Thursday, September 6, 2007
Use, height, and area are the three features of land most traditionally regulated by land use law. What about brightness? Las Vegas, that center of dazzling architecture, is considering tougher limits on the intensity and flashing of its ubiquitous signs, especially in order to avoid distractions for drivers.
We live in a world of increasing visual distractions, in everything from the wattage levels indoors (today’s interiors are far brighter than they were 70 years ago) to an increasingly distracting ads on internet sites. But it seems that one realm in which law should impose some visual quiet is on the road.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Zoning laws were justified in the early twentieth century in part through horror stories about industrial land uses in a rapidly urbanizing nation being built next to established homes. Such stories are still possible in freedom-loving Texas, where big news this week was the opening of a new commercial roller coaster, the “Broadway Bullet,” right next to an old home in Kemah, Texas, on the Gulf Coast. The owners had refused to sell to commercial interests who wanted to further develop the waterfront area. Like some other cities in Texas, Kemah has no zoning. Here is a story, along with an entertaining video, from the Houston Chronicle.
Would a Texas court enjoin the roller coaster a nuisance? Or is the house now simply in the wrong spot? Is such a tale a justification for zoning? Should the city buy out the house through eminent domain?
Even if the owners can’t get any relief from law, they might get some assistance from another source: A roller coaster aficionado has indicated that he might be interested in buying the house. This might not be so bad –- Do you remember the story of Alvy Singer’s youth in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”?
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
What happens when exclusionary zoning meets a housing equity bubble, which in turns meets a boom in immigration and single-adult households? What happens is that huge houses are built, which then turn into de facto rooming houses for single adults. The Washington Post calls the phenomenon “McMansions Turn ‘McApartments.’”
This effect is already resulting in calls for tighter limits on the sizes of houses and tougher enforcement of laws restricting the number of non-related persons who may live in a “single-family” house. These calls will be especially loud in places where large numbers of immigrants (many of whom migrated to the area to work in the housing construction industry) are living in the big houses. After all, since the days of Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926), American law has viewed the apartment building in a residential area as a “parasite.”
We are likely to hear less frequently, however, the reasonable plea that the exurbs –- where so many immigrants and other single-adult households now live, because this is where the jobs are –- desperately need a greater supply of apartment housing. Our exclusionary zoning laws keep them out. No where else does government regulation work so powerfully against the forces of the market to restrain the happiness of the less powerful, in favor of the more powerful.