siegan's was only the second to be defeated in the committee.

lofter1
December 10th, 2006, 06:01 PM
... historic districts tend to incorporate many unremarkable buildings just because they're surrounded by others that are more historic and valuable. In my estimation, that is an even graver violation of property rights. In essence, you're saying to someone: "Because your building is close to these other ones, and because we think they're so valuable, you cannot demolish it or put up something new that would look radically different."

While that might be the case in some Historic Districts you'll find that this is not necessarily the case in NYC.

At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader for LPC ...

Setting aside situations like 980 Madison (where the argument IMO really is more about height & bulk than modernism v. "historic") you'll find many instances where LPC has OK'd modern contextual non-"historic" buildings within Landmarked Districts.

New buildings going up in both Tribeca & SoHo show this to be the case -- many of which are on lots where previously there were "non-contributing" POS-type buildings that have been torn down.

Similarly LPC OKs on a fairly regular basis roof-top additions to existing buildings -- thus allowing owners of properties to increase the value of their property.

Outside of NYC there are many communities which have covenants written into the local regulations and which require certain design features -- San Clemente, a beach town in Southern California, for a long time required that all buildings have ceramic tiled roofs, which were deemed "historically accurate" while at the same time addressed the on-going fire danger problem in that area (a coastal canyon community subject to fierce Santa Ana winds). I believe that newer technology for roofing materials have led them to alter the prior requirements beyond the original red ceramic tiles that were previously the norm in that area.

Interestingly California voters DEFEATED (http://www.almanacnews.com/story.php?story_id=3077) a referendum this past November regarding zoning / eminent domain:

Proposition 90, an initiative to reform eminent domain law that opponents said would have had devastating impacts on local land-use authority, was defeated Tuesday by California voters.

pianoman11686
December 10th, 2006, 06:51 PM
Pianoman you write:

"There's a difference between saying "fair game" with no qualifications, as you do, and the way I use it in the context of that post."

In an earlier post you stated:

"As long as someone is not infringing on another person's private property, or causing them physical harm in anyway, then they're not doing anything wrong."

"As long as there is no direct harm being done to me, it's none of my business. If I don't like it, I can always go live in the middle of an open field somewhere, where there's no one to annoy me."

Are you now making qualifications?

I refer you again to the context of the post, which suggested that the people who most value preservation would not allow certain valuable historic structures to be demolished. This is in no way a "qualification" that suggests it would be illegal to do so.

And your basis for blindly rejecting the value of Seigan's arguments is...?

Fabrizio
December 10th, 2006, 07:09 PM
"....which suggested that the people who most value preservation would not allow certain valuable historic structures to be demolished."

Pianoman: people who most value preservation ALREADY have a hard time protecting valuable buildings and historic districts...imagine without zoning in place.

Next, I think you should really consider the POPULARITY that zoning has with the public.

Have there been any popular, successful grass-roots movements to eliminate zoning that you can tell us about?

-------

"And your basis for blindly rejecting the value of Seigan's arguments is...?"

And your basis for blindly accepting them?

As far as I am concerned, the following will do:

- "publicly denounced by liberals and also by some conservatives...."

- "best known for his ardent libertarian views"

- "The courts, he argued, should return to their pre-New Deal stance ...."

- "some conservatives considered his views extreme, seeing him as a "judicial activist" who thought the courts should invalidate much of the economic and social legislation of the modern era."

- "Judge Robert H. Bork,...(....).... cautioned in a 1985 speech that Professor Siegan's economic ideas could engender "a massive shift away from democracy and toward judicial rule."

Nuff said.

ZippyTheChimp
December 10th, 2006, 07:56 PM
My core reason for being against it, however, is based on principle.

OK, let's talk about the principle of property rights.

What do we do about landmarked buildings?

Chrysler, Woolworth, the ESB are private property. Penn Station was private property, as was Singer.

The same property rights argument can be made. Landmark laws are passed by government restricting property use. I guess we'll have to scrap them too - on principle, and hope that the owner doesn't go into debt and a developer doesn't come along with a good offer for the land.

No thanks. If zoning laws are inadequate, I'd just change them as needed, rather than free-wheel city planning to justify a principle that hasn't existed since Americans moved off farms.

Here is a practical example (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4782) of a zoning problem.

The proposed building is comparable in bulk to the building across the street, but the lot is zoned lower. Although parts of this neighborhood have been upzoned, this lot has not. No one is going to build a six story building here, so the developer sought a variance. The solution is obvious, allows development as of right, and keeps control with the public.

In your model on principle, all zoning is removed. I own the property. The developer offers to buy it for his 9 story building. A day later, another developer offers me three times as much for his 40 story building. Who will I sell it to?

We're not talking about selling the house I grew up in after my mother died; its a garage.

pianoman11686
December 10th, 2006, 08:59 PM
Pianoman: people who most value preservation ALREADY have a hard time protecting valuable buildings and historic districts...imagine without zoning in place.

They have a hard time because everything is up for grabs; any new building proposed in any historic district, or any developer that considers demolishing a building that would be considered landmark-worthy, is a new battle for preservationists to fight. Yet, many times the opposition is selfishly-motivated: "don't block my light, don't obscure my views, don't make me have to walk by this new building everyday and have to curse you for building it out of context with the neighborhood." Getting rid of zoning would eliminate such frivolous opposition, and help to focus the attention of the true preservationists on the most important buildings to preserve. And by that, I don't mean bringing the case to court and asking for a stop-work order; I mean, raising the funds to buy the property and maintain it. We already know the money exists: a bunch of people raised $100 million to buy an old elevated railway that they saw as worth preserving.


Next, I think you should really consider the POPULARITY that zoning has with the public.

Have there been any popular, successful grass-roots movements to eliminate zoning that you can tell us about?

I don't know, Fabrizio. There's that referendum in Oregon that lofter posted about, as well as the ongoing debate in Houston. My guess is that anti-zoning movements are uncommon because society accepts zoning as a good, and looks down on the greed of developers. It's just not politically correct to champion money these days.


And your basis for blindly accepting them?

He was an accomplished academic who was an expert in his field. I don't think we have to question his qualifications at all. You may disagree with his viewpoint, but when a debate takes place about an issue such as this, you want to consider the best-educated viewpoints of both sides. Oh, and for the record: I posted the article because I found it reiterated many of the arguments I had already put forth in this thread.


As far as I am concerned, the following will do:

- "publicly denounced by liberals and also by some conservatives...."

- "best known for his ardent libertarian views"

- "The courts, he argued, should return to their pre-New Deal stance ...."

- "some conservatives considered his views extreme, seeing him as a "judicial activist" who thought the courts should invalidate much of the economic and social legislation of the modern era."

- "Judge Robert H. Bork,...(....).... cautioned in a 1985 speech that Professor Siegan's economic ideas could engender "a massive shift away from democracy and toward judicial rule."

Nuff said.

The problem with using all those reasons to reject his ideas is that you're going on subjective views that will be inherently biased. Do you ever examine someone's argument without taking into account where it fits in on the political spectrum? I find it usually discourages the type of critical thinking that is necessary to fully understand someone's ideas. Judge them on what you think is their merit, not on what others think.

As an example, could you guess if I'm a Republican or a Democrat? If you guessed either, you'd be wrong. If I vote, I do it based on how much I agree with someone's ideas, not whether their tie color is blue or red. Sometimes I'll lean Democrat, other times, Republican. The point is: don't let your predetermined political leanings obscure the value of someone's opinion, just because they seem "too liberal" or "too conservative" for you.

pianoman11686
December 10th, 2006, 09:34 PM
No thanks. If zoning laws are inadequate, I'd just change them as needed, rather than free-wheel city planning to justify a principle that hasn't existed since Americans moved off farms.

With all due respect, that "principle" existed a good deal of time into the urbanization of America. New York was the first to adopt zoning, and that was only 90 years ago.

You bring up landmarks as a reason to keep zoning. But given how few landmarks there are on the level of ESB or Chrysler, I don't see that as a justification. You'd be making a decision based on the marginal benefit of preserving a single building, when there are an infinite number of others. Besides, how often does any tall building, no matter how historic, get torn down and replaced? It's just not economically feasible.


Here is a practical example (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4782) of a zoning problem.

The proposed building is comparable in bulk to the building across the street, but the lot is zoned lower. Although parts of this neighborhood have been upzoned, this lot has not. No one is going to build a six story building here, so the developer sought a variance. The solution is obvious, allows development as of right, and keeps control with the public.

In your model on principle, all zoning is removed. I own the property. The developer offers to buy it for his 9 story building. A day later, another developer offers me three times as much for his 40 story building. Who will I sell it to?

We're not talking about selling the house I grew up in after my mother died; its a garage.

And...don't you find the preservation battle over that "garage" was just a little ridiculous? The community was nitpicking about every little detail; I'm surprised the developer had the wherewithall to see it through.

If you don't mind, I'd like to know exactly what you'd change about zoning, since you've given indications that you'd be in favor of doing so. We've already covered variances. Anything else?

lofter1
December 10th, 2006, 11:40 PM
Pianoman, to reduce the great buildings of NYC to the two that you listed really shows a lack of understanding of the urban fabric that makes NYC a great city.

If you really believe that SoHo, Tribeca, Greenwich Village and any other number of neighborhoods would have retained their current character during the building boom of the last 15 years without Landmark regulations then I don't know what more to say.

Fabrizio
December 11th, 2006, 02:02 AM
I have to agree. Preservation especially in a city like NYC is not just about a few masterpiece buildings. Its about entire neighborhoods. Streetscapes. It IS an "urban fabric". An environment.

No one in their right mind would want to see a 50 story building on MacDougal Street. But imagine how many developers would jump at the chance if they could. Swaths of the city would become Yorkville over night.

Who wants that?

ZippyTheChimp
December 11th, 2006, 07:21 AM
With all due respect, that "principle" existed a good deal of time into the urbanization of America. New York was the first to adopt zoning, and that was only 90 years ago.
Zoning laws were not the first intrusion by government into property rights.


You bring up landmarks as a reason to keep zoning.No I didn't.

I brought it up to show that if you are going to use the principle of property rights, it has to be consistently applied for all types of violations. In that view, zoning is no different than landmarking. Or a local ordinance stating I can't put a billboard on my roof - all must be abolished.


But given how few landmarks there are on the level of ESB or Chrysler, I don't see that as a justification. You'd be making a decision based on the marginal benefit of preserving a single building, when there are an infinite number of others.So you'd be OK with it being torn down?


Besides, how often does any tall building, no matter how historic, get torn down and replaced? It's just not economically feasible.Not a valid legal argument for removing a law.


And...don't you find the preservation battle over that "garage" was just a little ridiculous? The community was nitpicking about every little detail; I'm surprised the developer had the wherewithall to see it through.
As I've stated repeatedly in this thread, the actions of community groups would not be stopped by the elimination of zoning rules. Most of the objections involve buildings that already meet current zoning limits.


If you don't mind, I'd like to know exactly what you'd change about zoning, since you've given indications that you'd be in favor of doing so. We've already covered variances. Anything else?I wouldn't change anything "about" zoning. The neighborhood I cited needs to be upzoned. You can adjust numbers (turn a C4 into a C3 or C5) within the framework of zoning law. It was done in part of that neighborhood. If taller buildings are needed in the CBDs, upzone those areas, but don't allow this to happen anywhere in the city by removing all control.

What is noteworthy to me is that three of the cities I regard as among the best urban places in the US - NY, Boston, and SF - have the most restrictive zoning rules.

Punzie
December 11th, 2006, 08:46 AM
You think that attitudes won't change if, all of a sudden, your neighbors aren't faced with (what I think to be) overly stringent regulations on what they can do with their private property. People have a tendency to react differently when they are no longer facing the threat of force in making their decisions, and at least some times, the outcome is beneficial and is something the law itself cannot produce.

It has occured to me that you may not be familiar with a demographic situation in some parts of the New York Metro area: immigrants from countries where the values and mindsets are opposite from what is required for rational self-interest to succeed. About one-third of the new homeowners in my area are such immigrants. They brought with them their money and their mindsets.

Their culture is not a trusting one; when somebody offers to help them or their children, they wonder what the hidden agenda is. They think that anybody who wants to make a deal with them is out to cheat them. Their interpretation of the word "compromise" equates to "weakness" and "sissy-ness". It is a dog-eat-dog, win-lose mentality.

Their culture has been around for many more centuries than ours has. If they change, it will take years, and it will most likely be through their children. In the mean time, with compromise not an option for them, I feel that they have to play by the (zoning) rules of the game.

_______

I repeat, the immigrants who are unwilling to negotiate come from only a few specific cultures. Immigrants from everywhere else don't pose any more of a problem with negotiation than the average American.

infoshare
December 11th, 2006, 11:40 AM
They brought with them their money and their mindsets.

You have raised an interesting issue here. And pardon me if it is a be off topic. It is becoming increasingly clear to me that our various disputes (here at nywired & at large) are often not due to "matters of fact": because factual disputes are often easily resolved by simply presenting the relevant evidence/facts. What is nice about factual disputes is that they can (and often do) end with an "agreement" about who was right or wrong - and what exactly was true or false.

On the other hand there are (as you say Rapunzel) the different: "mindsets", attitudes, value judgments. The dispute in this case of "mindsets" is not a matter of right/wrong or true /false. Each of you have your own "point-of-view"; your own frame-of-reference. In a word - you are BOTH right.

But, then again: that just my point-of-view.:confused:

Ninjahedge
December 11th, 2006, 12:03 PM
I think I agree more with Zip than Piano looking at it in a factual manner.

1. Fact: There is no proof o guarantee that NYC will have lower housing rates if zoning is removed.

2. Fact: Some buildings and areas WILL experience a substantial change in their composition due to removal of zoning.

3. Fact: Contractors, for the most part, are in it for as much money as they can get. Come to Hoboken if you want proof.

I think the main contension that Zippy has is that he agrees that some of teh zoning regulations may be alittle restrictive for builders to do what may be needed for the city, but trying to tie it directly into thnigs like affordable housing is not a valid argument.

You can say it MIGHT do this or that, but saying that elimination will somehow benefit everyone is not a fair assessment.

One final thing I noticed in my fly-by of some of the lengthier posts. Piano, you keep saying that people should not be allowed to do things that would harm their neighbors, but that is rather subjective and also one of the root reasons for Zoning in the first place.

What you define as hurting or intrusive may be different than what the neighborhood would define as the same category, but who would decide? If enough people on the block could be "encouraged" to approve of a high-rise except for the person living right next to where it would be going, would that be fair?

What about the height limitations? Curb Standoffs? What if you got, like in Hoboken, the "Great Wall of the Hudson" where buildings 10-20 stories higher than the ones right behind them are being built all along the riverside blocking its view for every person in the entire town?

Revisions of zoning limits may be warranted in some areas, but their elimination would not do much good. I think the process needs to be revised to allow for more mutability and less graft, but aside from that, its elimination would only let the vultures take what they could before leaving the scraps for the rest of us.

Fabrizio
December 12th, 2006, 05:06 AM
From todays NYTimes:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/12/world/americas/12paulo.html?hp&ex=1165986000&en=51a8806c54579701&ei=5094&partner=homepage

Note the phrase: "Popular reaction has largely been supportive."


Săo Paulo Journal:
Streets Are Paved With Neon’s Glare, and City Calls a Halt

By LARRY ROHTER

Published: December 12, 2006

SĂO PAULO, Brazil — Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards, no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling along the bottom. Come the new year, this city of 11 million, overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to press the “delete all” button and offer its residents an unimpeded view of their surroundings.

Buildings in the historic center of downtown Săo Paulo are covered with billboards. They will be banned as of Jan. 1, when a city law takes effect.
But in proposing to transform the landscape, officials have unleashed debate and brought into conflict sharply differing conceptions of what this city, South America’s largest and most prosperous, should be.

City planners, architects and environmental advocates have argued enthusiastically that the prohibition, through a new “clean city” law, brings Săo Paulo a welcome step closer to an imagined urban ideal.

The law is “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash,” Roberto Pompeu de Toledo, a columnist and author of a history of Săo Paulo, wrote recently in the weekly newsmagazine Veja. “For once in life, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

Advertising and business groups, though, regard the legislation as injurious to society and an affront to their professions. They say that free expression will be inhibited, jobs lost and consumers less informed in their purchasing decisions, and even that streets will be less safe at night with the loss of illumination from signs.

“This is a radical law that damages the rules of a market economy and respect for the rule of law,” said Marcel Solimeo, chief economist of the 32,000-member Commercial Association of Săo Paulo. “We live in a consumer society, and the essence of capitalism is the availability of information about products.”

The most visible impact promises to be at eye level and above. The outsized billboards and screens that dominate the skyline, promoting everything from autos, jeans and cellphones to banks and sex shops, will have to come down, as will all other forms of publicity in public space, like distribution of fliers.

The law also regulates the dimensions of store signs and outlaws any advertising on the sides of the city’s thousands of buses and taxis.

The law as passed also applied to advertising banners trailing airplanes and ads on blimps. But in the first of what promises to be a long series of legal challenges, a court ruled that clause unconstitutional, on the ground that the federal government and not the city controls airspace.

“What we are aiming for is a complete change of culture,” said Roberto Tripoli, president of the City Council and one of the main sponsors of the legislation. “Yes, some people are going to have to pay a price. But things were out of hand, and the population has made it clear it wants this.”

The law, approved by a vote of 45 to 1 in September, goes into effect on Jan. 1. Opponents complain that the date does not allow enough time for merchants to comply, that fines of up to $4,500 for violations are extreme and that the result will inevitably be a diminishing of urban life — “like New York without Times Square or Tokyo without the Ginza,” Mr. Solimeo said.

“I think this city is going to become a sadder, duller place,” said Dalton Silvano, who cast the sole dissenting vote and is in the advertising business. “Advertising is both an art form and, when you’re in your car or alone on foot, a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom.”

This is not the city’s first effort to regulate outdoor advertising. A few years ago it was prohibited in the historic downtown area. But there have been complaints about inspectors taking bribes and advertisers simply flouting the law.

“All our efforts to negotiate have had no effect, because none of the accords and agreements we reached with the advertising sector were ever complied with,” Mayor Gilberto Kassab said in an interview.

Since “it is hard in a city of 11 million to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what was and wasn’t legal, we decided to go all the way, to zero things out,” Mr. Kassab said. “When you prohibit everything, society itself becomes your partner in enforcing the law” and reporting violations.

