Since the Planning & Zoning Commission has presented a completely one-sided report in favor of zoning, disregarding the comments from their own public hearing, this report has been prepared to present the view of those who believe strongly that freedom and the free market are the best means of distributing scarce resources, determining patterns of growth, and keeping this country great! As James Madison said, “if industry and labor are left to take their own course, they will generally be directed to those objects which are the most productive, and this in a more certain and direct manner than the wisdom of the most enlightened legislature could point out.”(1)
This report follows years of effort on the part of many concerned citizens who were appalled by the process of pushing through a Comprehensive Plan followed by a zoning ordinance which was opposed by at least a 60% majority of the concerned citizens at EVERY hearing.
We believe that individual freedoms and property rights are to be abridged only for the most serious of concerns and with the utmost careful deliberation, and that it is far less dangerous to suffer from too much liberty than from too much regulation.
REASONS TO RESCIND
This plan was pushed through by a steering committee dominated by persons with close ties to agribusiness and county government(2). Less than 100 people participated in a process(3) which clearly was intended to culminate in the adoption of a county zoning ordinance, despite the fact that one of the strengths noted in the meetings was a LACK of county zoning(4). The Comprehensive Plan does not represent a goal of the citizens of the county, only the goal of a few individuals who believe in the beauty of central planning and can ignore its repeated failures.
Preservation of Prime Farmland
One of the more ludicrous assumptions of zoning is that requiring 10 acre lots somehow inhibits rural housing from consuming prime farmland(5). The only way that large lot sizes reduce rural residential development is by making it too expensive for ordinary people. This only makes it more desirable for those with the resources to enjoy it, and there is little reason to believe that taking 10 acres out of production to build a house that otherwise would occupy an acre or two is a good way to preserve farmland.
Protection of Property Values
This is not only NOT a function of government, it is clearly a violation of its role as a neutral arbiter of justice for all. Zoning clearly favors those who are already in occupancy while discriminating against those who are not. However, this is largely a smoke-screen issue since property values are rarely seriously diminished by the activities of a neighbor(6), and when this does happen in Washington County, the activity in question is often a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation which would not be regulated under zoning. This issue is already addressed by
existing nuisance and pollution regulations, and anyone concerned about the future activities of their neighbors may already choose to live in any of the zoned communities or covenanted subdivisions.
This is a fear based argument that zoning will stop incompatible uses (as defined by the ordinance). While it is true that Iowa law currently requires all such regulation to occur within the context of a zoning ordinance, there are other means of restricting such development. For example, a live webcam showing the parking lot of a "sexually themed business" would be very likely to significantly reduce business! Most if not all of the "undesirable" types of business severely restricted by zoning will locate as much away from objections as possible(7). Ultimately, the price of freedom is that it applies equally, and there may be some development that is unappreciated. It still pays taxes and serves a legal purpose within our society. A very nice home was recently constructed near the rendering plant that
has existed for years near Wellman, clearly demonstrating that the definition of incompatible uses is not nearly as clear as some believe.
Managing Urban Sprawl
Sprawl is one of the important reasons to rescind zoning. One definition of sprawl is "taking up more space than necessary", which is exactly what zoning does by requiring lot sizes larger than necessary and excluding commercial
development(8). Progressive communities like Iowa City are in fact experimenting with "mixed zoning", which admits that separating business and residential uses creates rows of houses separated by vast expanses of grass, whose
occupants must use motor vehicles to simply pick up a gallon of milk or loaf of bread. Far from improving the quality of life, such short-sighted zoning has stranded people in isolation from others and the necessities of life, requiring vast new utility networks, roadway systems, and the corresponding vehicle usage, pollution and inefficiency(9).
Zoning proponents state that "Commercial and industrial companies looking to invest in new plant locations want assurances that land-use policies will not change once a location is selected". Zoning does little in reality to provide such assurance since it is regularly updated, maps are amended, zones are redefined, variances are approved, and hastily adopted ordinances may be repealed or overturned by the courts. An entity concerned about residential growth occurring nearby could purchase the property and sell it to a similar operation, hold it as an investment, or even donate it to the county as a park or conservation parcel. Furthermore, significant economic growth occurs as a result of start-up businesses(10), which face additional obstacles from zoning at a time when they can least afford the extra cost and uncertainty.
Agricultural and Right-of-Way Setbacks
It has been suggested that development should be required to stay away from ag land "to reduce conflict". It is difficult to believe that a few hundred feet would significantly lessen the conflict between a city-bred new home owner and an upwind confinement operation. Rather than attempting to regulate common sense and priorities, energy should be directed toward ensuring that persons contemplating a move to the country fully understand the odors, dust, and noise that occur in the course of modern agriculture. Zoning is a heavy-handed and mostly futile attempt to reduce conflict originating in irrational expectations.
ROW setbacks are probably not really the issue, more likely the landowners do not want increased ROW. Why should zoning make it easier for undesired easements to greatly expand? As Supreme Court Justice Scalia wrote, “To say that the appropriation of a public easement across a landowner’s premises does not constitute the taking of a property interest but rather “a mere restriction on its use,” is to use words in a manner that deprives them of all their ordinary meaning. Indeed, one of the principal uses of the eminent domain power is to assure that the
government be able to require conveyance of just such interests, so long as it pays for them...(11)” The county always has the option of condemnation if the landowner does not feel the ROW is in their best interest.
