Politics of Zoning

Many times, the reality of the zoning process runs headlong into faith, hope, and quaint ideals about the informed citizen. Many proponents of Smart Growth implicitly assume that the zoning and development approval process is forward looking and rational. A recent rezoning in Bellbrook, Ohio is much more reflective of reality than proponents of “democractic planning” want to admit. The city recently approved a rezoning of 52 acres a stone’s throw from the downtown from agriculture to single family residential. (Why land adjacent to the downtown is still zoned “agriculture” 30 years after the city’s first comprheensive plan was approved is another issue.) Developers plan to put 71 upscale homes ($400,000+) on lots in the heavily wooded area. Dozens of citizens appeared at the public hearing, many to protest or otherwise register their disapproval. One resident opposed to the rezoning reports The Dayton Daily News

People came here because of the beauty of the area, Bellbrook resident Edna May Keider said, “and we’re going to end up having nothing. You came to this community because of what it was, not what it is now.

My experience as a planning board chairman reinforced this sentiment time and time again: people were opposed to growth because they didn’t want their commmunity to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option. Contemporary planning, particularly Smart Growth, often sells the belief that residents can somehow shape their community, or dictate how it will look and operate. But, in a nation that values freedom of choice, that can’t happen. Peeople can sell and develop thier property, and the community can’t determine who will live there, when, and how long. Bellbrook City Councilman Denny Bennet was much closer to reality:

Bennett “said it was a “tough decision” for all involved. “The best thing the city can do is manage this. It’s going to happen.”

Fortunately, those who believe housing should be accomodated can still count, to some extent, on base interests in filling the public coffers.

Mayor Mary Graves cited the expansion of the tax base as a justification for the rezoning. “We need a tax base here and we don’t have it,” she said. “These will bring taxes to us.