Popular reaction has largely been supportive. “I’m in favor of anything that improves the way this city looks, and this law will definitely make things better,” said Fernando Gil, 25, a student interviewed on Avenida Paulista, the main street in the heart of the financial district.

Advertising companies generally acknowledge that abuses of public space have occurred and that a majority of the city’s estimated 13,000 outdoor billboards have been installed illegally. But they also complain that they are being made scapegoats.

“It is not politically correct to talk about the million-plus posters and signs that small businesses and mechanics’ shops have up all over the place, because they are poor,” said Francesc Petit, an outspoken advertising executive. “It’s easier to attack McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and the banks, because that doesn’t offend anybody.”

Mr. Kassab said that once the situation is under control he hopes to allow limited, strictly regulated advertising at bus stops, newsstands, outdoor street clocks and public bathrooms. But some residents who support the new legislation hope that day never comes, even if it were to profit the city’s coffers.

“The truth is that there are so many banners, billboards, placards, signs and posters all over the place that they’ve lost their impact, and I hardly pay attention to them anymore,” said Lívia Okamoto, a dental technician. “So what’s the point in the manufacturer of a product paying for advertising if all it is going to do is block my view and irritate me?”

Punzie
December 12th, 2006, 05:36 AM
Ninjahedge, you always hone in on heart of matter and state your points eloquently. You are, well, a tough act to follow.:)



On the other hand there are (as you say Rapunzel) the different: "mindsets", attitudes, value judgments. The dispute in this case of "mindsets" is not a matter of right/wrong or true /false. Each of you have your own "point-of-view"; your own frame-of-reference. In a word - you are BOTH right.


I see where you're coming from, but we are not both right. The mindset of the specific immigrants to which I am refering is "right" in their native country, and my mindset is "right" in my neighborhood.

I'll give you an example of when my mindset is "wrong" with regard to the immigrants. In their country, the women are required to wear veils. I, of course, am against their veil laws, and if I walked around their country I would not want to wear a veil.

But I WOULD wear a veil! I would wear it both to avoid punishment and to show respect for their culture and land.

So the tables are turned, and the immigrants are in my neighborhood. The American way is to negotiate and compromise to a mutually agreed-upon conclusion. The immigrants refuse to do this. (A little like if I refused to wear a veil in their country.)

While there is no concrete punishment for this mindset, there are consequences: instead of having half of what they want (negotiation), they end up with nothing at all -- thanks to zoning laws.

Ninjahedge
December 12th, 2006, 09:50 AM
I love how they say things like this:


consumers less informed in their purchasing decisions

Yeah. Like people are truly informed about what the product is, what it does, and how it compares to other products in the same genre.

Those billboards are a public service, and even serve to deter crime!!!


streets will be less safe at night with the loss of illumination from signs

*cough*BS*cough*

You know, there are things called STREETLIGHTS that also serve to illuminate the roadway. They work pretty well, from what I have heard....

pianoman11686
December 13th, 2006, 12:36 AM
Pianoman, to reduce the great buildings of NYC to the two that you listed really shows a lack of understanding of the urban fabric that makes NYC a great city.

If you really believe that SoHo, Tribeca, Greenwich Village and any other number of neighborhoods would have retained their current character during the building boom of the last 15 years without Landmark regulations then I don't know what more to say.


I have to agree. Preservation especially in a city like NYC is not just about a few masterpiece buildings. Its about entire neighborhoods. Streetscapes. It IS an "urban fabric". An environment.

No one in their right mind would want to see a 50 story building on MacDougal Street. But imagine how many developers would jump at the chance if they could. Swaths of the city would become Yorkville over night.

Who wants that?

Guys, let me make something clear: I am not at all in favor of seeing historic neighborhoods razed and replaced with run of the mill glass condos. I believe individual buildings, and streetscapes as a whole, have inherent value which makes them worth preserving. Nonetheless, I also feel very strongly about the ideology behind making government responsible for zoning and property rights regulation. I don't think we should all just accept the current system as "necessary" just because it seems inconceivable to us that things could not function well without them. I think that - more than anything - is what I'm trying to raise awareness about in this thread.


Zoning laws were not the first intrusion by government into property rights.

For all intents and purposes, they were the first major ones. The case of a private developer versus the city of Euclid, Ohio, went to the Supreme Court in the 1920s, setting a broad precedent for increased government regulation of property. I still think this is, as a whole, a more recent trend than something that started when "people still lived on farms."


I brought it up to show that if you are going to use the principle of property rights, it has to be consistently applied for all types of violations. In that view, zoning is no different than landmarking. Or a local ordinance stating I can't put a billboard on my roof - all must be abolished.

So you'd be OK with it being torn down?

Absolutely not. See my above response to lofter & fabrizio.


Not a valid legal argument for removing a law.

I'm no law student (and I bet it shows). I was simply making a practical observation, to respond to the easy-to-suggest-scenario of 1000-foot buildings being torn down under a system of no zoning.


As I've stated repeatedly in this thread, the actions of community groups would not be stopped by the elimination of zoning rules. Most of the objections involve buildings that already meet current zoning limits.

And as I've stated repeatedly in this thread, removing politicians and government-affiliated workers who make crucial decisions on land use will either: 1) give community groups less motivation to protest, since you can't "sway" anybody; 2) serve to concentrate true preservation efforts where they are most appropriate


What is noteworthy to me is that three of the cities I regard as among the best urban places in the US - NY, Boston, and SF - have the most restrictive zoning rules.

They're also three of the most expensive cities in the country to live in.


I think I agree more with Zip than Piano looking at it in a factual manner.

1. Fact: There is no proof o guarantee that NYC will have lower housing rates if zoning is removed.

2. Fact: Some buildings and areas WILL experience a substantial change in their composition due to removal of zoning.

3. Fact: Contractors, for the most part, are in it for as much money as they can get. Come to Hoboken if you want proof.

I think the main contension that Zippy has is that he agrees that some of teh zoning regulations may be alittle restrictive for builders to do what may be needed for the city, but trying to tie it directly into thnigs like affordable housing is not a valid argument.

You can say it MIGHT do this or that, but saying that elimination will somehow benefit everyone is not a fair assessment.

I agree with 2 & 3, but not with 1. I've posted a few empirical studies in this thread that examine the relationship between zoning and prices, almost universally concluding strong correlation, and in some cases, suggesting direct causation (although it is difficult to firmly prove because of so many mitigating factors that are specific to each case-study).

RE: Benefits - There will always be winners and losers, but the point is to maximize the winners. I've outlined, throughout the thread, several arguments for removing zoning: the ideological (arguably the most difficult one to discuss); the economical (again, there is evidence suggesting zoning increases prices; I often present the argument logically, on a simple supply v. demand basis); the political (limit corruption by removing favors, as well as incompetence by so-called city planning experts).


One final thing I noticed in my fly-by of some of the lengthier posts. Piano, you keep saying that people should not be allowed to do things that would harm their neighbors, but that is rather subjective and also one of the root reasons for Zoning in the first place.

What you define as hurting or intrusive may be different than what the neighborhood would define as the same category, but who would decide? If enough people on the block could be "encouraged" to approve of a high-rise except for the person living right next to where it would be going, would that be fair?

What about the height limitations? Curb Standoffs? What if you got, like in Hoboken, the "Great Wall of the Hudson" where buildings 10-20 stories higher than the ones right behind them are being built all along the riverside blocking its view for every person in the entire town?

Revisions of zoning limits may be warranted in some areas, but their elimination would not do much good. I think the process needs to be revised to allow for more mutability and less graft, but aside from that, its elimination would only let the vultures take what they could before leaving the scraps for the rest of us.

The argument about harms is strictly physical, and has to do with a very individualist view of government. Namely: don't get involved in private affairs, unless it is in response to someone initiating physical force upon someone else. In other words, I would not consider someone complaining that they lost natural light because of a tall building to constitute a physical "harm," perhaps only in the most extreme of cases where the court finds that depression has been directly caused by it, and the victim is entitled to reparations.

Just a general response to Ninja, but also everyone who has contributed in this thread: I appreciate the fact that we've been able to engage in a good dialogue about this. It has taught me a lot, and I realize that the burden of proof really does lie on my side. Look forward to hearing more concrete arguments from me, as this is an issue I've really become interested in, and hope to learn more about in the near future.

ZippyTheChimp
December 13th, 2006, 08:11 AM
For all intents and purposes, they were the first major ones. The case of a private developer versus the city of Euclid, Ohio, went to the Supreme Court in the 1920s, setting a broad precedent for increased government regulation of property. I still think this is, as a whole, a more recent trend than something that started when "people still lived on farms."The precedent was set by mid 19th century with government taking of private property for the railroad companies.


Absolutely not. See my above response to lofter & fabrizio.Your opinion is not at issue. If we are to consider zoning laws a violation of property rights, you can't allow landmarking of private property to stand. Landmarking laws are the subjective determinations of government agencies, and are much more restrictive on property owners.

Therefore, if landmarking becomes a property rights violation, you can't discriminate against the owner of the ESB against the owner of some "less worthy" property.


And as I've stated repeatedly in this thread, removing politicians and government-affiliated workers who make crucial decisions on land use will either: 1) give community groups less motivation to protest, since you can't "sway" anybody; 2) serve to concentrate true preservation efforts where they are most appropriate.

You have provided no examples. Case history in NYC shows otherwise.

As I stated earlier, zoning violations are explicit. If a project violates the law, you go to court, and the city is either forced to uphold its law or amend it. It hardly ever happens.

The The number one source of community empowerment in NYC is ULURP followed by EIS. You don't get to these procedures if zoning is violated. Look at recent big projects: AY, Westside stadium, ConEd site. Zoning is not the issue; all of them meet requirement. ULURP is so powerful that I have doubts that AY would get approval if it applied to the site (no ULURP on NY State owned property).


The argument about harms is strictly physical, and has to do with a very individualist view of government. Namely: don't get involved in private affairs, unless it is in response to someone initiating physical force upon someone else.
Dystopia is generally viewed as taking an Orwellian form, with Thought Police controlling all aspects of our lives; but it can also be modelled on Blade Runner, with corporations assuming that control.

If the US is headed in that direction, I think it's the latter model. Politicians spend much of their time fundraising; most corporations contribute to both parties. It's not about ideology, but control.

I think that regarding government as more intrusive than the private sector is an American phenomenon. We debate the dire consequences of government intrusions, but blithely ignore what companies do with the personal information we provide them.

I'm not suggesting that Europeans are not suspicious of their governments, but I know that there are more restrictive laws controlling what corporations can do with personal information.

In the US it seems automatically:
Government = bad
Private enterprise = good.

Ninjahedge
December 13th, 2006, 09:18 AM
Reading through:


I agree with 2 & 3, but not with 1. I've posted a few empirical studies in this thread that examine the relationship between zoning and prices, almost universally concluding strong correlation, and in some cases, suggesting direct causation (although it is difficult to firmly prove because of so many mitigating factors that are specific to each case-study).

RE: Benefits - There will always be winners and losers, but the point is to maximize the winners. I've outlined, throughout the thread, several arguments for removing zoning: the ideological (arguably the most difficult one to discuss); the economical (again, there is evidence suggesting zoning increases prices; I often present the argument logically, on a simple supply v. demand basis); the political (limit corruption by removing favors, as well as incompetence by so-called city planning experts).

Thing is, it is still a fact.

There is no real proof that NEW YORK CITY will have AFFORDABLE housing if zoning were eliminated. You site studies in other areas, but none are as densely populated, as geographically isolated, or as uniformly developed in terms of sheer building mass as NYC....

I did not say that it might not happen, but stating it as if it absolutely will is not a valid argument when it comes to validation of removing zoning.

The problem is, most people that want to remove it, site areas that bear little resemblance to NYC and show housing cost reductions as being a given with zoning elimination.

The only thing that might happen, with reasonable probability, would be the reduction in cost in some of the urbanized areas surrounding Manhattan as people move a bit closer to NYC.

There are so many people working and living in this area that it is very difficult to say that somehow the demand would reduce if you increased the supply. (Especially when you might not be physically ableto increase the supply to be able to handle the full demand in the first place...)

So that is sorta what I was getting at......

pianoman11686
December 13th, 2006, 01:53 PM
There is no real proof that NEW YORK CITY will have AFFORDABLE housing if zoning were eliminated. You site studies in other areas, but none are as densely populated, as geographically isolated, or as uniformly developed in terms of sheer building mass as NYC....

The 6th post in this thread (http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showpost.php?p=133826&postcount=6) cites a study specific to Manhattan.


I did not say that it might not happen, but stating it as if it absolutely will is not a valid argument when it comes to validation of removing zoning.

All I'm saying is, there's evidence that suggests restrictive zoning is directly related to higher housing/development costs. I don't think we need to dispute that. Even Zippy brought up the examples of Boston, San Fran, and of course, Manhattan - as the most strictly zoned cities in the country. They are also regularly at the top of the list for housing costs in big cities. The problem is determining actual causation. But, since there aren't areas of Manhattan that don't have zoning, it's a little too hypothetical to prove.


There are so many people working and living in this area that it is very difficult to say that somehow the demand would reduce if you increased the supply. (Especially when you might not be physically ableto increase the supply to be able to handle the full demand in the first place...)

So that is sorta what I was getting at......

It's not about reducing demand, it's about meeting it quicker than we do now. Part of the reason we get long upswings in prices (such as we've seen over the past 5 years or so) is the fact that demand continues to outpace supply for a while. I think given the recent estimates about how much the city's population is expected to grow (~ 1 million people in 20 years), there needs to be thoughtful consideration of how to meet the inevitable long-term demand spike. In a city that is so limited in horizontal space, you need to build vertically. To me, it only seems logical that the removal of zoning restrictions on height (perhaps only in a few select areas to begin with) will prompt developers to build larger projects, putting more units on the market.

pianoman11686
December 13th, 2006, 02:19 PM
The precedent was set by mid 19th century with government taking of private property for the railroad companies.

Ah, yes - but that seems to fall more into the realm of eminent domain. The difference is: taking someone's land to fulfill a larger goal (such as creating a nationwide transportation system) vs. telling what someone can or can't do with their land (which tends to be much more local in its effects). Also keep in mind that back then, there was a lot more land that wasn't accounted for as "private" or "public" in the most literal sense; it was still up for grabs.


Your opinion is not at issue. If we are to consider zoning laws a violation of property rights, you can't allow landmarking of private property to stand. Landmarking laws are the subjective determinations of government agencies, and are much more restrictive on property owners.

Therefore, if landmarking becomes a property rights violation, you can't discriminate against the owner of the ESB against the owner of some "less worthy" property.

And I'm not doing so. I thought I already gave up on that. At one point, I suggested that certain structures could be "grandfathered" into the new system (for which precedents already exist in current zoning law).


You have provided no examples. Case history in NYC shows otherwise.

As I stated earlier, zoning violations are explicit. If a project violates the law, you go to court, and the city is either forced to uphold its law or amend it. It hardly ever happens.

The The number one source of community empowerment in NYC is ULURP followed by EIS. You don't get to these procedures if zoning is violated. Look at recent big projects: AY, Westside stadium, ConEd site. Zoning is not the issue; all of them meet requirement. ULURP is so powerful that I have doubts that AY would get approval if it applied to the site (no ULURP on NY State owned property).

Zippy, how can I provide examples of what I'm suggesting when zoning has been in place for so long? It would probably take me several days of research to find a noteworthy example from the early part of the 20th century where community activism influenced, in one way or another, a development's planning and construction. That is, assuming such examples even exist.

Since I am somewhat out of my league here, in discussing the impacts of something like ULURP on development, I have to plead ignorance. Some quick research led me to this soundbite, from the 18 April 1982, New York Times:


But aides to Mr. Koch and others frequently mention the city's complex and time-consuming Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. The process, under which proposals painstakingly inch their way through the bureaucracy, was designed to insure community input and thorough review. While it has generally succeeded in this, it has also, in the view of many, tested the patience of those who dare to make a proposal. Its acronym - Ulurp -has become synonymous with interminable delay.

This reeks of exactly the type of third-party influence on property rights that I find unjustified in current zoning laws. Except, instead of the government making decisions/recommendations explicitly, the influence here is implicit in that the government is giving community groups the option to delay and/or stop development from occurring.

In your personal opinion, how effective and valuable do you think this process is? From my brief exposure to it, I don't think it should wield the level of influence that it does under the current system. EIS sounds like a whole different ballgame, that is necessary because of its role as an objective review of a development's potential harms. ULURP seems to be much more subjective and likely to be exlpoited by NIMBY's.


I think that regarding government as more intrusive than the private sector is an American phenomenon. We debate the dire consequences of government intrusions, but blithely ignore what companies do with the personal information we provide them.

I'm not suggesting that Europeans are not suspicious of their governments, but I know that there are more restrictive laws controlling what corporations can do with personal information.

In the US it seems automatically:
Government = bad
Private enterprise = good.

Honestly, I'm a little surprised by this, especially given the recent upswing in government regulation of business. My view is almost the exact opposite. Following any kind of debacle that afflicts private enterprise, critics are quick to support reactionary legislation being steamrolled through Congress, without really questioning the impacts. Media also has a tendency to be notoriously anti-big business, although it does have its fair share of government criticism too. Then again, when your nation's leader is George W. Bush, you can't really be too surprised by that...

lofter1
December 13th, 2006, 03:04 PM
Something that must be considered when looking at why NYC enacted strict land use regulations (and eventually Zoning Regulations) are the housing conditions that existed in NYC in the late 1800's and which were chronicled by Jacob Riis in "How The Other Half Lives (http://www.yale.edu/amstud/inforev/riis/title.html)". When Riis published that book in 1890 it made the public aware of terrible conditions that existed in the City -- conditions that had been created by unregulated building by private developers who had little concern for the health or safety of those to whom they rented.

An excerpt from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1026/is_2_160/ai_77875500/pg_4) website:



Greatly increased immigration in the 1880s resulted in the construction of even more substandard tenements. Jacob A. Riis's expose How the Other Half Lives of 1890 revealed the conditions in downtown tenements, which he also presented in public lectures urging reform. To Riis and other reformers the immigrants and the slums were the antithesis of middle-class morals, stability, and home life. Riis appealed to the Christian conscience of the middle class and elected officials to provide charity and assist the "slum dwellers."

