Tuesday, October 3, 2006
Traditional law, which views land use as a matter of only “local” concern, creates some perverse effects in our modern and mobile age. The city of Stafford, Texas, an exurb of Houston, is becoming alarmed because it has too much of one kind of land use: churches. There are more than 50 places of worship in the city of less than 20,000; most of the worshipers –- and there are Buddhist temples and Hindu centers as well as Christian churches –- come from outside of Stafford. Dependent on sales taxes and business taxes, Stafford faces a budget crisis because so much of its land is used by non-revenue-raising religious establishments.
What’s the solution to this dilemma? A new law that tries to cut back on the number of churches? Using eminent domain to condemn some houses of worship? None of these legal measures makes much sense, and all of them risk conflict with the first amendment’s right to exercise religion freely. The only long-term solution to Stafford’s problem –- or similar dilemmas of cities with too many homeless people, or not enough wealthy business taxpayers -– is for state governments to enact laws requiring revenue-sharing within metro areas, or other forms of metropolitan government. Radical? Perhaps, but it is even more troublesome to stick to the old-fashioned view (plainly erroneous in the case of Stafford’s religious commuters) that ones city’s land use laws affect that city only.