Take the Zoning Test

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

As spring arrives new construction can begin. Soon you will see houses, offices and stores springing up. This might be a good time to test your local zoning skills. The Zoning Test won’t take long. It isn’t for NIMBYs (Not-In-My-Backyarders). Those are the people who hold season tickets to every local government meeting to complain about everything under and sometimes including the sun. It’s not fair for NIMTOOS (Not-In-My-Term-Of-Office) to take it either. If you pass the test you know who those people are in your community. It’s just three simple questions with multiple guess answers so grab your pen and try.

Question #1: The twenty bucolic wooded acres behind your home was zoned HI when you bought your house. The real estate agent said this meant Heavily Island of open space. Now you find that it means Heavy Industrial and 100,000 square foot compost plant will be built there. To stop it you should:

(A) Write a protest letter to President Obama (B) Sue the real estate agent (C) Circulate a petition against the project and present it to the town council (D) Don’t bother, stay at home the night of the council meeting
If you answered A or B, then your correct answer is D. You didn’t bother checking for yourself before you bought the house now you’ll have to adjust to the smell of compost. Answer C might get you some free air- freshener, so it’s worth a try!

Question #2: At the end of the lovely cul-de-sac that your split level sits on is a nice 3 acre tract that the kids have played on for years. A homebuilder has purchased it because it has R-3 zoning. You always thought that meant Recreational 3 Acres. Now you find 20 townhouses are going on the lot; to stop it you should:

(A) Write a protest letter to Governor Rendell (B) Go to the town council meeting and demand that council seize the ground (C) Organize a neighborhood meeting with the home builder (D) Don’t bother, stay at home the night of the town council meeting.

Once again if A or B is your choice then the correct answer for you is D. Answer C might get the developer to incorporate neighborhood concerns into his plans. However your best bet is to start a "Welcome Wagon" and make a few bucks off of your new neighbors.

Question #3: The last farmer in your township has finally surrendered to the horrendous economic pressures that family owned farms face. A developer has bought the farmer’s 300 acres that were zoned C- 1 thirty years ago. You thought C-1 meant Cows Per Acre only to find the land is scheduled to be developed into a 24 hour a day factory outlet mall; to stop it you should:

(A) Write a nasty anonymous letter alleging that the developer bribed town council and stick it on car windows in the middle of the night. (B) Go to the town council meeting and tell council you won’t pay their salaries anymore (C) Put together a community group to attempt to persuade the developer to adopt other uses (D) Don’t bother, stay at home the night of the town council meeting
Once again if you answered A or B, then take D. If you answered A get help, you have a problem. But stay at home especially if you answered B. Most of the elected that govern small towns and townships make about $1 an hour for all of the time that they put in. Answer B is also particularly risky because the town council may tell you where you can put the job and it’s a particularly painful place. Worse yet, you might get elected and have to put up with people like you.

Municipal governments in Pennsylvania are managed by largely honest people, who for the most part volunteer their time. They are supermarket governments. What other elected office can you confront in the frozen food aisle? Their community based land use management systems are under assault in Harrisburg with a host of new regulations. Someday if they are forced to surrender local land management it will be as Ms. Mitchell once sang: "you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone."

Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation with offices in Harrisburg and King Of Prussia. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations through out Pennsylvania. Receipt of this commentary is permission to publish as by-lined op-ed only. [email protected] Original copyright 1998; Calvin Graham Enterprises
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Albert Paschall
Senior Fellow