The Tenement House Exhibition held in 1899 and 1900 in New York City led to new building codes and the creation of new building types. The organizer of the exhibition, Lawrence Veiller (1872-1959), a housing reformer, stated that his goal was to prove to the community the fact that in New York City the working-man is housed worse than in any other city in the civilized world, notwithstanding the fact that he pays more for such accommodation than is paid anywhere else.

Provisions that Veiller promoted, and that were introduced into the 1901 building codes, included mandatory running water on each floor, at least one indoor toilet for every two families, and the installation of windows in the interior rooms to provide for airflow. In 1905, the architect Otto Reissmann bought 97 Orchard Street and included these improvements when he brought the building up to code. However, the basic premise of tenement living remained constant: to house the greatest number of people while providing the fewest number of amenities.

More info ...

The Tenement-House Exhibition of 1899 (http://tenant.net/Community/LES/veiller1.html)

Selling the Lower East Side (http://www.upress.umn.edu/sles/sles-chapter.html)

The Battle with the Slum (http://www.bartleby.com/175/) ( Jacob Riis' sequel to How the Other Half Lives (http://www.bartleby.com/208/) )

***

pianoman11686
December 14th, 2006, 04:23 PM
Sounds like this Jacob Riis guy was the housing equivalent of Upton Sinclair. One thing to keep in mind when reading exposes of this kind is the context of the times - it sounds really bad now, but it probably wasn't much worse than the average back then.

In either case, I do think the government has a place in enacting and enforcing building codes. It has to do with standard concerns about safety and sanitation. Don't most buildings also have an "occupational limit" that's determined by the Fire Department?

Punzie
December 14th, 2006, 06:15 PM
One thing to keep in mind when reading exposes of this kind is the context of the times - it sounds really bad now, but it probably wasn't much worse than the average back then.

Are you suggesting that since their squalid New York City living conditions were not much worse than average back then, the tenements were out-of-line to fight as hard as they did for new building codes and building types?

Actually, I'm pretty sure that this is not what you're suggesting; but this is probably what a guest who didn't know you better would infer.

Punzie
December 14th, 2006, 06:34 PM
You know, there are things called STREETLIGHTS that also serve to illuminate the roadway. They work pretty well, from what I have heard....

I'll take this, Pianoman.

Streetlights are funded by taxpayer money. Billboards are a free public service.

(Wow, being on the high school debate team finally paid off.)

pianoman11686
December 14th, 2006, 08:24 PM
Are you suggesting that since their squalid New York City living conditions were not much worse than average back then, the tenements were out-of-line to fight as hard as they did for new building codes and building types?

Certainly not. It was something that had to be changed sooner or later, and anyone who fought for the change was fully justified in doing so.

The only reason I said what I said was to point out that these kinds of "exposes" tend to affect people emotionally, especially when we're so much better off today than all previous generations before us.

Think of this particular example as similar to automobiles: perhaps 80 years ago, almost every average American family could afford to purchase a Model T for themselves. Yet, that car was so barren, and lacking in so many of the safety features that all of today's vehicles come standard with, that it was probably much less safe to drive. Eventually, over time, people pointed out the need for things like safety belts, ABS, etc., and now, cars are safer than ever.


Actually, I'm pretty sure that this is not what you're suggesting; but this is probably what a guest who didn't know you better would infer.

I didn't know we were already on such close terms...:D

lofter1
December 14th, 2006, 08:31 PM
Think of this particular example as similar to automobiles:

... Eventually, over time, people pointed out the need for things like safety belts, ABS, etc., and now, cars are safer than ever.

Interesting you bring up the auto industry -- which was dragged kicking and screaming towards change -- and very often forced to change by Government regulation when the industry refused to act ;) .

Again this points out that private industry -- for all it's good points -- is often not as responsible and pro-active as it should be. The balance is created by governmental action.

It's the American way.

Ninjahedge
December 15th, 2006, 08:52 AM
Again this points out that private industry -- for all it's good points -- is often not as responsible and pro-active as it should be. The balance is created by governmental action.

*cough*smoking*cough*


Ironic, eh?

Punzie
December 15th, 2006, 09:11 AM
The case for zoning laws:

Near me is a house that was purchased for $675K two years ago, and it's worth more now. In other words, we're talking upper middle class.

For @6 weeks the residents had their large, battered-up boat taking up most of their double driveway. With no place to put their two pickup trucks, they were housing them on their front lawn.

Two weeks ago they began renovating their kitchen themselves. (They don't celebrate any of this month's holidays, so it's not a problem for them.) They took out all of their large kitchen appliances and tried to get the town to take them away for free -- but the town doesn't provide that trash removal service. So the residents are storing their large appliances... guess where? Their front lawn.

Somewhere along the way, an empty dumpster materialized in the front of their driveway.

Technically, these people are not creating a health hazard or a public nuisance. They are exerting what they think are their private property rights.

Also, they refuse to negotiate with the neighbors. Especially the female neighbors -- because in their culture, women wear veils and are inferior.

Enter the zoning laws. The town finally got around to ticketing their trucks every day until they were removed from the front lawn. The town is making arrangements to have the kitchen appliances hauled away before Christmas. And a warning was issued on the big boat.

Pianoman, if you owned the house next door, would you get the town on these people? Remember, they refuse to negotiate.

Fabrizio
December 15th, 2006, 09:13 AM
"... Eventually, over time, people pointed out the need for things like safety belts, ABS, etc., and now, cars are safer than ever."

Pianoman you are making up history: read Ralph Naders "Unsafe at Any Speed" published in 1965:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unsafe_at_Any_Speed

Also:

Ford introduced an optional package on its 56s called "Lifeguard Design": seat belts, padded dash etc. Guess what? It was a sales flop with the public. The public did not care about safety. The government had to step in with the "National Highway Traffic and Safety Act of 1966". FORCING change on the industry and in the publics habits.

Anyone over the age of 45 will surely remember the US governments public service comercials with the jingle: "Buckle up for saftey, buckle up....". The government actually ran commercials (like Smoky the Bear) to CONVINCE people to wear seat belts. (And while your at it: "Please, please dont be a Litter Bug, cause every litter bit hurts")

And remember too that: standard seat belts, shoulder harnesses, ABS, disc brakes, air bags were all standard in the European auto industry first.

http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_seat_belts.htm

Ninjahedge
December 15th, 2006, 09:21 AM
Fab, thing is, safety has always been looked at as dorky.

How long did it take to make Helmets req'd on motorcyclists?

All the industry did was "gave the people what they wanted", but the thing is, there are always people taht are willing to risk their lives, or buy crap for some desired result.

Examples such as tenement buildings, Phen-Fen and smoking are good examples of how people will get something that they either need (and have no other resource) such as tenement buildings, with the builders having little concern for providing any sort of amenity (profit margin in tenements is just as important as in luxury rentals you know!) or something they think is cool (Smoking, no helmets) despite the hazards, or shortcuts (stimulants, phen-fen) to make life "easier".

There is a balance, however. And we always have to make sure that these codings and regulations are closely watched and buffered to prevent reactionary measures (such as the forbidding of NAIL CLIPPERS on a plane, SHEESH!). But forbidding them is not the answer either.

Maybe they just need more transparancy! More accountability to the general public.

I dunno.

pianoman11686
December 15th, 2006, 02:38 PM
Yes, Fabrizio, Nader would be one of those "people who pointed out the need for things like safety belts." That's exactly my point: often times, when something novel comes about, it takes a while for all the problems to be addressed. That's why we have safety regulations on almost everything these days, from toys that are too dangerous for toddlers, to cigarettes, trans fat foods, microwaves, etc....basically anything that people can purchase and cause themselves harm in the process of using. That is part of the government's job - to warn and protect people from these potential harms, especially when there's a lot of evidence that doing so would reduce injuries and death. I'm surprised you even brought up the Ford example, which is pretty much a rebuttal to lofter's point of private enterprise not taking the initiative. In any case, the wide range of safety features that are now available on most cars are a result of private-funded research, government regulations/laws, and activism from the public and people like Nader. I see nothing wrong with that, and I also see nothing wrong with enforcing building codes. That's not what we're debating here, however.

pianoman11686
December 15th, 2006, 02:57 PM
The following is a lengthy article written more than 10 years ago, when Houston was in the process of considering zoning. Eventually, it went to a public referendum, where the proposition was defeated. I've tried to highlight the key arguments in this, for those who don't have the time to read through all of it.

Government Zoning vs. Freedom

In Defense of Property Rights

By Warren S. Ross and J. Brian Phillips (http://www.vlrc.org/authors/63.html)

This article was part of a 1993 pamphlet addressing the political philosophy underlying zoning as well as the specific arguments made by the pro-zoning advocates in Houston. The pamphlet was distributed by the Houston Objectivism Society, by the Committee for Property Rights, and by other anti-zoning groups in Houston. After months of contentious debate, zoning was defeated by Houston voters in a 1993 referendum. The article may be found at http://home.netcom.com/~wsross/property and Capitalism Magazine.

Over the past fifteen years, Houstonians have witnessed nearly constant attempts to place controls on the use of private property. These efforts have taken many forms—restrictions on billboards, prohibitions on indoor smoking, the landscaping ordinance, and zoning, to name a few—and have been led by many different people.

Each of these efforts has been presented as a benevolent means of improving our city. We have been told that our “quality of life” will improve, that our neighborhoods will be protected, that our economy will benefit, that people will be “empowered.”

Considered out of context, some of these goals may be desirable. But we cannot consider goals out of context—we must also consider the cost and the means of obtaining those goals. We must ask whose idea of “quality” will serve as the standard and what does “empowerment” mean. And will the means advocated attain the desired ends?

As we will see, these movements are united by more than just the desire to place controls on property use. They are based on common principles, principles which are ultimately destructive to all Houstonians.

A right is a moral principle which defines and sanctions an individual’s freedom of action in a social setting. Rights place boundaries on the actions of others, thereby allowing an individual to act without interference from others. The mutual rights of others prevent him from interfering with their actions.

It is important to understand that rights pertain only to freedom of action. They do not guarantee that one’s actions will be successful, nor do they grant one a claim to the results of others actions. Such a claim would in fact violate the rights of those forced to provide those results, and thus negate all rights.

Consequently, there is no such thing as the “right” to an education, or health care, or haircuts. There is only the right to be free to earn such values.

(In this regard, consider the precision of the language of the Declaration of Independence. That document states that we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, not a guarantee to happiness, nor a right to demand that others make us happy. The Declaration states that we have the right to be free to act.)

The right to property is the right to earn, use, and dispose of material values. In logic, the right to use and dispose of property, e.g., land, means that the owner may use that property as he chooses, free from the dictates of his neighbors or the government. Ownership means control. However, as with all rights, he may not use his property to violate the mutual rights of others.

To “violate the rights of others” does not mean using your property in a manner which others find objectionable. If such were the case, anyone could claim that he finds your use of your property to be objectionable, and hence, are violating his rights. In such an atmosphere, virtually every Houstonian could make a claim against every other Houstonian. The result would be chaos and the destruction of all rights.

The only way to objectively violate another’s rights is through the use of physical force against him and/or his property. It is only through physical force, e.g., murder, kidnapping, or robbery that an individual can be deprived of his life, his freedom, or his property, or be compelled to act (or not act) in a particular manner.

In a civilized society, the initiation of force is prohibited. In such a society, individuals are permitted to pursue their values, but may not impose those values upon others. All relationships (both personal and economic) are based on the voluntary consent of every individual involved.

(Retaliatory force, such as arresting suspected criminals, or imprisoning convicted murderers, kidnappers, and thieves, is proper. But such force is properly used only in retaliation, and only against those who initiate its use. Furthermore, law enforcement officials cannot arrest individuals merely on suspicion, but must have evidence to support such suspicion and must act in accordance with objectively defined rules.)

If you send poisonous fumes into your neighbor’s back yard, you have violated his rights. If you conduct target practice in a residential neighborhood, you have violated your neighbor’s rights. If you keep your neighbor awake by playing loud music all night, you have violated his rights. In each case, you have imposed physical harm (or a very real, and objective threat thereof) upon others.

However, if you open a commercial establishment, or plant certain kinds of trees (or none whatsoever), or erect gargoyle adorned columns in front of your house, you have not violated your neighbor’s rights. It does not matter how psychologically offensive he may find such actions, physical harm has not been forced upon him.

An individual’s rights do not preclude him from voluntarily agreeing to limit his actions. For example, employers generally establish certain conditions of employment, such as the hours one will work, the type of attire which is acceptable, passing a physical, etc.

In land use, individuals often find it beneficial to agree to certain restrictions on the use of their property. The most common means of doing this is through deed restrictions. Such restrictions are voluntary and contractual, i.e., they are a condition of purchasing a property. The popularity of deed restrictions demonstrates that individuals can work together voluntarily and cooperatively to accomplish mutually beneficial goals, while recognizing and respecting the rights of each individual.

Attacks on Property Rights

In 1980 City Council passed an ordinance which, among other things, limited the size and location of outdoor signs and billboards.

Advocates of the ordinance referred to Houston’s abundant sign population as “visual pollution” and “a plague”, thereby implying that the existence of these signs is a threat to one’s health. Such an argument is clearly absurd—Houston’s medical facilities have yet to report a single case of billboard related illness or death.

The purpose of the ordinance was to reduce the number of—and eventually eliminate—billboards in Houston. The justification was not that the billboards violated anyone’s rights, but that billboards “clutter” the landscape, i.e., they are “unpleasant” to look at.

In other words, some Houstonians, as well as a majority of City Council members, found billboards objectionable, and passed a law aimed at their abolition. Which means, the city initiated force against the owners of those signs, as well as the owners of the property upon which they are erected. Rather than protect the rights of its citizens, the city became a violator of those rights.

It should be noted that those who find billboards objectionable have legitimate means for implementing their values without infringing on the rights of others. For example, such individuals can choose a route for their travels which does not include billboards (such as the beltway); they can live in a planned community in which billboards are prohibited; or they can purchase the billboards from their owners and tear them down.

In the early 1990’s City Council passed an ordinance which requires developers to plant a specific number and type of shrubs and trees in their projects. The purpose of the ordinance was to promote a better “quality of life.” The justification was not that developers had violated anyone’s rights by planting Chinese tallows, but that some Houstonians regarded such trees as “trash.”

In other words, some Houstonians, as well as the majority of City Council, found certain kinds of plants objectionable, and passed a law to compel developers to plant different species. Again, the city initiated force against its citizens.

More recently, City Council has debated an ordinance which would place restrictions on “historic buildings.” The purpose of this law is to prohibit the demolition of older buildings. The justification for this ordinance was not that the owners of such buildings were violating the rights of any one, but the protection of our heritage.

The most controversial aspect of the proposed ordinance was not the fact that the city intended to violate the rights of property owners, but that the owners would have an opportunity to “opt out” of the “historic” designation. In other words, the controversy was not the violation of rights, but the fact that property owners would retain some control over their property.

Each of these ordinances is intended to place restrictions on the use of private property, either through proscription or through prescription. And each of these ordinances is intended to promote some “public good”, such as a better “quality of life”, or protect our “heritage”, etc. (The same holds true of many other ordinances not addressed here, such as the sexually-oriented business ordinances and smoking ordinances). These similarities in practice are the result of the similarities in theory, i.e., the principles which underlie each of these assaults on property rights.

Underlying each of these ordinances are two principles—collectivism and sacrifice.

The proponents of each of these ordinances argued that the welfare of some group, such as the city or the community or our neighborhoods, required the proposed restrictions on the rights of individuals. In other words, the welfare of the group superseded the welfare of any individual. This is the doctrine of collectivism—individuals are to be subservient to the group.

In practice, this means that the individual may act, not by right, but with the permission of the group. It means that he may use his property only in accordance with the dictates of the group. And since the concept “group” really means just a collection of individuals, subservience to the dictates of the group really means that some individuals may violate the rights of other individuals. To accomplish this, they need only assemble enough like-minded people who are willing to violate the rights of others and convince city officials to enact the appropriate laws.

While many may respond that this is the democratic way, it should be noted that our Founding Fathers did not establish a democracy, but rather a constitutional republic. The American Constitution restricts the powers of government, including the powers of any majority which happens to control the government, not the actions of individuals.

A literal democracy means unlimited majority rule—that the majority may do as it pleases because it is the majority. In a democracy, individual rights are in principle as non-existent as in a dictatorship.

Remember that Socrates was put to death at the hands of the majority of the citizens of ancient Athens, and Adolf Hitler came to power in a democratic Germany.

Morally, collectivism holds that the individual must place the welfare of others above his own. Each of us must do his “fair share” for the “common good.” Those who refuse to do so “voluntarily” are regarded as “selfish”, “rugged individualists”, etc. and may properly be forced to sacrifice their values.

These two principles—collectivism and sacrifice—serve as the justification for all of the attacks on property rights, past, present, and future. The particular form and emphasis of the arguments may change, but the principles which underlie them do not.

The same holds true of the most comprehensive attack on property rights—zoning.

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.

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.

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.

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.

During the debate over zoning in the early 1990’s, and in the time since the referendum in 1993, zoning proponents have made many claims about zoning. They have claimed that zoning will “empower the people”, that it will be founded on a consensus. They have claimed that we will avoid the corruption and divisiveness experienced in other cities with a “unique, Houston-style” form of zoning, that zoning will improve our “quality of life.”

In cities with zoning, in an attempt to be “democratic”, zoning officials regularly hold hearings for citizens to express their views regarding land use. These hearings become a magnet for special interest groups eager to push their own particular cause. The result is a steady parade of noisy gangs, each declaring that it represents “the public” and demanding that its views be implemented. One might insist on Spanish architecture, while another wants to limit the size of buildings. One might want more park space, while another wants the project canceled entirely. While each group differs on what or how they wish to control the use of another’s property, they agree that they should have a voice in how that property is used.

But we do not need to rely solely on the experiences of other cities to see what occurs under zoning.

During the debate over zoning, Houston’s city officials held dozens of hearings to solicit input from citizens. They sought to be “democratic”, to develop a consensus—i.e., “common vision”—as the zoning maps were developed. However, as the details of those maps became known, residents and business owners in Southgate, Afton Oaks, Montrose, and other neighborhoods routinely made headlines as they protested zoning designations.

While zoning advocates promised a consensus, what resulted was the divisiveness inherent in zoning.

Neighbors fought neighbors over the use of land which neither, or only one, owned. This is what “empowering the people” means: It grants non-owners of a parcel of property a voice in its use. At the same time, the rightful owner is a hostage to the demands, desires, and decisions of others. He is forced to conform to the demands of the group; he is forced to sacrifice his values to others.

