Fewer Zoning Restrictions Doesn’t Mean More Government

GM noticed a letter in the Current yesterday discussing the topic of the Office of Plannings historic rewrite of the zoning code. Linda Schmitt of Chevy Chase writes:

Our neighborhood in Chevy Chase D.C. is low-density–single family homes with room for kids, the elderly, friends, dogs, lots of birds, gardens and a general war on crabgrass…The D.C. Office of Planning thinks we need to be fixed. Low density is apparently too low. Modest homes are wrong. The officials think we need homes that are higher, wider and deeper…Why? Well who knows? As one neighbor put it, this mandate is turning her into a tea party advocate for less government. [emphasis added]

This displays a fundamentally flawed understanding how zoning works. The zoning code doesn’t mandate that certain sized buildings get built or that buildings get used in a certain way. It permits buildings to be built or buildings to be used in a way. If no one wants to build a building allowed under the zoning code, no building will get built. If no one wants to open a store in your neighborhood, no store will be opened.

Allowing larger buildings to be built or stores to open is “less government”. Wanting the code to mandate that everything stays exactly the same is advocating forĀ more government. So long as everyone in Chevy Chase D.C. agrees with Schmitt that everything should stay exactly the same, it will. But if someone wants to do something different, the current code says they can’t. If there’s a “tea party” position here, it’s against the current system.

Schmitt ends her letter insulting renters saying they can’t engage with the community like homeowners. As someone who wrote a neighborhood website for years and became Secretary of the neighborhood citizens association all before owning a house, GM obviously thinks this is a rather uninformed position.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Fewer Zoning Restrictions Doesn’t Mean More Government

  1. RobRob

    This sounds an awful lot like much of the rest of the recent political discourse that has now redefined “personal liberty” as “my right to restrict what others can do.”

  2. RNM

    The renters vs owners perspective is interesting. As an owner, you have a little more “skin in the game” than as a renter. If nothing else the real estate taxes you pay buy you a bigger seat at the table. I wonder if the embrace the renter as equal to the owner would be joyfully extended to the thousands of students who rent and live among us?

    I also don’t see a lot of argument on this community blog for the “less government” more “personal freedom” when it comes to say when a bank or Nike store moves in to replace a business. I sure don’t see it when applied to parking and traffic planning. No, I see repeated calls for more government to control the people…which kind of gets to RobRob’s point about the redefinition of “personal liberty” to one’s right to restrict and control others or in the case of this blog forcefully argue for changes that restrict and control others.

  3. Dizzy

    I was wondering if you’d caught that letter. Pretty good example of that “Balkanized Urbanism” backlash I talked about, with the fear of any dense/urban/”non-SFH with 2.5 kids and a dog” encroachment. And, of course, one sees evidence of this attitude among some vocal Georgetowners as well, especially the anti-renter bit.

    I do want to push back on one thing you said, though, even though I obviously find the letter as off-base as you do. You say: “So long as everyone in Chevy Chase D.C. agrees with Schmitt that everything should stay exactly the same, it will.” I think the fear that people like Ms. Schmitt have is that a more permissive zoning code means that even if everyone in Chevy Chase D.C. agrees on everything staying exactly the same, some outside developer can come in and plop down *insert objectionable development here* as matter-of-right. It’s a fear of having other people’s – and especially outsiders’ – vision for your neighborhood override yours. It’s akin to the fear that some longtime residents in gentrifying neighborhoods feel when JGB or Clark or whoever comes in and starts putting up structures that are sure to change the character of the neighborhood. They feel like they didn’t get a vote in the matter.

    My sympathies obviously do not lie with those who believe they should wield veto power over any proposed change to their neighborhood, but I do understand the fear of having changes imposed on your “from above.” I think the idea is that even if the DC government doesn’t mandate something through the zoning code, it is heavily involved with aiding and abetting developers (through OP, DMPED, etc.) in taking advantage of the zoning code to push through the most lucrative development (profit-wise and tax base-wise) possible.

  4. This is getting a bit more subjective, but I much prefer the Zune Marketplace. The interface is colorful, has more flair, and some cool features like ‘Mixview’ that let you quickly see related albums, songs, or other users related to what you’re listening to. Clicking on one of those will center on that item, and another set of “neighbors” will come into view, allowing you to navigate around exploring by similar artists, songs, or users. Speaking of users, the Zune “Social” is also great fun, letting you find others with shared tastes and becoming friends with them. You then can listen to a playlist created based on an amalgamation of what all your friends are listening to, which is also enjoyable. Those concerned with privacy will be relieved to know you can prevent the public from seeing your personal listening habits if you so choose

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