March 15, 2012 by wcobserver
On Tuesday, March 13, the elected representatives of the citizens of West Fork will gather to discuss an issue that, on its surface, concerns a couple of acres of real estate in an upscale neighborhood on a picturesque avenue in the south part of town.
Without trying to sound too dramatic here, the discussion will reflect a question that currently arises in a national debate about the role of government in balancing individual rights with collective well-being.
Several months ago, a property owner began the process of changing his home’s designation from a residential to commercial in order to legally engage in several types of commercial activity. The Planning Commission, the job of which is to insure that land use is consistent with established zoning districts and long range plans, determined that a conditional use for his businesses was fine but his request to rezone the entire parcel was inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood and his application was denied.
The property owner appealed to the City Council who overturned the decision of the Planning Commission. They were swayed by the argument that he “had a right” to do what he pleased on his property, as well as reaping a tax advantage by declaring his en- tire two acres commercial.
The Council’s decision was vetoed by the mayor. Her veto underscores the serious legal implications of spot zoning. She placed the item on March’s agenda, “where a discussion of any legal basis for the Council’s decision may have been contrary to the public interest.”
Zoning ordinances, according to their proponents, exist to insure rational, planned land use and growth in populated areas. Planned zoning, they say, facilitates the orderly development of transportation and utility links as well as protecting residential property values by guaranteeing the continuity of residential neighborhoods.
Critics of zoning and the controlled land use concept argue that zoning laws are just another layer of government bureaucracy that infringes upon the right of a person to control his/her own land and it stifles economic vitality with unnecessary regulation. They say the fear of lost residential property values is over stated. Proponents of no-zone towns argue that the corrective nature of a free market will insure the overall best out- come. Houston, Texas, is often held up as an example of a no zone city.
It may well be that one size doesn’t fit all in this case. Zoning regulation may not be the best fit for some communities.
Urban and county planning concepts, like everything man-made, are subject to the whims of fashion. Once there were no zoning laws, then the idea of segregating commercial and industrial activity from home life became popular. Now there is a trend toward “mixed use” zoning where residen- tial and some commercial uses co-exist. Fayetteville’s Downtown General Zone is an example.
West Fork is unique in several ways and may be a town that would thrive in the wide open, land of opportunity, do-whatever- you’re-big-enough approach to land use. Community aesthetics along with code enforcement of businesses, signs and nuisance property is clearly not a high priority for many West Fork citizens and public officials. Perhaps Zone-Free Development is an idea whose time has come.
Perhaps it is time for West Fork to end the charade of regulation and just make official what is in fact happening. Abolish zoning laws, business li- censes, sign laws, and anything that impedes a person’s inclination to do whatever they darn well please.
Make West Fork the “Free-Enterprise Zone of Northwest Arkansas” where unregulated land use is celebrated. Every home- bound eBay trader and back yard body shop has a chance to blossom; to embrace the American Dream of prosperity and fulfillment.
Make West Fork a beacon of free markets and free minds beckoning free-spirited entrepreneurs from across the region to bring their ingenuity and enthusiasm for profit to this little town that has cast off the chains of business restrictions.
Through their democratically elected representatives the people have spoken. Every- one has a Right. Abolish taxes. Abolish zon- ing. Government regulation is the problem.
Give anarchy a chance.