Further, on three separate occasions voters have rejected zoning. Yet, zoning proponents refuse to accept these results, each time returning with a new proposal to violate property rights. If zoning advocates truly wish to empower the people, why do they continue to refuse to accept the outcome of the electoral process?

True empowerment comes from freedom, not political influence. True empowerment comes from the right to pursue one’s own values, not the power to impose those values upon others.

Zoning advocates have claimed that zoning will improve our “quality of life”, but they have not told us what they mean by that term. They assume that we know, and agree to, its meaning.

“Quality of life” is a matter of individual values. Each of us has different goals and different aspirations; we seek different things in life. Some Houstonians prefer a picnic in the park; others prefer dining in elegant restaurants. Some Houstonians enjoy attending movies; others enjoy shopping. These preferences are based on an individual’s values.

Similarly, in land use, our individual values determine the type of use we choose for our property, the style of architecture, etc. Under zoning, an individual’s values are to be subservient to the group. Under zoning, individuals are no longer permitted to make such decisions, but are forced to obey the demands of the group.

Under zoning, all individuals are compelled to accept the “quality of life” dictated by zoning officials.

If city officials are truly concerned about improving our quality of life, they should be protecting our freedom, i.e., our property rights. They should allow the free market to raise the standard of living, by removing the arbitrary restrictions of land use controls. The result will be greater variety and lower costs in housing.

Zoning advocates have argued that Houston’s neighborhoods are in danger; that no zoning will result in “unstable” land uses. But they have not told us whose view of stability will prevail. Nor have they explained why the desires of the non-owners of property should take precedence over the desires of the property’s owner.

Zoning advocates have argued that the actions of one property owner often have an adverse affect on neighboring property owners. Zoning will help to bring stability to land use. It should be remembered that the purchase of property, including a home, is at least partially an investment.

As with all investments, the actions of others can have an effect on the value of that investment, for better or for worse. Anyone who has tried to sell a house near neighbors with trashy front yards or unconventional paint colors knows the effect it has on his investment. While it is natural that people want to protect their investment, a civilized person will do so by agreement and contract. An uncivilized person, who does not care about the difference between persuasion and coercion, might try to do so by force or government regulation. Those who seek to use zoning to protect the values of their investment are seeking to gain economic security in exchange for economic liberty, which will ultimately result in neither.

The Effects of Zoning

In the months since the November 1993 zoning referendum, zoning advocates have launched a number of accusations against their opponents. Zoning opponents, pro-zoners said, were dishonest and unprincipled.

They resorted to lies, misrepresentations and scare tactics to win the election. They bought votes with advertising.

First, it should be noted that zoning opponents are not monolithic. For example, one organization argued that “Zoning without a plan is worse than no zoning at all.” This group argued for even more comprehensive government regulation than the proposed ordinance called for and therefore rejects everything we stand for. We regard such organizations as opponents on the issue of property rights.

Consequently, zoning advocates cannot paint their opponents with a wide brush. While we agree that zoning is economically impractical, as many other zoning opponents have argued, we oppose zoning primarily on moral grounds.

When zoning opponents claimed that zoning could be used to segregate minorities and other “undesirables”, zoning proponents cried foul. Yet, 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.

National surveys regularly find that housing in Houston is among the nation’s most affordable. While many factors influence the cost of housing, one of the most significant is zoning. In the early 1980’s, the Department of Housing and Urban Development studied the costs zoning and building codes impose on housing. The survey involved development projects in three locales: Shreveport, LA; Hayward, CA; and Allegheny County, PA.

The findings were dramatic. In Shreveport, government regulations accounted for 21% of the project cost. In Allegheny County, an additional 24% was added, and in Hayward, the cost increased 33%. The survey found that the primary reason for the additional costs were delays imposed by the various approval processes required by law.

These approval processes require developers to seek government permission to begin a project. Which means, before an individual may use his property as he chooses, he must secure the approval of government bureaucrats.

Under zoning, the developer has no option but to patiently seek the zoning officials’ approval and meet their conditions. These conditions can range from playgrounds to senior citizen centers to “public art.”

The costs incurred by the developer—such as maintaining equipment and inventory, servicing the debt on undeveloped land, legal and permit fees, and the costs associated with the zoning officials’ conditions—are ultimately passed on to consumers.

The government study cited above is not the only evidence that zoning increases the cost of housing.

Phil Rafton, a developer in Southern California, estimates that he could reduce costs by 30% without zoning. Former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp regularly used a flow chart to show how regulations add $40,000 to the cost of a new home in Orange County, California.

An article in the May 9, 1989 issue of The Wall Street Journal addressed the issue of high housing costs. Less regulation, the article stated, leads to lower housing costs. In North Carolina, for example, a developer can build a 4-bedroom house for $95,000 after a 3 to 4 month approval process. In New Jersey, the same home would cost $230,000 and be delayed by an average of 3 years. While other factors contribute to the higher costs in New Jersey, the bureaucratic delays and regulatory requirements are a major reason for the dramatic difference.

The costs of zoning are not always computable in dollars and cents. In 1983 a New Jersey developer began planning a 3,300 unit condominium. The units would sell for $130,000, a price which 35% of the area’s families could afford. Bureaucratic barriers delayed the project for six years, increasing the price to $240,000 per unit, a price which only 18% of families could afford. Which means, government regulations virtually halved the affordability of this housing.

By imposing additional costs on developers (and hence consumers), zoning makes housing less affordable. Those most affected by this reduced affordability are the poor, the middle-class, and first-time buyers. Unfortunately, these individuals seldom realize that zoning is the reason they cannot afford to purchase a home. They are the hidden and voiceless victims of zoning.

Higher housing costs are not limited to single-family homes. The above example shows that zoning also increases the cost of condominiums. Zoning has the same affects on apartment complexes.

Bureaucratic delays, legal and permit fees, “impact fees”, etc. increase the costs of developing apartment projects. These costs must eventually be passed on to consumers in the form of higher rents.

Zoning is frequently used to limit the density of apartment complexes. Reduced density means higher costs for the developer, as well as fewer apartments available for renters. We should note that at least one zoning advocate has suggested using zoning to restrict “development densities”, i.e., to control the freedom of developers to build apartment complexes.

The burdens and costs associated with zoning and other regulations not only increase the cost of housing, but also discourage its creation. Investors often decline projects because of the costs—either real or potential—they will have to accept.

It is neither a scare tactic nor a lie to take an individual’s ideas seriously. The debate over zoning is a serious intellectual issue, which will impact the life of every Houstonian. We have demonstrated that zoning has a specific nature, that specific principles underlie zoning. We have demonstrated that those principles logically lead to the use of governmental force to impose a community’s values upon individuals. We have provided examples of these principles in action, in other cities and in Houston.

Zoning advocates have called such arguments and examples lies, misrepresentations, and scare tactics.

They have refused to refute our arguments, but instead responded with angry, unsubstantiated assertions.

When confronted with the problems zoning has caused in other cities, pro-zoners respond that those are other cities, and they don’t have “Houston-style” zoning. In other words, those problems may be a result of zoning in Miami, Detroit, and Chicago, but that is Miami, Detroit, and Chicago. They don’t have “Houston-style” zoning. In other words, zoning advocates believe that there are no principles which underlie zoning.

Any attempt to interject principles into the debate has been met with angry accusations. Zoning advocates believe that it is invalid to use examples from other cities, because Houston will have a “unique” form of zoning.

But there are principles which underlie zoning, and those principles can be used to predict the consequences of “Houston-style” zoning, “neighborhood” zoning, or any of the variations zoning advocates can concoct. Zoning, by its very nature, is a violation of property rights, and destructive to human welfare.

While zoning advocates have responded to principled arguments with accusations of lies and misrepresentations, they have engaged in their own misrepresentations.

Zoning proponents would have us believe that opening a business near a residential area violates the property rights of the residents. They would have us believe that “trash trees” violate the rights of nearby residents. As we have argued, this is false. Zoning advocates are using such alleged rights violations to justify their own proposal to violate property rights—not on a neighbor-to-neighbor basis, but on a massive city-wide scale. They are proposing to bring harassment to new levels by institutionalizing it in the form of zoning.

To understand this, consider the following quote from a handout from Jim Greenwood’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Planning and Zoning titled “Proposed Goals for Planning and Zoning Houston”: “Planning and zoning should allow landowners the opportunity to use their land as desired, but with consideration for its impact on the value and quality of life of neighboring areas and the City’s comprehensive plan.”

Which means, when an individual’s desired land use differs from the City’s plan, or that land use is determined to have a negative impact (whether real or imagined) on neighboring areas, the individual’s desires are to be ignored. Which means, an individual may not in fact, use his land as he desires—land will be used as the City desires.

Consequently, to claim that zoning permits property owners to use their property as they desire, is not only incorrect, but actually the exact opposite of the truth.

Herman Lauhoff, in an OpEd article in The Houston Post in November 1994, wrote that anti-zoners outspent zoning proponents in the November 1993 referendum by 3-to-1. Similar claims had been made previously by zoning advocate Brandy Wolf, in an editorial in The Houston Post, by Post columnist Tom Kennedy, by Chronicle columnist Lori Rodriguez, and many others.

Each of these individuals has conveniently ignored the tens of thousands of dollars spent by the city to conduct zoning hearings and workshops, to print literature, to draw zoning maps, etc. The budget for the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1992 alone was over $6 million.

City officials were not neutral on the issue of zoning-- they overwhelmingly favored it. Their efforts to “educate” the public were entirely one-sided. Which means, every dollar spent by the city was in effect a dollar spent in favor of zoning. Furthermore, the money spent by the city came from the taxes of all Houstonians, including those who were opposed to zoning and those indifferent on the subject.

The fact is, the approximately $500,000 which The Houston Post reported spent by zoning opponents in the 1993 campaign pales in comparison to the money spent by zoning advocates. The actual amount is impossible to determine because the entire process was woven into the fabric of government. Zoning advocates refuse to acknowledge that much of the money used to support their cause came from those who oppose it, while zoning opponents were required to raise all of their funds through voluntary contributions.

If zoning advocates are so principled to decry “lying and scare tactics,” they should have the integrity to pay for their own campaigns. Instead, they have forced voters to provide financial support, voters who have consistently rejected them.

Furthermore, the entire discussion of how much money was spent to oppose zoning is based on the false premise that spending money to defend one’s rights is immoral. Those who are the victims and potential victims of government regulations have every right, in fact a moral obligation, to defend their values with whatever means they have available. What is immoral is not that they spend that money, but that they are required to do so to protect their freedom. Consequently, such individuals are financially victimized even before zoning is enacted (not only by being required to spend money to defend their rights, but also by having their tax dollars used to support a policy they oppose). Such individuals have a moral right to demand compensation for every penny spent.

Zoning advocates would like us to ignore the horrors of zoning in other cities. They want to prevent principles from entering the debate. They want to ignore facts, while simultaneously calling their opponents dishonest. The truth is, by ignoring the principles which underlie zoning, its advocates have blinded themselves to the destructive consequences of the ideas which they advocate.

The Freedom to Choose

In contrast to the advocates of zoning, who hold that society may force its values upon individuals, we repudiate the initiation of force in human affairs. We assert that each individual is a sovereign entity, that each individual has a moral right to pursue his values without interference from others. Furthermore, we believe that government should ensure that each individual may peacefully pursue his values, no matter how unpopular they might be. The proper purpose of government is the protection of this right.

In a free-market, innovators and entrepreneurs have the freedom to offer new ideas and new products.

And each individual has the freedom to choose which ideas and products he will support. So long as he recognizes and respects the mutual rights of others, each individual is permitted to pursue his values without interference.

Henry Ford, for example, was chastised for his horseless carriage. The free-market permitted Henry Ford to offer an unpopular product for sale. The free-market permitted individuals to voluntarily purchase that product. The free-market permits individuals to make choices for themselves, and prohibits them from forcing those choices onto others. The essence of the free-market is freedom of choice.

This is as true of land use as any other value. The free-market allows property owners to pursue their values in a voluntary, cooperative manner, yet also provides a means to ensure predictability in property use. That means is deed restrictions.

Deed restrictions are contractual agreements made between property owners restricting land to a particular use. Deed restrictions can restrict a piece of property to virtually any use: residential (multi- or single-family), retail, industrial, etc. Deed restrictions can also govern such features as the presence and dimensions of trees, fencing heights, or the color of a home. In most communities, an association made up of homeowners enforces the deed restrictions.

Many people see little difference between zoning and deed restrictions, between zoning officials and a homeowners’ association. They do not understand that zoning is political and mandatory, while deed restrictions are contractual and based on free choice.

The homeowners in deed restricted communities a) have chosen where they will live based (partly) on whether the deed restrictions are acceptable to them; b) have been given the opportunity to read and consider the contractual restrictions they and their neighbors agree to; and c) may leave those communities (or exercise legal remedies) if the specific and very limited authority given the homeowners’ association is abused. Because deed restrictions vary across the city (and are non-existent in some areas), consumers are provided with an unlimited array of choices regarding the use of their land.

In contrast, the homeowners in a zoned municipality have no power to choose the conditions under which they will live, and have nowhere else to move if those conditions are unacceptable. In short, the difference between deed restrictions and zoning is the difference between voluntary choice and coercive imposition, between the private agreements of individuals and the dictates of public tribunals.

The advocates of zoning point to areas where land use has changed, and claim that this proves the ineffectiveness of deed restrictions. This claim is false, for deed restrictions allow homeowners to choose to change the land use if they desire (voting requirements vary). In some cases, property owners in a subdivision have exercised their right to change the land use. In other cases, deed restrictions were written poorly, so that it was too easy to change the land use. Homeowners who thought they contracted for a certain guarantee of protection discovered they were in error. However, the remedy here is to write more precise legal language into the deed restrictions. One of the requirements of responsible home purchasing is to ensure—through legal advice if necessary—that one’s values are being upheld by the contracts one signs.

Another objection raised against deed restrictions is that they are costly to enforce. Occasionally, a homeowner will fight enforcement of deed restrictions by suing the homeowners’ association. This is not an argument against deed restrictions per se, but an illustration of how frivolous lawsuits can undermine the enforcement of any contract. Such obstructive lawsuits are relatively rare in deed restriction enforcement. Proper responsibility to stop such attempts must continue to reside with the judiciary, which by and large acts on the principle that mere enforcement of a contract (with no auxiliary circumstances) cannot by itself constitute grounds for a civil suit.

To make this point clearer, consider the same argument from the context of a home mortgage, i.e., a contractual agreement between a borrower and a lender. If a lawsuit challenging the initial contract were filed, no one would claim that the cost of litigation invalidates all mortgages. Instead, we would focus on the faulty legal mechanisms which permit unscrupulous individuals to break long-term contracts.

What about those people who settle in communities without deed restrictions? That is their right and their choice. Those who did so mistakenly, and don’t like the way their community has evolved, are free to learn from their errors and make a better choice in the future. Many people in Houston, it should be noted, choose to live in non-restricted communities because property values are lower, and hence houses are more affordable. They don’t mind that a convenience store is near their house, because if it weren’t they wouldn’t have a house. This is an example of how the free market provides a wide variety of land uses, meeting the individual needs of everyone.

Master-planned communities, like The Woodlands or First Colony, are generally larger than the small subdivisions, and more restrictive in land use. They are also more comprehensive: The developer plans shopping areas, schools, streets, etc., usually along a common pattern or theme. Some people value this unity of design enough to pay the higher prices for land and community fees that exist in master-planned communities.

The advocates of zoning have told us that the popularity of master-planned communities attests to the fact that Houstonians want “planning”, which they say means zoning. Again, we find that the zoning advocates are equating private choice with political coercion. Some Houstonians do want planning, and they have found a voluntary way to achieve it. We regard it as disingenuous on the part of zoning advocates to twist a practical free-market alternative into an argument for political intervention.

The advocates of zoning seek to posit themselves as the agents of the public, declaring that they will lead us to economic growth and a better “quality of life.” But the truth is developers— who must meet the freely chosen demands of the marketplace — are the true agents of the public. Throughout Houston’s history such developers have fueled and kept pace with unparalleled economic growth, and improved the quality of life immeasurably.

The Challenge to Zoning Advocates

Zoning proponents have presented zoning as the solution to many of the “problems” confronting Houston.

At a time when the nation, and indeed much of the world, is rejecting government programs as the solution, zoning advocates endorse a massive government program as the solution to problems both real and imagined.

For nearly 75 years, zoning proponents have predicted that Houston would decay into various forms of depravity without zoning. Yet, all of these predictions have proven false. This has not stopped the most recent crop of zoning advocates—they have renewed these predictions while simultaneously ignoring the evidence which damns zoning.

Zoning advocates have made many claims about the “benefits” of zoning. Yet, they can provide no examples which substantiate their claims. They cannot point to a single municipality which does not experience higher housing costs, higher taxes, higher business costs, corruption, or other negative effects as a result of zoning. All they can offer is the promise that these things won’t happen in Houston.

The challenge to zoning advocates is to prove why Houston will not suffer these same detrimental consequences. It is easy to make claims; it is another thing to prove them. It is easy to say that Houston is different from other cities; it is another thing to explain and prove why.

We agree that Houston is different from other cities, but for a reason entirely different than what zoning advocates would have us believe. We believe that the citizens of Houston have a respect for property rights, for the right to pursue values which may not be generally accepted, but which do not violate the rights of others. We believe that Houstonians value their freedom.

There is a fundamental difference between zoning advocates and our organization, not just in terms of property rights and land use controls, but also in regard to the value placed on individual human beings.

Where zoning advocates believe that individuals should be compelled to sacrifice their values to those of the community, the neighborhood, or some other collective, we believe that individuals should be free to pursue their own values without interference from others.

The debate over zoning is a debate about the future of Houston. It is a debate which must be taken seriously. It is a debate which cannot be conducted via unsubstantiated claims of cost-free benefits and ad hominem attacks on the opponents. It is a debate which must be conducted on the principles which underlie zoning, and its alternatives. A “debate” conducted on anything less is not a debate, but a negotiation of the details of the implementation of commonly accepted principles. There are no common principles between zoning and freedom.

If city officials and the media are concerned about a principled debate over this issue, then let them open their forums to the principled opponents of zoning. Let them refrain from ad hominem smears and address the principles which underlie zoning.

The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should willingly sacrifice their property rights. The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should reject the principles of the United States Constitution. The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to justify the use of force to compel Houstonians to accept and live by their vision of proper land use.

