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Reblogged:Zoning 'Goes Wrong' Because Zoning Is Wrong

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Writing at The Federalist, David Larson makes quite a few interesting points regarding the left's attempt to federalize zoning law, often referred to as the "war on the suburbs" by conservatives.

Probably Larson's best point is that conservatives are failing to uphold the right to property:
Image by Michael Tuszynski, via Unsplash, license.
This is where the fight over "single-family zoning" comes in. In many cities, the bulk of land is zoned in a way that only detached houses with large-sized lots can be built. If you want to build townhouses, a corner store, a duplex, or, God forbid, an apartment complex, good luck.

[Tucker] Carlson argues that if the federal government pressures towns to scale back single-family zoning, you "are no longer in charge of how large your lot sizes can be." But what he really means is, you will no longer be in charge of how large your neighbor's lot size will be.

Are conservatives only against impositions on freedom and property rights from the federal government, while local governments should have absolute power over the size and use of all property in their jurisdictions?
To paraphrase Mel Gibson in the "The Patriot," who was paraphrasing American royalist Mather Byles, "Would you tell me, please, Mr. Carlson, why should I trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away, for 3,000 tyrants one mile away?" [bold added]
This is an excellent point, but it is compromised by Larson's failure -- common among conservatives -- to uphold individual rights on principle as an absolute. This part of his essay is titled, "Zoning Gone Wrong."

Why not Zoning Is Wrong?

That said, many of his other comments are worthwhile, for they do highlight the many ill effects of suburban-type zoning, such as long commutes, unaffordable housing, and a lack of control over our own property.

But this essay goes off the rails quite ironically shortly after his second (and second-best) point:
[J]ust because some on the "other side" are for something doesn't mean we need to reflexively fight it. Many on the left who care about this issue seem to be motivated by their belief that this model is better for the environment and that it makes affordable housing more available and dispersed. [bold added]
Amen to the part in bold, with a big but.

Larson would seem to be in favor of the federalized zoning because it would -- in his imagination -- cure many of the ills caused by the zoning regime we currently have in place.

That is the same kind of fool's paradise we inhabit every time a President wrongly uses an executive order that creates an outcome we happen to like. If you are green, you loved it when Biden killed the Keystone Pipeline by executive order immediately after he took office -- the same one Trump revived soon after he was inaugurated, to the temporary relief of energy advocates.

When our government no longer does its job, of protecting individual rights, including the right to property, our individual aspirations for how to supply ourselves with the energy we need -- or live in what we regard as an ideal community -- are reduced to pipe dreams if they don't already exist and placed under threat from any change of public mood or officialdom if they do.

Analogous case: The left favors vaccinations and vaccine passports. Many on the right reflexively fight vaccination and want to stop businesses from inquiring about vaccination status. Not reflexively fighting vaccination need not and should not entail advocacy of forced vaccination nor violating a businessman's right of association by banning him from asking about vaccination status. It should entail giving solid reasons to consider getting a shot, while also advocating that the state butt out completely beyond a proper response to the pandemic.

So it is here: By merely replacing dumb and wrong zoning laws because "suburbia" is ugly, expensive, etc., and not because it's wrong to tell land owners what to do with their own property, Larson's case at best can be mistaken for We need better zoning, if that isn't what it actually is.

I can't tell. Worse, it very easily can get marshalled as an argument for federalized zoning.

It may be true that we won't repeal zoning anywhere anytime soon. And, yes, the kind of less restrictive zoning Larson wants may be the best achievable alternative today. But not being clear that one advocates as much as a temporary waypoint on the road to property freedom causes what could be an effective argument for doing even that into just another voice among the many squabblers over what kind of zoning we'll have for the time being, and effectively, a capitulation.

I want the same vast array of living options Larson does, but I'll be damned if I'll consider federalized zoning as the right way to achieve those things. A real fight for such a value would entail advocating the abolishment of zoning altogether, as well as restoration of respect for what an owner wishes to do with his property, so long as he violates no one else's rights.

Larson is correct: The right is inconsistent about respecting property rights, and that is a problem worthy of addressing. But the way to do that is to advocate property rights. Do that effectively enough, and you will incidentally also win over those on the left who see that any valid concerns they have (affordable housing is one, forcing people to lease to criminals is not) will be served by the same.

The reason zoning -- or any other instance of government fiat overriding individual rights -- "goes wrong" and limits our options is because zoning is wrong. Unless a property owner violates someone else's rights through the use of his property, such as by creating a nuisance, the government should have no say whatsoever on the matter.

-- CAV

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