Flood Plain Regulation
As P&Z notes, this does not need to be part of a zoning ordinance. While it is probably too late for a rational look at this regulation, Supervisors are urged to carefully study its intention to force out of existence all housing in the NFIP
defined flood plain, whether it has ever flooded or not. Simply requiring flood insurance for federally insured mortgages would have been a free market solution that would have had much the same results without the heavy-handed regulatory approach, and leaving free those who do not desire government safety nets, handouts, and the accompanying control.
The Cost of Going Back
Yes, far too much money was spent to satisfy the desire of a few for central planning and control in Washington County. The people have clearly indicated their desire for freedom from this burden. It makes little sense to continue to spend money each year maintaining a widely unpopular and unnecessary bureaucracy.
Dual Class Society
Since state law exempts ag usage from most zoning regulation(12), a county zoning ordinance automatically creates two classes of citizens, the regulated and the non-regulated. This is blatantly unfair, and potentially quite damaging to agribusiness as resentment against the "privileged" class festers. This is especially true since one of the stated goals of zoning is to "protect ag land", which is done by regulating everyone else-not quite the epitome of a free, just, and egalitarian society.
As stated to P&Z, this is not an issue of the details of zoning, it is instead a question of philosophy. Will the free market correctly allocate scarce resources and protect individual freedoms, or does this require the intervention of a central planning bureaucracy, and is such intervention worth the cost? Bradley C. Karkkainen notes that academic analysis of zoning “has been almost as uniformly critical of zoning as governmental policy has been in favor of it”(13). He states that there is little empirical evidence that zoning is the answer to protecting property values or improving planning. He further notes that the argument for zoning to reduce government expense in providing services is “troublesome” and “may result in a rationale for excluding low-income (and often minority) persons”.
In fact, a 1991 HUD “Commission on Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing” report concluded that zoning and other government regulation increased the cost of housing to the extent of depriving many Americans of home ownership(14). The truth of Michael Kauffman’s statement that “Government intrusion into the right to own and use property under the Trojan horse of the “public good” is beginning to cause great harm to American citizens, and is undermining the very foundation that has made America the greatest nation in human history”(15) is
becoming increasingly visible.
Ultimately, zoning is a political process, and as such is unable to provide the mythical stable foundation of planning and property value protection so often mentioned by its proponents. While unable to efficiently resolve most of the
issues supposedly leading to its adoption, zoning certainly DOES create a new bureaucracy, more uncertainty and red tape for property owners, and a privileged agribusiness class. It should be rescinded to increase economic development, efficiency in land use, equality in regulation, and freedom for all.
If the county truly wishes to preserve farmland for future generations, it should offer "Ag Land Conservation" tax rates. The owner of the farmland would deed to the county all future development rights in return for a permanently lower tax rate reflecting its reduced value. This allows the free market to preserve farmland without placing the burden on innocent third parties.
Many of the zoning proponents "reasons we need zoning" hinge upon potentially unrealistic expectations of rural residential homeowners (road maintenance, smells, dust, etc.). The county should not be obligated to spend great amounts of money to provide "city" services just because a few newcomers expect such services, and should adopt a policy of open proclamation of the reduced level of services available compared to life in a municipality, as well as the increased possibility of potentially less desirable activity on surrounding land. Individuals can then make an informed choice about their priorities, without relying on external bureaucracy to "protect" them from something to which they might not object, while at the same time restricting the freedoms of many.
Neighborhood Associations/Restrictive Covenants
Rural citizens who are concerned about potentially unpleasant usage of neighboring properties are free to convince their neighbors to establish a neighborhood association which would regulate such actions. Such an action would be freely entered into by all property owners and would become part of the properties legal record and therefore binding on all future owners. If there is truly a desire for such regulation, this is a perfectly legitimate way of achieving it without trampling the rights of those who do not desire such regulation.
(1) James Madison, Speech of April 9, 1789, First Federal Congress, in "The Founder's Constitution", Vol. 2, p. 442(2) Washington County Comprehensive Plan, p. 2
(3) Washington County Comprehensive Plan, p. 42
(4) Washington County Comprehensive Plan, p. 8
(5) Susan Cosner, ISU Land Use Series “Preserving Iowa’s Farmland”, p. 3
(6) Land Use Without Zoning, Bernard H. Siegan, 1972, p. 100
(7) Siegan, p. 73
(8) Enabling Urban Sprawl, Wayne Batchis, Virginia Journal of Social Policy & The Law 17:3, p. 380
(9) Jane Jacobs, The Death & Life of Great American Cities, 1961
(10) Who Creates Jobs? Small vs. Large vs. Young; John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin & Javier Miranda; National Bureau of Economic Research,
(11) Antonin Scalia, Nollan, 483 U.S. at 825, 107 S.Ct. 3141, 97 L.Ed. 2d 677 (1987)
(12) Washington County Zoning Ordinance, Section 1.03, p. 3
(13) Zoning: A Reply To The Critics; Bradley C. Karkkainen; Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law; 1994
(14) Bernard H. Siegan, Property & Freedom, Social Philosophy & Policy Center, 1997, p. 181
(15) Michael S. Kauffman, Ph.D.; Why Property Rights Matter, American Land Foundation, 2002, p. 25