The citizens of Houston await their response.

pianoman11686
December 15th, 2006, 03:03 PM
The Role of Private Property in a Free Society

By Peter Boettke, Ph.D. (http://www.vlrc.org/authors/119.html)

"The true foundation of republican government is the equal right of every citizen in his person and property and in their management." — Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, 1816.

Few concepts have been more important for human survival, yet maligned as unjust by intellectuals, as the concept of private property rights. Since at least the time of Aristotle, the superiority of private property over collective ownership in generating incentives to use scarce resources effectively has been recognized. It was a core idea of the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers such as David Hume and Adam Smith, as well as the American Revolutionaries such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

Historical experiences with the disaster of collective ownership and the benefits of private ownership can be found in the examples of the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies, the Soviet Union, and today's less developed countries. Collective ownership, or poorly defined and weakly enforced private property rights, leads to perverse incentives with regard to the use of scarce resources and insecurity with regard to investment in the improvement of those resources. In the Plymouth colony, for example, the attempt was made to rely on Christian principles to induce hard work for the communal good, but the colony was on the verge of starvation when it switched to a private property system in 1623. Within a short period after this change, the lives of the inhabitants were richly improved. Similarly, in the former communist countries, where less than 1% of the agricultural land was held in private plots, these private plots outperformed the collective farms. In the less developed world of Latin America and Africa, insecurity of ownership and the constant threat of predation by public and private actors has destined millions of people to live in squalor and poverty.

The importance of private property rights could not be clearer in terms of the historical evidence. Economics is the discipline that has devoted the most time and effort to explaining the functional significance of private property on an economic system. Unfortunately, for most of the 20th century economists lost their way in recognizing the critical importance of property rights because they treated it as the background to analysis rather than the subject of analysis.

There were a few intellectual dissenters in the ranks of economists in this regard. Perhaps the most important of these were Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek. In their critique of socialism, they emphasized not only the incentives that individuals face in the context of private property versus collective property arrangements, but the functional significance of clearly defined and enforced property rights for the economic calculation of alternative investment opportunities. Without a clear notion of "mine" and "thine," the institutional basis for exchange is lost. Without exchange relationships, monetary prices will not be formed on the market. Without money prices upon which to compare and contrast prospective employments of scarce resources, profit and loss signals will not be able to guide adjustments to resource use. In short, as Mises established theoretically in the early 20th century, and the reality of Soviet life and the collapse of the Soviet system demonstrated in the late 20th century, without clearly defined and enforced private property advanced economic development is not possible.

The implications of this argument are profound for our understanding of social organization. Private property rights are important to economic development because:

Recognized private property rights provide the legal certainty necessary for individuals to commit resources to ventures. The threat of confiscation, by either private individuals or public officials, undermines confidence in market activity and limits investment possibilities.
Clear property rights tend to make decision makers pay close attention to resource use and the discounted value of the future employment of scarce resources. Absent private property rights, economic actors will tend to be short-sighted in their decision making and not conserve resources over time.
Property rights are the basis of exchange and the extension of ownership to capital goods provides the basis for the development of financial markets that are essential for economic growth and development.
Secure private property rights, as indicated in the above quote by Thomas Jefferson, is the basis for limited and civilized government. The elimination of arbitrary confiscation and the establishment of regular taxation at announced rates enables merchants to calculate the present value of investment decisions and pass judgment on alternative allocations of capital.
Recent research on economic freedom around the world has demonstrated these four points repeatedly. Adam Smith, writing in the notebooks that would eventually become his justly famous An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, wrote: "Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things." Smith's friend and philosopher David Hume argued in his work that civil society could be defined as one in which the principles of "property, contract and consent" guide human interaction. In contemporary writings, Hernando de Soto has stressed the vital importance of recognized private property rights for unleashing the entrepreneurial talents of the poor throughout the less developed world.

The great philosophers of Western civilization, the great classical economists, and the best modern economists have drawn our attention to the importance of defined and enforced private property rights for achieving economic prosperity and social harmony. Public policy professionals all over the world are learning from history and recognizing this link. Unfortunately, there is much work to be done as hundreds of millions of people still live in countries where there is little regard for private property rights, and even less of an understanding of how these rights contribute to the economic and political well-being of a nation.

In the United States, where we have always benefited from private property and free enterprise, our biggest threat to continued prosperity lies in the slow erosion of the respect for private property by government through taxation and regulation. Thus, one of the most important roles that economists can play as scholars and teachers is to articulate clearly the significance of private property for economic development and social cooperation. If we don't, we will have failed in our scientific responsibility to convey the basic teachings of our discipline and the lessons learned from human history.

pianoman11686
December 15th, 2006, 03:05 PM
Six Reasons to Say No to Local Historic Districts

By L.M. Schwartz (http://www.vlrc.org/authors/1.html)

1. More Regulation!

Despite the opinions of all the “experts”, Historic Districts are simply another scheme for government control of private property, and despite all the slick reassurances and arguments to the contrary, Historic Districts are another layer of bureaucracy. Property owners are told the Architectural Review Board or the Historic District Commission procedures, guidelines and ordinances are “fair, expeditious and predictable.” The facts do not support such statements.

In December, 2000, the Owossa, Michigan, City Council passed the “Oliver Street Historic District” ordinance. Local residents were outraged when they learned how they had been hoodwinked by the council and by supporters of the plan with clever propaganda and underhanded tactics to give the appearance of broad public support. Former Councilman Burton Fox stated, “Why should it be up to a committee to determine what changes we may or may not make to our homes? We own the property, pay the taxes on it, and incur the expense of keeping it up.”

On August 14, 2001, the residents voted to repeal the ordinance by a margin of 70—30 percent, sending a powerful message to the historic preservationists. Mark Owen, who led the repeal effort, was elected to the City Council in November, 2001. Owossa residents were fed up with dictatorial, command and control regulation.

2. It's Historic? Who Says?

There are few people who would argue with the idea that some “things” are historic and worth preserving. The problem with current “preservationist” philosophy is most of the people promoting “historic preservation”, the self—anointed cultural elite, have abandoned the ideals of American civilization and the enduring truths of independence, self—reliance and the sanctity of private property rights. They are unable to distinguish between nauseatingly shallow historical fiction and real history. Truth, art, beauty and traditional values have been undermined by relativism, and the “preservationists” are incapable of separating the wheat from the chaff.

Deciding what should be preserved is subjective. Each individual has his own ideals, which is all the more reason to keep decisions about historic preservation out of the realm of politics and out of the hands of inept government Boards and Commissions.

As the “sociological culture” of “historic preservation” has been combined with the subjective interpretations of brainless bureaucrats, we are often “blessed” by idiocy : the National Trust for Historic Preservation naming the last remaining original McDonald's to its annual list of “America's most endangered historic places.”

“Yes, the historical appetite among Americans is unprecedented and large. Of course it is served, and will continue to be served by plenty of junk food. Of that professional historians may be aware. Of the existence of the appetite for history they are not.” —John Lucas, The American Scholar, Winter 1998

3. Property Values Will Increase!

Well, for once the “historic preservationists” are telling the truth, or at least part of the truth. In many cases property values will increase due to a Historic District, and so will tax assessments—and not just in the Historic District. Every taxpayer in the city or county is affected by higher property assessments, and every bureaucrat dances with turf—expansion glee as opportunities to meddle in private affairs increase in proportion to the “take” from the taxpayer. All those “historic edifices” will need to be catalogued, documented and studied. “Experts” will be needed to interpret, define and preserve the items in their little museum of “cultural landscapes” and “intangible heritage” —using their little bottles of “preservationist formaldehyde”.

4. The “Little Man” Is Squeezed Out!

Like a cancer, Historic Districts tend to grow, infecting surrounding areas. The “Voluntary Guidelines” turn into costly regulations which, when combined with higher taxes, stupidity, arbitrary regulatory edicts, racial discrimination, corruption, and political favoritism for those who are “in” with the local “establishment clique”, drive the average property owner out. Eventually, only the cultural elite can afford property in a Historic District. The “Historic District Police”, in cahoots with the fruitcake bureaucrats and elitist residents snoop and tattle on the evil deeds of their “neighbors”.

In Galena, Illinois, “historic preservation” rules prevented Jim Holman from building a retaining wall with $200 worth of railroad ties. Only a $3600 stone wall would suffice!

In Arlington County, Virginia, black people living in the Historic Maywood area were required to submit formal applications and ten copies of forms to get permission to install air conditioning in their homes.

In Pacific Grove, California, resident Stephen Page “endured 20 public hearings regarding the size, shape, height, siting, texture, materials, and color of our proposed residence.” During one meeting with the Architectural Review Board, a Commissioner objected to the plans for Mr. Page's house because “in my former life as a seagull, I was flying up and down the California coastline and saw your house built shaped as a seashell, built out of driftwood and feathers, with the aperture facing out to the sea.” It took two years of hearings, a lawsuit against the city, and tens of thousands of dollars in costs and expenses before Page was “allowed” to build a home on his land.

5. Free Money, Tax Rebates—Oink Oink!

Now, let's all line up at the trough. Never mind the fact that most federal programs which subsidize “historic preservation” are unconstitutional. Forget self—respect. To Hell with the poor “slob” working on the assembly line, the small farmer, and the millions of working people and small business owners who pay the taxes so the “historic preservation elites” are able to benefit from someone else's sweat and labor.

Amazing, isn't it, how, during the past 200 plus years, “culturally primitive” Americans were able to build and maintain so many thousands of “historic” homes and structures without sucking at the teat of the taxpayer.

Preservationists have no problem lining their pockets with someone else's money, especially when it's extorted from the taxpayer for the purpose of protecting just about everything “for future generations”.

6. Historic Districts Are Legal — Right?

Legal, yes—but are they lawful? There is a difference. Americans, who want to truly preserve their freedoms, culture, heritage, and their history, need to learn the difference in meaning between “legal” and “lawful”. Private property rights, the right of due process, and the protection against involuntary servitude (all violated by most Historic District Ordinances) are examples of lawful rights protected by our Constitution.

Statutory enactments are legalities. Legislatures enact thousands of statutes each year, such as the enabling legislation permitting localities to pass Historic District Ordinances. Most of us refer to statutes as “laws”, but to the extent statutory enactments undermine or are contrary to Constitutionally protected rights, they are not law, and should be defiantly resisted and defeated.

"The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it's enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it... No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.: — 16 Am Jur 2d, § 177, late 2d, § 256

Police in Little Rock, Arkansas, arrested 70 year old Betty Deislinger at a meeting of the city's Historic Commission. Her “crime” was a refusal to remove illegal burglar security bars from her 1870's house, in violation of the Historic District Ordinance. She was threatened with fines of up to $500/day until she complied with the ordinance. What would you have done about such an unlawful action by your city or town council?

Promoting freedom of choice and private voluntary action —not command and control regulation and extortion of tax dollars— is the best way to encourage people to restore and protect historic resources, to instill pride and to revitalize our communities.

“People differ greatly in their perceptions and concepts of beauty, and this makes it most unfair and perilous to progress to allow any one person or group to impose aesthetic controls…Controls on the appearance of property allow intolerance to masquerade as high—mindedness, stifling innovation and creativity.”—Bernard H. Siegan, Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Chicago

Punzie
December 15th, 2006, 04:26 PM
Pianoman, there are a number of full professors at top universities who agree with you. Can't you use one of their publications as sources instead? When you provide these sources, you are insulting our intelligence.

All of the authors are active members of the Virginia Land Rights Coalition. L.M. Schwartz is the director. You are asking New Yorkers to learn from a pack of VLRC members. Not very persuasive.

Let's get back to Schwartz. He's an extremist libertarian. Take a look at what he wrote for the 9/1/06 "Liberty Matters News Service":

U. S. Forest Service "Open Space" Propaganda

The U.S. Forest Service has published a propaganda piece touting the benefits of conserving "open space" in rural America. The brave new ideas for protecting rural America from rural Americans is the main reason behind the series of 24 "listening sessions" the federal government is conducting across the country. L. M. Schwartz, Chairman of the Virginia Land Rights Coalition, (VLRC) soundly denounced the government's attempt to hoodwink the public. "The report is filled with green half-truths and bogus solutions for non-existent problems. It is not even a veiled attempt at collectivism, but could only have been written by Marxist propagandists and proponents of Bertram Gross' Third Way-Friendly Fascism..." Schwartz writes. "Smart Growth, Sustainable Development, public-private partnerships, conservation easement, transfer of development rights, regulatory buffer zones...it's all there, right out of the UN's globalist planbook, part of The Wildlands Project agenda to eliminate most humans from 'protected lands' and crowd them into 'sustainable cities.'" The Forest Service intends to focus on the "Four Threats" that will require "working across jurisdictional boundaries to conserve open space in rural America...[W]here forests are in private ownership, as the majority are," the report claims, "residential growth alters the ability of these forests to provide ecosystem services and public benefits..." Mr. Schwartz says the report is further evidence that the greens, from The Nature Conservancy to the American Farmland Trust, "have infiltrated the upper (political) ranks of the USFS and are now influencing and even dictating the 'new' FS policy nationwide."


http://www.libertymatters.org/newsservice/2006/newsservice09_01_06.htm
__________

The shining star of the bunch, Peter Boetke, Ph.D.:

"... associate professor of economics and deputy director of the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy. He a member of the Board of Scholars of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy... "

He has not even made it to assistant professor yet. He is not the director of the James M. Buchanon Center -- he's the deputy director. As for being a member of the Board of Scholars at the Virgina Institute, I'm not overly impressed.

I must sound like a snob; not so. I -- and probably other people -- simply feel that if time is going to spent reading and analyzing "the other side," the papers should be authored by qualified people: top academics and/or successful leaders in public policy. None of the four authors qualify.

ZippyTheChimp
December 15th, 2006, 04:56 PM
Pianoman:

If you are still arguing that landmarking and other property regulations are a violation of Constitutional rights. the matter (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=438&page=104) was settled by the Supreme Court in 1978.

As for the economic and social ramifications of land regulation:

The first article concerns a debate about zoning in Houston, not New York. I dont know how many here can, but I cannot offer any information on land-use history in Houston. It is their debate. The tone of the article is best expressed by the passage:


To “violate the rights of others” does not mean using your property in a manner which others find objectionable. If such were the case, anyone could claim that he finds your use of your property to be objectionable, and hence, are violating his rights. In such an atmosphere, virtually every Houstonian could make a claim against every other Houstonian. The result would be chaos and the destruction of all rights.When I get to stuff like that, I lose interest.

The third article, arguing against historic districts, has me confused as to your position. I thought you opposed zoning in principle but favored landmarking. Previously, I had argued that you can't separate landmarking and zoning as property rights violations to illustrate the contradiction; if one is unconstitutional, so is the other.

Are you now saying that you also oppose landmarking of private property and historic districts?.

If so, consider this hypothetical: Remove all zoning and historic designation of private property from Manhattan. Developers and property owners are free to do whatever they want within the confines of the building code.

What do you see as Manhattan in 20 years?

pianoman11686
December 16th, 2006, 12:46 AM
[LEFT]Pianoman, there are a number of full professors at top universities who agree with you. Can't you use one of their publications as sources instead? When you provide these sources, you are insulting our intelligence.

All of the authors are active members of the Virginia Land Rights Coalition. L.M. Schwartz is the director. You are asking New Yorkers to learn from a pack of VLRC members. Not very persuasive.

Rapunzel, I really don't understand why you've reacted so negatively to this. For the record, the first article that I posted is in no way associated with the VLRC. I did, however, access it from their website, which I found by chance when doing some Google searches about zoning debates. The other two articles I found after reading the one concerning Houston.


The shining star of the bunch, Peter Boetke, Ph.D.:

"... associate professor of economics and deputy director of the James M. Buchanan Center for Political Economy. He a member of the Board of Scholars of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy... "

He has not even made it to assistant professor yet. He is not the director of the James M. Buchanon Center -- he's the deputy director. As for being a member of the Board of Scholars at the Virgina Institute, I'm not overly impressed.

You conveniently leave out the rest of his qualifications, including 8 years as assistant professor at New York University, and a PhD in economics. But I guess that means nothing. We can dismiss the value of his arguments because he doesn't "overly impress" you.


I must sound like a snob; not so. I -- and probably other people -- simply feel that if time is going to spent reading and analyzing "the other side," the papers should be authored by qualified people: top academics and/or successful leaders in public policy. None of the four authors qualify.

I offered Bernard Siegan on the last page. I met a similar quick dismissal from Fabrizio. If you know anything about him, you'd probably be satisfied. The thing is, I can't post a 300-page book's contents on a forum, especially when I don't even own the book.

The bulk of literary work advancing this opinion on zoning will undoubtedly be concentrated among libertarians; that's the nature of the topic, and they're the ones who take up the cause because it falls right into their basic political beliefs. What's more, is that you won't find too much variation among them; they fairly consistently use the same premises to advance their arguments.

If you, like others, have a problem evaluating someone's ideas just because your perception of them is that they're "radicals," then by all means, just say so. I'll warn you next time I'm about to post a similar article.

pianoman11686
December 16th, 2006, 01:14 AM
If you are still arguing that landmarking and other property regulations are a violation of Constitutional rights. the matter (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=438&page=104) was settled by the Supreme Court in 1978.

I'm well aware of the ruling, but I wasn't aware that I was arguing about any violation of Constitutional rights. I don't know exactly how well the Supreme Court's interpretation fit within the wording of the Constitution; many libertarians will argue not only that the ruling was incorrect, and should be amended, but that zoning itself is unconstitutional.


As for the economic and social ramifications of land regulation:

The first article concerns a debate about zoning in Houston, not New York. I dont know how many here can, but I cannot offer any information on land-use history in Houston. It is their debate. The tone of the article is best expressed by the passage:

When I get to stuff like that, I lose interest.

But what did you think of the rest of the article's points?

I didn't post it because I want to debate about Houston; I posted it because I think the arguments can be applied generally to the debate about zoning, wherever it takes place.


The third article, arguing against historic districts, has me confused as to your position. I thought you opposed zoning in principle but favored landmarking. Previously, I had argued that you can't separate landmarking and zoning as property rights violations to illustrate the contradiction; if one is unconstitutional, so is the other.

Are you now saying that you also oppose landmarking of private property and historic districts?.

My position concerning landmarking and historic districts hasn't changed; it's still something I think is valuable, and may have a place in a government's agenda. My principles haven't changed either, and, as you've alluded to it, that presents a problem: I'm torn between my subjective feelings about landmarking/historic districts, because I do have an appreciation of old architecture and it would pain me to see something like Grand Central torn down; then again, my mind agrees with the principles used to argue against zoning.

So, in all honesty, here it is: I just don't have a firm stance on the issue (yet). Part of my motivation in creating this thread was to see which side I'd lean more towards, and my position is less decisive than ever.


If so, consider this hypothetical: Remove all zoning and historic designation of private property from Manhattan. Developers and property owners are free to do whatever they want within the confines of the building code.

What do you see as Manhattan in 20 years?

And I'll respond to this hypothetical the same way I've done to all the previous ones like it: if you're alluding to the possibility that every single historic district will be compromised, and every part of Manhattan will look the same, I just can't accept it. There are enough people out there that will refuse to sell their historic properties, while others will lead private coalitions to obtain ownership of buildings in order to preserve them. On the flip side of things, you can't assume the current pace of development will continue, uninterrupted, and indefinitely into the future.

Will we lose more historic buildings than under the current system? Yes, we most certainly will. But you can't predict unilateral destruction of everything worth preserving just by eliminating zoning, and you certainly can't predict what other benefits might be gained by doing so.

Punzie
December 16th, 2006, 03:07 AM
You conveniently leave out the rest of his qualifications, including 8 years as assistant professor at New York University, and a PhD in economics.

I left out the rest of his qualifications because they only confirm his mediocrity. He was not granted tenure at NYU and there's a reason. Since he's an avid Yankees fan, I'm being easy on him.



What's more, is that you won't find too much variation among them; they fairly consistently use the same premises to advance their arguments.True, libertarians have similar premises. That's why I judge them by the aptitude by which they put together the arguments to support their premises.

Boettke's writing is wordy, grandiose, embellished and theoretical. I kept on asking, "Where's the beef?"


If you, like others, have a problem evaluating someone's ideas just because your perception of them is that they're "radicals," then by all means, just say so.I don't have problems with evaluating the ideas of radicals; I have problems with evaluating ideas argued in a mediocre fashion. I, Rapunzel, can argue Boettke's position better than he can.


I'll warn you next time I'm about to post a similar article.

Don't warn me, I love surprises.

Speaking of which, I'm acquainted with an eminent New York State Libertarian with whom you may want to connect. His intelligence, career accomplishments, and public service record are up to the Rapunzel Standard. Do you want me to PM you his website?

Fabrizio
December 16th, 2006, 06:36 AM
Pianoman:

Do you realize how you constantly strawman in you responses?

"Will we lose more historic buildings than under the current system? Yes, we most certainly will. But you can't predict unilateral destruction of everything worth preserving just by eliminating zoning, and you certainly can't predict what other benefits might be gained by doing so."

That E V E R Y T H I N G worth preserving will be destroyed, is NOT the concern here of Zippy, Rapunzel or me.

"Will we lose more historic buildings than under the current system? Yes, we most certainly will."

You said it beautifuly....and THAT is the concern.

Got it?

lofter1
December 16th, 2006, 11:35 AM
Imagine if you will: Only one 15-, 20-, 30-story building (or taller) in the center of each now-Landmark protected block of buildings in NYC.

Not much you might think -- only one per block.

IMO that is enough to maintain Landmark / Zoning regulations.

Without those protections the inevitable will follow: Other tall buildings which will be built on those blocks as property owners seek to maximize their profits.

If one has a problem with what are perceived to be the limitations / encumbrances of zoning / landmarking then the better answer might be to relocate to a place that doesn't have such regulations, rather than trying to re-shape NYC (as imperfect as it might be) in that image.

pianoman11686
December 16th, 2006, 02:09 PM
I left out the rest of his qualifications because they only confirm his mediocrity. He was not granted tenure at NYU and there's a reason. Since he's an avid Yankees fan, I'm being easy on him.

You specifically mentioned the fact that he wasn't listed as an assistant professor, and only an associate. Then I pointed out that he was, in fact, an assistant professor at a top university for 8 years. You assume he wasn't granted tenure because he's mediocre. Yet, I know for a fact that many libertarians are against the idea of professor tenureship on principle. I know this because one of these professors has been teaching at my college for 10 years, and refuses to be granted tenure.


Boettke's writing is wordy, grandiose, embellished and theoretical. I kept on asking, "Where's the beef?"

Doesn't most of academia's writing fit that description?


I don't have problems with evaluating the ideas of radicals; I have problems with evaluating ideas argued in a mediocre fashion. I, Rapunzel, can argue Boettke's position better than he can.

By all means, then - argue away. So far, the only thing you've argued in this thread is that you have a problem with people on your block using their private property as a storage space. You attribute this to a fundamental difference in values because of their foreign heritage. Yet, you think the government should initiate force against them because of this. Justification? You don't like it.

pianoman11686
December 16th, 2006, 02:19 PM
Pianoman:

Do you realize how you constantly strawman in you responses?

That E V E R Y T H I N G worth preserving will be destroyed, is NOT the concern here of Zippy, Rapunzel or me.

I only say that because it seems to be the immediate "doomsday" scenario brought up by anyone who values anything historic. I have to strike a balance somewhere: just as current zoning and landmarking laws still allow for certain historic structures to be torn down, so too will a lack of them still result in certain ones being preserved.


You said it beautifuly....and THAT is the concern.

Got it?

I've gotten it since the beginning of this thread. In fact, I share your concern. That doesn't automatically rule out every other aspect of this debate, though. There's more to it than "we're going to lose historic buildings, thus we should not consider it." You and I, as well as a bunch of other forumers here, may think that's a primary concern, but what about the rest of the public? Why should our concerned minority be heard louder than their unconcerned majority?


Imagine if you will: Only one 15-, 20-, 30-story building (or taller) in the center of each now-Landmark protected block of buildings in NYC.

Not much you might think -- only one per block.

IMO that is enough to maintain Landmark / Zoning regulations.

Without those protections the inevitable will follow: Other tall buildings which will be built on those blocks as property owners seek to maximize their profits.

If one has a problem with what are perceived to be the limitations / encumbrances of zoning / landmarking then the better answer might be to relocate to a place that doesn't have such regulations, rather than trying to re-shape NYC (as imperfect as it might be) in that image.

It's not so much that I want to reshape NYC per se, lofter. Like I said, I have an appreciation for the way things are now.

The debate is about zoning in general. It has come to focus on New York, and Manhattan especially, because that is what's familiar to us. But the ideas behind it apply everywhere.

pianoman11686
December 16th, 2006, 02:21 PM
The Anti-Kelo

A heavy government hand isn't necessary for economic development.

BY STEVEN GREENHUT
Thursday, April 6, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

ANAHEIM, Calif.--While city officials have long micromanaged land-use decisions and appropriated private property for economic redevelopment, it was not until the Supreme Court's Kelo v. City of New London decision last summer that many Americans noticed the degree to which big government has set up shop on Main Street.

Take Garden Grove, an aging working-class city of gaudy strip malls and tract houses 34 miles south of Los Angeles. In 2002, officials planned to bulldoze a large, decent neighborhood to make way for a theme park, issuing bond debt to finance subsidies to help its developer. The project failed amid community protest; so the local government moved on, this time attempting to turn city-owned land over to a group of Indians who would work with a Las Vegas developer to build a casino.

Economic redevelopment is a serious, complex issue, but it isn't always done this way; and Anaheim, just north of Garden Grove, is proving it. Although the community faces similar problems, its city council, led by Republican Mayor Curt Pringle, is taking a more freedom-friendly approach to revitalization: protecting property rights, deregulating land uses, promoting competition, loosening business restrictions and lowering taxes.

Anaheim's old downtown was obliterated in the 1970s through past uses of eminent domain and urban renewal. Now, the city (population: 328,000) wants to build a new downtown, and the target location is called the Platinum Triangle, an area of one-story warehouses near Angel Stadium. In the typical world of redevelopment, officials would choose a plan and a developer, offer subsidies and exclusive development rights, and exert pressure on existing property owners to leave the area. Instead, Anaheim created a land-value premium by creating an overlay zone that allowed almost any imaginable use of property. Because current owners could now sell to a wider range of buyers, the Platinum Triangle is booming, with billions in private investment, millions of square feet of office, restaurant and retail space, and more than a dozen new high-rises in the works.

The area is developing quickly, without controversy and without a single piece of property taken by eminent domain. Early signs point to an enormous success. "Too often, I hear my colleagues in local government . . . say that Kelo-type eminent domain and redevelopment policies are their only tools to revitalize cities," Mr. Pringle recently said. "I have a simple message . . . Visit the Platinum Triangle."

The previous planning commission and city council were harsh on small businesses seeking variances; the new council (which took office in December 2002) began overturning one commission decision after another, with the goal of giving local residents and businesses as much leeway as possible.

The council waived fees for homeowners undertaking renovations, on the grounds that the city would gain in the long run by the increase in property taxes. Anaheim also waived fees for business start-ups for three months; some 2,000 new businesses formed in 2005, an increase of one-third from the previous year. It also passed a tax amnesty and eliminated business taxes altogether for home-based businesses. Most cities don't like to allow churches to build new worship centers, because tax-exempt churches typically locate in commercial and industrial areas, taking properties off the tax rolls. Anaheim has eliminated most hurdles for approving new churches. Its housing plan also avoids "inclusionary zoning"--an increasingly popular approach to mandate that builders set aside certain amounts of "affordable" housing.

"Mayor Pringle is a god in our world," says Kristine Thalman, CEO of the Building Industry Association of Orange County. "He gets it. He understands the regulatory issues and some of the impediments to development."

Anaheim's experiment happened almost by accident. Mr. Pringle had always been a free-market guy, and headed to the California State Assembly when he was 29. He still brags about "the largest business tax cut in California history" ($1 billion), passed while he was speaker. He ran for mayor in 2002 at the encouragement of other local leaders, but not, he says, with a specific policy goal in mind. "I didn't run thinking of these ideas. After winning, I realized this is the smallest council of the largest city in the state. I could change things . . . Local government is mostly devoid of exciting new ideas."

At the urging of then-Councilman Tom Tait, a Republican with libertarian leanings, he began to look at the command-and-control nature of local planning. He found a surprising ally in Councilman Richard Chavez, a liberal Democrat who agreed that the old rule-bound system was holding back opportunities for the city's emerging Latino community.

Mr. Chavez said he didn't know what to expect from Messrs. Pringle and Tait, but that both helped him early on in protecting the interests of some local businesses that were facing unfair treatment from the city. "Curt created a sense of trust," he says. That trust led to "incredible growth, incredible energy for the city and a success at providing housing at every level . . . . I get very little negativity, even from those on the left side of the aisle." Hermetic partisan politics drop away, evidently, in the face of verifiable success.

In many ways, the Kelo case incited a national property-rights mutiny, with hundreds of localities passing laws that limit the scope of the eminent domain power. Anaheim's circumstance is instructive in a different sense: By decentralizing bureaucracies and loosening cosseted government regulation, it has confirmed the vitality and audacity of private enterprise. The city has made itself a laboratory for free-market thought.

No doubt, most cities will plod along like Garden Grove, embracing typical big-government redevelopment policies. But success also attracts curiosity, other cities are learning from Anaheim. Many are in Orange County; but the story is spreading. Mayor Pringle says his ideas are being employed in the mayoral race up north in San Jose. He was most proud, he said, when Mayor Doug Davert, of nearby Tustin, recently vowed to "Pringle-ize" his community.

http://www.opinionjournal.com/cc/?id=110008189

lofter1
December 16th, 2006, 11:28 PM
The debate is about zoning in general. It has come to focus on New York, and Manhattan especially, because that is what's familiar to us. But the ideas behind it apply everywhere.

I think they should apply to those communities that decide they want and / or need them -- those communities that choose otherwise are free to do so.

NYC has stood up as in favor of fairly strict zoning / landmarking regulations.

Houston apparently has not.

I'll take Manhattan ;)

lofter1
December 16th, 2006, 11:29 PM
Anaheim? It's a Sh*t Hole

Punzie
December 17th, 2006, 02:49 AM
So far, the only thing you've argued in this thread is that you have a problem with people on your block using their private property as a storage space.

If you really believe this, then you either have poor reading comprehension or have neglected to read most of my posts.



You attribute this to a fundamental difference in values because of their foreign heritage.

Again, your reading comprehension shortfalling! The foreigners only comprise one-third of the new homebuyers in my area, so they are by no means the whole problem.

If you stick around long enough, I'll describe another demographic (American) that's another part of the problem.



Yet, you think the government should initiate force against them because of this.

When you use the word "force" in this context you sound Rush Limbaughesque. He is notorious for taking a straight-forward sentence and applying the most drastic meanings to each word to make his opponent appear either moronic or heinous. Rush sort of gets away with this because he's a talk radio show host and a genius. Most people can't pull this off.



Justification? You don't like it.You're darned right. I don't like it when I am willing to negotiate zoning variances and the people who want them refuse to negotiate.

Fabrizio
December 17th, 2006, 06:15 AM
Mercer Consulting is considered the gold-standard for quality of life surveys.

Houston? For quality of life, remains the lowest ranking city in the U.S. :

http://www.citymayors.com/features/quality_survey.html

http://www.mercerhr.com/summary.jhtml?idContent=1173105

ablarc
December 17th, 2006, 12:53 PM
I've studiously avoided this thread and haven't read a word of it. That's because I deal with zoning professionally every single workday, and I don't want my blood to boil. Zoning is the cause of much emotional upheaval in my life; it (not the developers!!) singlehandedly keeps me from ever creating an urban building (which I crave to do) in the areas where I operate and where urbanism is forbidden by the zoning.

There is zoning and there is zoning. I'm not against zoning that creates Paris and preserves Greenwich Village. But the vast, overwhelming majority of zoning creates the sprawling Suburbia we all hate and that will --if allowed to run its course-- require abandonment of the planet, as Stephen Hawking has predicted. No intellectual construct of man presently causes anywhere near as much environmental mayhem. Most zoning is worse than bullshit.

In preference to that kind of zoning, I vote for its complete absence. Houston is no worse than Charlotte, and if I were practicing in Houston I would at least be allowed to legally design an urban building. If there's no demand for that in Houston, at least it's not the fault of the law.

.

ZippyTheChimp
December 17th, 2006, 12:57 PM
But what did you think of the rest of the article's points?

I didn't post it because I want to debate about Houston; I posted it because I think the arguments can be applied generally to the debate about zoning, wherever it takes place.
I'm not going to waste time over an article that is not a discussion of facts and data that reaches a conclusion, but one that goes in with a political agenda and manipulates facts that support that agenda.

If you're going to argue against zoning in Houston on the basis that zoning in places like New York are the most significant cause of higher housing costs; a debate in Houston a few decades ago on proposed gun control could similarly point to New York's gun control laws as a major component of criminal activity. No one says that anymore.

Houston is a large city, but it is vastly different from New York.

New York land area: 303 sq mi
population: 8,213,000
density: 26,700 people/sq mi

Houston land area: 580 sq mi
population: 2,016,000
density: 3480 people/sq mi

Almost twice the land area and 14% the density of New York, it is the definition of sprawl.

The question here, as to the elimination of zoning, is whether it would significantly mitigate housing costs in New York. If someone would tell me that it would without a major alteration of Manhattan, I would say that we can discuss that. But lowering costs a few percent, while technically correct, does not solve the housing problem.

In other words, you ain't giving me enough.

This paper, previously posted, (http://www.millersamuel.com/pdf-tank/1106013654NOEow.pdf) is more objective, but key data about population is ignored.


The population of Las Vegas
almost tripled between 1980 and 2000, but the real median housing price did not change.
Population density is 4000/sq mi. Land is relatively cheap.


In the
sprawling cities of the American heartland, land remains cheap, real construction costs are falling, and expanding supply keeps housing prices down.There's that word sprawl again.


Even in New York City, growth in the housing supply used to help keep prices down. As
the city grew during the middle of the century, existing blocks of apartments and homes
were demolished to make way for denser residential construction. As shown by Figure 1,
tens of thousands of new units were built in Manhattan during the 1950s, while prices
remained flat. Clearly, there are different forces impacting the supply of housing in
Manhattan today.

NYC population changes by decade:
1910: 38%
1920: 17
1930: 23
1940: 8
1950: 6
1960: -1.4
1970: 1.4
1980: -10
1990: 3.5
2000: 13 (there ya go)
2006: 2.6

Also, induced by funds from the US Housing Act of 1949, the NYCHA built many units. My father purchased his home in the 50s on previously undeveloped land in Brooklyn.

It should be noted that during the 50s, zoning existed in NYC. What did not exist are the regulatory procedures I've been stating have a greater impact on development than zoning.

The authors use mathematical models to arrive at X-dollars/sq ft, but while lowering this number would result in more units, it would not put a dent in the housing shortage; it would give people who can afford the high prises a better deal.

Regardless of the numbers, adding 20 floors to a 50 story building is nowhere near as cost effective as adding it to a 20 story building. Although less a factor as in commercial buildings, residential towers are subject to the same law of diminishing returns as you go higher. The fertile ground for developers in an unrestricted market is the low-rise neighborhood.


existing blocks of apartments and homes
were demolished to make way for denser residential constructionExactly what I'm believe would happen without controls.

Punzie
December 17th, 2006, 01:41 PM
But the vast, overwhelming majority of zoning creates the sprawing Suburbia we all hate. . .

Who is "we all"? It can't include me because I like living in sprawling suburbia. And one of the best tools to keep suburbia beautiful -- or from getting more ugly -- is strict zoning laws.

______________

If, hypothetically speaking, the demographics, backgrounds, and current circumstances of each member posting on this topic were scrutinized, I think that you'd be able to neatly (and accurately) create profiles of a "pro-zoner" and an "anti-zoner". Simply put, we don't control our points of view as much as we think we do.

lofter1
December 28th, 2006, 11:58 AM
More on Oregon's "Measure 37" from Sisters, Oregon (http://www.sistersoregonguide.com/) --

The article describes some of the remifications of this zoning issue on one small town (http://www.sisterschamber.com/Sisters-Area-Chamber/default.aspx) in a fairly large state ...

Measure 37 is a continuing battle

nuggetnews.com (http://www.nuggetnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=5&SubSectionID=5&ArticleID=3194&TM=41961.7)
By Joseph Duerrmeyer
December 26, 2006

Measure 37 has been a controversial issue since it was passed about two years ago. The fact that it was passed by the greatest margin of any measure in Oregon's history makes it no less controversial, and because of it numerous battles over land use are being waged in the Sisters area.

According to Tim Berg of the Deschutes County Community Development Department, currently there are 32 claims totaling 5,450 acres, with a total claim value of $130,000,000 in the Sisters School District. All the claims are for residential subdivision/dwelling purposes. The economic and environmental impact of these claims could be felt by Sisters' residents for decades.

There are two additional Measure 37 claims by Central Electric Cooperative that concern right-of-way for power lines and substations that have not been assigned a claim value.

The largest Measure 37 claim yet filed in Deschutes County was for a $203.5 million loss. The property owner wants to mine pumice, drill for geothermal energy and build 150 homes in a crater in the middle of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

One story that illustrates the emerging picture is the battle fought by Central Electric Cooperative (CEC) over a power line to Sisters. The Sisters area has had chronic problems for years with aging and inadequate power transmission infrastructure. CEC has been attempting to upgrade the transmission infrastructure to Sisters for several years in an attempt to eliminate the power outages that most often occur in the winter during periods of high demand.

The plan, according to Jim Crowell of CEC, was to build a loop system of transmission lines so that in the event an incident took out a power line, Sisters would not be left in a total blackout until the line could be restored. Additional power would be immediately rerouted through the the other portion of the loop until the repairs were completed.

However, problems surfaced almost immediately when the Cyrus family felt that the power line would diminish the value of farmland that the family could develop as a residential development under Measure 37. A legal battle ensued which required CEC to obtain a Measure 37 waiver, which was granted after a tense legal standoff.

However, the issue is still not resolved, and the property owner is demanding that the power lines be removed.

Martin Hanson, attorney for CEC, commented that the same landowner had "actually helped support and draft Measure 37 itself because of their own property. It was hearing voices on their own guitar. It was their Measure 37 not our Measure 37."

Hanson continued, "We noted the irony there. At one hearing date they were trying to defeat our Measure 37 claim, and the next hearing on the docket was their Measure 37 claim."

Calls to Matt Cyrus were not immediately returned.

The City of Sisters is facing some planning dilemmas due to Measure 37 claims. Eileen Stein, Sisters City Manager, said of the Measure 37 claims, "They certainly have the potential to affect our planning."

For example, there are at least two Measure 37 claims that have the potential to develop into urban density: Pine Meadow Ranch and Patterson Ranch. Claims were filed for both properties before the December cut-off date.

Both are outside the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) for Sisters. The City of Sisters will have to decide if they want to bring these developments into the UGB and city limits so that they can provide services of water and sewer to these developments.

Also of concern is the potential for using Measure 37 claims to build on flood plains. Some land use restrictions concerning setbacks from creek or flood plains could conceivably be circumvented through the application of a Measure 37 claim. This could create a serious fiscal problem in the event of a flood.

Real estate values are another issue. The whole thrust behind Measure 37 was to provide compensation for decreased property values due to land use restrictions. However, the value of other non-Measure 37 properties may be negatively affected because their neighbors may now be able to build structures that decrease the value of their land.

***

The origins of Measure 37 lie in land use laws

The origins of Measure 37 lie in the days of Republican Governor Tom McCall who held office between 1967 and 1975 and marched to the beat of his own drummer.

A glimpse of McCall's passion for Oregon's natural beauty is apparent in his often quoted statement from a speech delivered in 1971: "We want you to visit our State of Excitement often. Come again and again. But, for heaven's sake, don't move here to live."

Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski spoke of Governor McCall in 2002 describing him as: "Non-conformist. Fiercely independent. Plain spoken. Tolerant. And above all, in love with - and determined to protect - the natural beauty of Oregon."

In 1973, McCall convinced the Oregon legislature to adopt the nation's first set of comprehensive land use planning laws. McCall enlisted the aid of an unlikely coalition of farmers and environmentalists, and together they persuaded the legislature that the state's natural beauty would soon be lost in a rising tide of urban sprawl.

Senate Bill 100 (SB 100) was the result, and it created the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) and the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD). The resulting new goals and guidelines required every city and county in Oregon to have a long-range plan addressing future growth that meets both local and statewide goals. The legislature delegated the authority to establish the state standards to the LCDC. This commission adopted standards called the Statewide Planning Goals. Several Oregon Administrative Rules, as well as regional policies and city policies, supplement the Statewide Planning Goals.

On the heels of SB 100, Governor McCall joined forces with Henry Richmond, an activist who believed that good planning could address serious environmental, social and economic issues, and together they founded the 1,000 Friends of Oregon as a nonprofit charitable organization to be the citizens' voice for land use planning that protects Oregon's quality of life from the effects of growth.

The result of SB 100 is the preservation to this day of much of Oregon's pristine beauty and environment. However, beneath the surface were sown all the seeds for a backlash. Governor McCall was roundly criticized as anti-growth and anti-business; property owners rebelled against the strict land use laws and began to seek a remedy.

Then came Measure 37 in 2004, the controversial property rights initiative that gave longtime land-owners a way around Oregon's strict growth-management regime. Measure 37 provides that a landowner is owed a payment by the government if the property owner can prove that his or her land has been devalued as a result of any land use regulation imposed after the time the property was acquired by either the landowner or a family member.

As an alternative to a payment, the governmental entity imposing the regulation may "waive" land use regulations imposed.

Soon after its passage, a flurry of Measure 37 claims were filed that were immediately followed by a storm of lawsuits challenging everything from the measure's constitutionality to individual claims.

Since this time, the legislature has struggled to find some middle ground, and numerous modifications of the original bill have resulted. Impacts of the passage of Measure 37 are affecting the environment, growth planning and the real estate market.

Copyright 2006, The Nugget Newspaper

lofter1
January 15th, 2007, 08:02 AM
Once at Cotillions, Now Reshaping the Cityscape

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2007/01/15/nyregion/600_amanda.jpg
Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
Amanda M. Burden, city planning commissioner, with James P. Molinaro,
the Staten Island borough president, and Mayor Bloomberg.


nytimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/nyregion/15amanda.html?ref=nyregion)
By DIANE CARDWELL
January 15, 2007


When Amanda M. Burden’s stepfather, William S. Paley, built the vest-pocket park that bears his name on East 53rd Street, he saw to it that the four wide stone steps from the street, each only five inches high, stood as an invitation to enter.


Those steps “are just perfect,” Ms. Burden recently recalled her mentor, the urban scholar William H. Whyte, telling her. “It makes you want to skip into that park.”


It is that kind of meticulous focus on the details that Ms. Burden inherited from Mr. Paley, the tycoon who built CBS, and is now using to profound effect in subtly reshaping New York through her role as city planning commissioner.


Whether walking up and down 368 blocks in Jamaica, Queens, to see which streets can accommodate 12-story buildings, or grabbing a tape measure from her desk to set the dimensions of seating in public plazas across the city, Ms. Burden is leaving an indelible legacy of how all five boroughs will look and feel for decades to come.


Ms. Burden, who swirled from Kennedy-era cotillions to Halston’s disco pad to the upper echelons of government, has used her power over land-use approvals to impose her own aesthetic sensibility on development projects.


Her approach emphasizes open space, continuous shop fronts, and the inclusion of trees and other elements that foster lively street life. It is visible, for example, in the small sidewalk cafes that are now permitted in much of Manhattan and in the wide ledges encouraging sitting that surround General Motors Plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.


But she has engendered the hostility of many developers and others tied to the city’s powerful real estate industry, who bristle at what they see as her micromanagement of the appearance and even the shape of their buildings, and feel pressured to use celebrity architects like Frank Gehry and Norman Foster for major projects. It is a testament to her influence that none of them would speak for the record, but interviews with nearly a dozen people who work in or with the real estate industry show that her approach is not always welcome.


Since her appointment in 2002 by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Ms. Burden has played a powerful behind-the-scenes role in shaping plans at ground zero, in limiting the size of the Atlantic Yards development near Downtown Brooklyn, and in helping push through the High Line project, which will transform a disused rail bed into a linear park linking the West Village to the Far West Side.


She has overseen the biggest comprehensive planning effort since the citywide rezoning of 1961, encompassing nearly 4,500 blocks thus far, including a huge swath along the Williamsburg and Greenpoint waterfronts in Brooklyn, with at least 2,300 blocks more in the pipeline.


She has earned many admirers in planning circles, along with detractors, and few would disagree that she is leaving her imprint on New York.


“She cares about each building and its details in a way that no other planning director has that I can remember, and I go back a long way,” said Jerold S. Kayden, director of the master’s program in urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “She’s wise enough to recognize that what I would call small details or granular moves can either enhance or destroy a city. In a funny way she’s the curator of a living, breathing city.”


If New York is known among urban planners as a city that continually reshapes itself to suit the latest mercantile whims, Ms. Burden has shifted at least part of the focus to the people who live and work there.


There is a strong economic-development component to Ms. Burden’s focus on design — “I think that it makes the city young and exciting to see aggressive and innovative architecture,” she said, naming Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid and Thom Mayne as among her favorites. But her decisions are often guided by a more emotional sensibility and a belief that a city’s health can be measured by the vibrancy of its street life.


“Everything comes down to how it’s going to feel,” she said. “There isn’t very innovative architecture at Battery Park City,” whose design she oversaw as the lead planner. “But people like it because it feels good.”


At a meeting at her office recently to look over plans for new parks along the East River in Manhattan, she asked that some of the seating be arranged to allow for social interaction. And in a pending rezoning of 125th Street, because banks often close in the afternoon and deaden the stretches of street they occupy, she ordered that they be limited to a small vestibule for A.T.M.’s on the ground floor. The bulk of bank operations would instead be upstairs.


Although Ms. Burden, 62, clearly relishes her job, one she said she coveted for decades, her path to it was not entirely straightforward. She was born to the elite: a descendant of John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States; her father, Stanley Mortimer, was an heir to the Standard Oil fortune, and her mother, Barbara Paley, known as Babe, was one of Truman Capote’s exalted swans. Her most recent detailed financial disclosure forms, filed in 2005, put her net worth at more than $45 million, with the bulk of it reserved in trust for her children.


After an upbringing filled with society parties and cotillions, she married Carter Burden, a wealthy member of the Vanderbilt clan who was an aide to Senator Robert F. Kennedy and later became a city councilman.


Living at the Dakota on Central Park West, on the same floor as Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall, the couple had two children while Ms. Burden worked as a public school teacher in Harlem, but they divorced in 1972.
icking up her education again, Ms. Burden studied environmental science at Sarah Lawrence and was able to apply the quantitative analysis skills she learned after meeting Mr. Whyte, who hired her to study how New Yorkers used public spaces. That led to an epiphany that “this was how I could do public service, by shaping the city, by creating great public spaces,” she said.


She worked for the New York State Urban Development Corporation under Gov. Hugh L. Carey, then oversaw the planning of Battery Park City until her appointment to the City Planning Commission in 1990. Having moved to the Upper East Side, she got to know Mr. Bloomberg a bit, running into him near their 79th Street homes, and through her friendship with his aide Patricia E. Harris, now a deputy mayor.


She made a splash after being appointed planning commissioner by moving forward on huge rezoning efforts and insisting on more finely drawn designs for major projects.


But many developers, who, associates say, will not speak publicly for fear of jeopardizing their projects, complain that she is imperious and arbitrary, using her seat in government to dictate the angles at which their buildings sit in the skyline or to mandate the use of overpriced architects. Even some of her fans describe her as willful and single-minded, with her patrician bearing and impeccable manners obscuring what Daniel L. Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, called a “velvet hammer.”


In many areas that now bear her stamp, community advocates have welcomed Ms. Burden’s efforts. But there is still criticism that the administration has little interest in genuine community planning and that Ms. Burden focuses too intently on the microfibers of a plan and ignores larger threads in the urban fabric like transportation, schools or sewer capacity.


“She comes across as the Good Witch of the North: she’s patient, she’s understanding, she’s attractive, she appears to listen,” said Peter Gillespie, executive director of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, a community advocacy group in north Brooklyn.


“But if you look at the results of her waving the magic wand of this Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning, where residents have been displaced, viable manufacturing jobs have been lost” and the neighborhood overrun with construction projects, he continued, “she’s more like the Wicked Witch of the West.”


Ms. Burden acknowledges that zoning changes can create anxiety and dissatisfaction within communities, but defends the administration’s approach of maximizing growth on wide boulevards and near transportation hubs while preserving little-village character elsewhere. “It’s a citywide approach, but it’s never broad-brush,” she said, adding that she works to “overlay community perspective with citywide need.”


She is also unapologetic toward her critics in the real estate industry, rejecting outright the notion that high-end design costs too much and saying that this administration has done more than any other to encourage growth.


In addition, planning experts and her supporters in the administration say, her focus on the small details adds up to a profound effect.


“The physical environment is absolutely essential and creates the kind of communities that make people want to invest in those communities,” Mr. Doctoroff said. “Some people disagree with the judgments, and that’s understandable, but I don’t think that you can object to having high standards.”


Ms. Burden’s work has allowed her to mostly escape the tag of socialite, although her name has remained a boldface staple of the society pages, especially through her associations with high-profile men including her second husband, Steve Ross of Time Warner, and her former companion, the talk show host Charlie Rose.


“Amanda has been surrounded by high energy, talented people all her life and she understands how to be effective,” said Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban planning at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, who is close to the administration. “There’s very few people who combine her looks and brains and know-how in the same package.”


But there is also her thoroughness, boosters say, a trait that has become a hallmark of her current role, where she said she requires that all the commissioners visit the entire site of any rezoning before voting on it.


As a result, weekends often find her jumping into her car to visit the communities where the commission is proposing changes.


“That’s the hardest thing about the job is learning every block,” she said. “Every one of those 65 rezonings, every one, I know them all. And I don’t think you should be allowed to propose reshaping a community unless you know it.”


Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

pianoman11686
January 15th, 2007, 02:58 PM
I'd heard a lot about Ms. Burden, but I didn't know she was so deeply involved in micromanagement.

While I don't find much, if anything, wrong with her policies/priorities/prescriptions, it's never a good thing, in my opinion, to have a single person's vision so thoroughly dominate something as broad as the public realm (even if she is a vast improvement over someone like Moses).

Derek2k3
January 15th, 2007, 04:25 PM
I think she is the reason why so much starchitecture is rising near the High Line. Not sure how she legally does this though.

She looks damn good for 62.
Burden for mayor, Zaha for city planner!

pianoman11686
January 30th, 2007, 12:16 AM
Plan To Monitor Homebuilders Could Hinder Development, Mayor Says

BY MATTHEW CHAYES - Special to the Sun
January 29, 2007

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/47582

The Bloomberg administration is warning that a City Council bill that would stop trusting homebuilders to certify that their construction projects obey zoning and building codes could hinder economic development in New York City.

The Department of Buildings relies on many builders to "self-certify" their projects, under a Giuliani-era program to speed development. But a bill to be introduced Thursday by Council Member David Weprin, a Democrat of Queens, would end self-certification for homes and require that the city examine all major construction plans for one-, two-, and three-family homes.

Currently, the city aims to audit 20% of the self-certified building applications it receives every year, a spokeswoman for the buildings department, Kate Lindquist, said.

Mr. Weprin's staff concedes that the bill does not provide funding for the staffing the proposal would inevitably require. But the bill's supporters, noting that allegations about shoddy construction are the most common complaint lawmakers receive from constituents, say minor delays are a necessary tradeoff to protect the safety and character of neighborhoods.

Community groups blame the self-certification process for construction woes, including several high-profile building collapses and homeowners being scammed by sloppy remodeling jobs.

"The Department of Buildings has completely lost control of the honor system that allows builders and architects to sign off on their own work," Mr. Weprin said at a news conference at City Hall yesterday. "As a result, we have developers acting with complete impunity with the only people that are truly watching being the community members."

Mr. Weprin and several of his colleagues were surrounded by dozens of New Yorkers, who spoke of unscrupulous and dangerous construction sites in their neighborhoods.

The Bloomberg administration is backing another measure, from Council Member James Vacca of the Bronx, that officials say would implement a strike system to bar builders who repeatedly flout the rules from self-certifying. Mr. Vacca's bill, which Mr. Weprin supports, would apply to all construction in the city.

"Abolishing the program would require significantly more resources than we have available to us today," Ms. Lindquist said in a statement. "What's more, it could hinder good, healthy economic development that this city needs."

The president of the Brooklyn chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Dmitriy Shenker, said he welcomed more review but questioned whether the city had enough qualified staff to review plans on a timely basis.

The city receives about 70,000 building applications a year.

© 2007 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC.

Fabrizio
January 30th, 2007, 01:44 AM
Why should anyone trust "homebuilders to certify that their construction projects obey zoning and building codes" ??

Does a city like NYC need 3rd-world methods to keep development humming along?

---

"...construction woes, including several high-profile building collapses and homeowners being scammed by sloppy remodeling jobs."

"...we have developers acting with complete impunity with the only people that are truly watching being the community members."

"...unscrupulous and dangerous construction sites in their neighborhoods."

"...builders who repeatedly flout the rules ..."

Ninjahedge
January 30th, 2007, 10:07 AM
There should be a few things to try to keep them honest. One is the 20% random reviews that would be run. You stand a 1 in 5 of being caught unless you know the right people.

Another would be private inspectors being able to be called in, with a small amount of the fee supported by the city, when any construction is in question. this will not help in some situations, but it will with others.

The main problem is that in the construction industry, there are few individuals that actually OWN anything anymore. They are very careful to keep all of their funds well insulated to prevent loss should something happen. And 2-5 years pass and a shoddy pluming job goes bye-bye, you may find it hard to even find the guys that did it under the same name/company that did it the first time.

Bottom line is, absolute trust placed in the hands of small contractors is NOT smart. Some may be honest, but some are definitely not.

pianoman11686
May 9th, 2007, 05:35 PM
For anyone with a further interest in the origins of zoning in early 20th century America, and especially the movement towards establishing zoning law in 1916 New York, you might be interested in reading this. It's a term paper I wrote this semester that tackles the subject. Be wary of the length, though: it's about 30 pages.

Punzie
May 9th, 2007, 06:29 PM
Oh Pianoman, you did not send it to The Punzinator for form editing!

The Punzinator would have told you, among many things, that the footnoting is sloppy and inadequate; references need to be annotated; many paragraphs are run-ons; and text should be justified.

If the prof doesn't care about form in a term paper, you'll get an A.

pianoman11686
May 14th, 2007, 11:36 PM
Modernization of Zoning

A Means to Reform

George W. Liebmann

George W. Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer, is the author of The Little Platoons: Sub-Local Governments in Modern History (Praeger, 1995).

As population density in America's eastern states and in other metropolitan centers has approached that of the developed countries of Europe, there has been mounting dissatisfaction with the existing zoning system. Restrictions imposed on businesses, landlords, and residents, as well as restrictions on new development, have severely limited the ability of existing metropolitan centers and suburbs to adapt to new needs and conditions.

One result of these restrictions is that it is difficult for developers to provide consumers with higher density, multiuse residences closer to employment centers. Thus, ever-greater quantities of land on the fringes of metropolitan areas and in the countryside have gone for residential use when they might otherwise have been maintained as open spaces, farms, or natural preserves. The existing zoning system also produces large quantities of single-family housing in a period in which changing demographics are increasing the demand for smaller apartments.

Another result of populations spreading over large areas in low-density housing developments is the geographic segregation of the elderly.

Zoning makes it more difficult to keep aged parents close by and to care for them. Further, zoning creates serious inconveniences for residents by banishing convenience stores, offices, and social services from residential areas. And, of course, traffic congestion increases as residents who might prefer to live within walking distance of stores, theaters, or workplaces are forced to take to the roads.

In light of these problems, a reevaluation of zoning policy is needed.

The German Origins of Zoning

Zoning, an idea perfected by the Germans, was introduced into America and promptly stripped of any beneficial features. In the 1920s the U.S. Department of Commerce drew up what was considered a model zoning enabling act. The model was principally the work of Edward Bassett and Alfred Bettman of the Ohio bar, who freely acknowledged their debt to the German experience. Then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover heavily publicized the act and urged localities to adopt it. During the 1920s zoning became a kind of craze among municipalities. Thousands sought zoning information and eventually adopted the model zoning enabling act.

Yet there were significant differences between the German and American approaches to zoning. German zoning had its roots in the desire of residents of an increasingly crowded country to conserve unspoiled land and to protect residences against noxious industrial and commercial uses. But German practice for example, permitted duplex housing even in the most restricted residential zones. Duplexes both conserve space and, among other things, allow the elderly to be close to their adult children who might wish to have their parents close by but not in the same house. Many American ordinances initially contained flexible zoning provisions that allowed duplexes. Among such ordinances was the Euclid, Ohio statute that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Euclid v. Ambler Realty that established the constitutionality of zoning. But the duplex feature has all but disappeared from most American ordinances.

The German practice subjected commercial uses in residential zones to performance standards allowing flexible land use. These permitted many forms of businesses and dwellings as long as they did not have certain adverse effects or consequences. For example, enterprises could be banned from an area if they released objectionable odors or noxious fumes. As economist and Nobel Prize winner F.A. Hayek wrote in his Constitution of Liberty: “Performance codes . . . impose less restrictions on spontaneous developments than `specification codes' and are therefore to be preferred.” The latter may at first seem to agree with our principles because they confer less discretion on authority. However, the discretion which performance codes confer is not of the objectionable kind. Whether or not a given technique satisfies the criterion of performance laid down in a rule can be ascertained by independent experts, and any dispute can be decided by a court. Nonetheless, in order to ease administration, and out of perhaps a justified mistrust of the integrity of zoning administrations, commercial uses were almost totally prohibited in American residential zones.

German zoning laws regulated residential areas through limiting the number of structures per acre; however, American zoning laws regulated residential areas through minimizing lot sizes and requiring residential structures to be a certain distance from thoroughfares.

Since their inception in the 1920s, American zoning laws have recognized constitutionally required variance. For example, when a government zones a parcel of property in such a way that all uses are barred, and as a result the property loses most or all of its value, the government is engaging in a taking of property. In such a case, in accordance with the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it would have to compensate the property owner for the loss. Further, in America, zoning has mostly been under the purview of municipal governments, while in Germany it traditionally has been the responsibility of the equivalent of American state governments. But coupled with insufficient judicial regard for the separation of powers, zoning in America gave rise to the evils of “legislative spot reclassification.” In such cases, for example, a municipal council might rezone a particular parcel of land to satisfy a politically favored developer.

A major goal of zoning in Germany was to limit despoliation of the countryside. Only recently has this become a concern in the less-crowded United States. Facilitating development in designated urban areas was an objective of the German system. But when zoning was introduced in America, the more generous provisions for citizen and neighborhood involvement allowed zoning to be used as a way to discourage development in built-up areas, and to defend the status quo. Ernst Freund, the first prominent American analyst of administrative law, as early as 1929 eluded: “. . . the [American] national temperament which at present combines the lowest degree of local attachment with the highest degree of sensitiveness as to neighborhood associations. There is a subtle psychology about this sensitiveness; I think it is connected with our democratic institutions; where you haven't got natural class distinctions you make them artificially. . . . People [in Europe] do not mind a little store around the corner a bit. When you go to Vienna you find that the palace of one of the great aristocratic families has a big glass work display room on the lower floor. We wouldn't have that in this country because it is not comfortable to our ideas.”

Thirty years later Jane Jacobs, author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities, commented on the same phenomenon: “Middle income projects as they age tend to contain a significant (or at least articulate) proportion of people who are fearful of contact outside their class.”

Many features of zoning such as minimum lot and yard sizes, and setbacks that result in particularly adverse effects are permitted, if not mandated, by the model zoning enabling act adopted by thousands of municipalities since the 1920s. Such features are still in effect today in all states save Florida and Oregon. Oregon has a unique “urban limit” system, somewhat resembling the German one, while Florida has an elaborate and cumbersome new “growth management” system involving multiple bureaucracies.

Added Bureaucracy

Since the 1920s, the model zoning enabling act has been supplemented with a model subdivision enabling statute developed by the Commerce Department. This model act, also adopted by thousands of municipalities, recommended the creation of local planning commissions separate from zoning boards of appeal. Such commissions have added more bureaucratic and political barriers to property use by citizens, complicated the permitting process, and resulted in even more confused and contradictory patterns of land use.

For example, George Lefcoe, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, tells us that “A student of the development process in the city of Los Angeles discovered in trying to obtain approval for a simulated subdivision that it took 18 months to clear because 36 different offices were involved in the process. There were 12 forms and 87 supporting documents to be submitted according to 31 different instruction sheets, none of which explained the entire process from beginning to end.”

Changes Affecting Zoning

The low rate of automobile ownership prior to World War II coupled with abundant mass transit surrounding most large cities, concealed the ultimate adverse consequences of zoning practices. However, population growth and the explosion of tract housing began to create problems in the early 1960s. Three other phenomena combined with zoning to cause these problems to reach the crisis stage:

• The Interstate Highway System. The construction of the Interstate Highway System which started in the late 1950s, brought larger areas within commuting range of metropolitan areas. Mileage driven by motor vehicles approximately doubled from 1960-80.

• Changing family structure. Existing zoning laws and dramatic changes in family structure created serious misallocations of housing stock by preventing it from being adapted properly. The average number of persons per household declined from 3.14 in 1970 to 2.76 in 1980, 2.69 in 1985, and 2.63 in 1993—a decline of 16 percent in 23 years. The number of persons over age 14 living alone increased from 7.1 million in 1960 to 23.6 million in 1993. The number of households comprised of six or more persons declined from 6.8 million in 1965 to 3.4 million in 1993. During the period 1970-78, the life expectancy of a woman 75 years old increased 57.5 percent. The percentage of men never married increased from 17.3 to 24.9 from 1960-93; the corresponding figure for women is 11.9 to 19.4 percent. The percentage of women between the ages of 25 and 29 who had never married increased from 10.5 in 1960 to 33.1 in 1993. The percentage of women age 65 or older with no spouse present and who live with adult children or other relatives declined from 58 in 1950 to 29 in 1970, and to 17 in 1993. Eighteen million dwelling units had 2.5 rooms per person or more in 1982. A Maryland study commission noted in 1985, “Whereas the number of one and two family households [in Maryland] grew by 140 percent between 1960 and 1980, the number of efficiency one- and two-bedroom units constructed increased by only 54 percent.”

• Intrasuburban traffic. The migration of offices and industry to the suburbs has created intrasuburban traffic problems. This has made continuation of the previous patterns of development encouraged by zoning laws even less appropriate. As Jane Jacobs notes, “Wherever people are thinly settled . . . or wherever diverse uses occur infrequently, any specific attraction does cause traffic congestion. . . . The moment work is introduced into the mixture, even in a suburb, the equilibrium is lost. . . . The more territory which is dull, the greater the pressure of traffic on lively districts.”

State Arrogation of Authority

These developments in part account for the so-called quiet revolution in land-use policy. In response to these developments, state governments have exercised growing control over the power to zone that normally would be exercised by municipal governments.

Perhaps a more important reason for state government intervention has been environmentally motivated concern about the conversion of agricultural, forest, and scenic coastal lands to residential and commercial uses. Environmental interest groups have found it easier to secure land-use restrictions from state governments.

Only in Oregon has there been significant, though belated appreciation of the indispensable connection between deregulation in developed areas and protection of less-developed, pristine areas. Specifically, Oregon has favored density regulation, facilitated development within urban limit lines, and eliminated discrimination among housing types based on forms of ownership, or the number of families residing in them.

A Developers' Bill of Rights

If zoning restrictions must be maintained, the least that states and municipalities can do is allow maximum flexibility for land use. This would allow for an increase in the supply and a reduction in the cost of housing in developed areas, as well as areas that owners wish to develop. To this end, a series of provisions constituting a “Developers' Bill of Rights” can guide policymakers in efforts to reform zoning. Such a list should include the following recommendations:

1. Abolish planning commissions whose responsibilities overlap with those of zoning boards. Authority over zoning subdivision, building, and housing-code enforcement should be vested in one agency with the power to subdelegate. This reform would establish uniform standards and speed up appeals of zoning decisions, eliminating delays and jurisdictional conflicts. Such an approach was recommended in the American Law Institute Model Land Development Code developed in the 1970s.

2. In developed and populated areas in which a more diverse mix of commercial and residential facilities is appropriate, zoning permits should automatically take effect within 180 days of application, unless denied by zoning authorities for clear, well-defined reasons in zoning guidelines. Such areas might include cities, municipalities of a certain size, enterprise zones, urban renewal areas, and commercial redevelopment areas. This automatic permitting feature, as practiced in Oregon, places the burden of stopping land use by an owner on the government and would cut delays which can be as long as 18 months.

3. Eliminate minimum lot size, setback, and yard requirements. If policymakers feel they need to avoid overcrowding, a better approach would be to establish a general ceiling on population density, minimum amounts of floor area per inhabitant, and standards to allow light and air into an area. Current prohibitions on clustering of houses and use of garden apartment and row-house designs contribute to sprawl, increased costs, and wasted land.

4. Duplex homes and accessory apartments should be permitted in all new residential construction. Housing options such as these allow elderly persons to live near their adult children without intruding on their children's privacy. Such construction is a major component of housing policy and policy for the elderly in both Germany and Japan. Since 1982 a California state law has required municipalities that have not already limited such units to certain areas, to grant permits for second residential units.

Dolores Hayden, a feminist critic of the existing zoning system, forecast that “over two or three decades most of the single family housing stock and most of the R-1 [single-family] neighborhoods will change to reflect the basic demographic shifts the U.S. faces. . . . The adaptation of suburban house forms to new uses is as inevitable as was the adaptation of brick row houses and brownstones and the introduction of mixed uses, higher densities, and new building types that accompanied it.”

5. In areas other than those zoned for industry, zoning should be cumulative. In other words, any use permitted in a more protected zone may be carried on in a less protected one, thus allowing mixed-use development. Office and commercial areas that normally are considered “less protected,” such as apartments that are usually allowed in “more protected” areas, should be permitted over shops. Downtown commercial areas under more flexible zoning no longer would need to become deserts every evening after employees flee to the suburbs.

6. In new residential developments above a certain minimum size (e.g., five acres), zoning regulations should permit convenience stores, health clinics, restaurants, day-care centers (as in Michigan), and demand-response transportation facilities such as taxicab services and car rental agencies. Restaurants and convenience stores should be permitted in existing apartment buildings where they obviously serve the convenience of residents. In addition, signs not visible from public roads should be permitted.

If policymakers fear that the existing transportation infrastructure could be strained from too much commercial activity in residential areas, they can place a floor-area limit of a percentage of the total area on commercial activities. One commentator has noted the paradox that, “The very settlements we admire and crowd on to on holidays would be illegal under any zoning ordinance now in existence.”

An especially welcome method of allowing a mix of facilities in residential areas would be to give homeowners, condominium, and cooperative housing associations, in accordance with their bylaws, authority to operate or contract for such facilities. This increase in local control over neighborhoods of strangers without traditions would help to forge real communities.

According to Robert Nelson, formerly of the Department of the Interior, “The evolution of suburban land-use controls has effectively transformed the suburban neighborhood into a new form of collectively owned private property. . . . The transaction costs of repurchasing rights held by the community are very high. . . . . Grant the development neighborhood independence from outside government control over its land use and let the neighborhood decide for itself—through some collective mechanism—how to respond to the pressures of outside market forces.”

Similarly, the late Allison Dunham of the University of Chicago Law School once observed, “The small unit of government serves as an effective check on tendencies to interfere with private choices. . . . Planning in the United States does not yet seem too conscious of the possibility that the price mechanism is a more adaptable and flexible method of land-use allocation than a flexible plan administered by an inflexible administrator.”

As Nelson observed: “If Residential Community Associations (RCAs) were to become the prevailing mode of social organization for the local community, this development could be as important as the adoption in the United States of the private corporate form of business ownership. Two basic collective forms of private property ownership then would exist: the RCA form for residential property and the corporate form for business property.”

7. Zoning statutes should permit home offices and telecommuting in residential zones, which are growing rapidly with the telecommunications revolution.

8. So long as density and other general requirements are met, ordinances should be precluded from discriminating against proposed new residential structures on the basis of the number of housing units contained in them. The enabling act should make clear, as with the “right to develop” at established densities in Germany, that zoning ordinances are regulations of physical development and its physical consequences—they are not vehicles for discriminating among housing types having similar environmental effects.

9. Similarly, municipalities should be denied the right to distinguish between developments of similar physical characteristics on the basis of tenure or form of ownership, for example, condominiums, owner-occupied, and rental units. This will not and is not intended to preclude the market from making such distinctions, for example, by transforming rental units into condominiums. There will and should continue to be separation of income classes resulting from differing permitted densities, land costs, and qualities of construction—that is to say, market forces. And it is likely that much of the most desirable and most protected land will be devoted to forms of tract housing development. The thrust of the legal change is simply to avoid precluding the market from making available and popularizing less land-consuming forms of development. As Henry Richmond, an Oregon zoning expert has observed, “If Congress were to pass a law that 83 percent of General Motors cars had to be Cadillacs (on the theory that this is the kind of car people `dream of') a lot of congressmen would probably lose their jobs. Yet local officials all over the country have adopted exactly this kind of `we know best' law for housing—a commodity that is certainly more critical to people than a car.”

10. Costly, landwasting housing-subdivision mandates with extravagant street-width requirements, imposed in an era of large, gas-guzzling cars, should be amended to reflect the realities of a compact and even subcompact era.

11. The use of lump-sum impact fees assessed to each newly constructed unit by subdivisions should be limited by precluding use of such fees in areas with already established infrastructure in which reuse or infill—for example, filling vacant lots—is the goal. This can be done by allowing these fees to become part of the mortgageable home price by closing costs separately charged at settlement; by providing for deferral of fees until the house has been built and sold, so that the fees need not be included in construction financing; and by precluding fees for purposes not reasonably related to demands for infrastructure generated by a project. Such fees are a favored device for transferring tax burdens to newcomers.

12. The use of state and local transfer taxes, which frequently amount to 2 or 3 percent of the cost of a new home, should be strictly limited. Such taxes are often dedicated specifically to open spaces and parklands. But it is incongruous to impose taxes on transactions in urban renewal and already developed areas that aim to attract growth.

13. State and municipal governments should strictly limit the use of building moratoria. The usual justification for a moratorium is that the infrastructure cannot handle a population increase. But frequently such moratoria have little to do with physical development problems and more to do with meeting social or political needs. The American Law Institute has produced a Model Land Development Code that would allow a moratorium only in cases of real danger to public health and safety, and only when less restrictive means have been exhausted.

Conclusion

The proposed changes do not require any reduced use of large-lot tract development. Rather, they permit developers in the market to reduce land waste through clustering of housing and greater apartment and condominium construction. These proposals permit developers, homeowners, and neighborhood associations to provide for denser use of subdivisions through mixed-use development, and accessory and duplex housing. They reduce delays due to the need for multiple and uncoordinated development permits, and restrict the government's use of transfer taxes and arbitrary building moratoria that make development costly and unpredictable.

Basic to this approach is the conviction that enhanced protection of undeveloped land is possible and tolerable only if measures are taken to reduce housing costs in areas designated for development. Also basic to this approach is a belief that desirable development is best fostered by predictability and certainty in the law—by the rule of law in the Hayekian sense: uniform rules laid down in advance—and not by further movement toward a system of discretionary planning permission.

These proposals emphasize certainty, equality among subdivisions, and respect for market forces. To the extent to which developers are equipped with new freedoms, the law at least will no longer hinder the ability of society to adapt to the changes in family structure.

These proposals conspicuously omit court- or government-ordered introduction of low-income housing in residential neighborhoods. Such experiments have resulted in decades of litigation, school busing, and other failed schemes. Low-income housing consumers will benefit from the legalization of duplexes and accessory apartments, and from elimination of building type and tenure limits on land-use decisions.

The creation of any new housing unit, and particularly any new rental unit, ultimately benefits low-income consumers because of the phenomenon of “filtering.” As Bernard Siegan of the University of California, San Diego has pointed out, “The construction on the average of 1,000 new units, both houses and apartments, makes it possible for a total of about 3,500 moves to occur to different and likely better housing conditions.” What is most needed in this sphere are not good intentions, but clear rules. What is also needed is not “a statewide forum in which the state government, the courts, local planners and politicians, citizens and private and public interest groups all participate in making broad choices about the future of the state after a decade of controversy and compromise within this forum,” but rather a market free of regulatory absurdities, whose contours and limits are defined by immediately effective law, declared by the only appropriate forum—the state legislature.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/reg19n2f.html