October 1, 2009
The World of No Zoning
This morning my co-editor Matt Festa posted about the fact that Houston doesn't have zoning, and may be the only major city not to have it. However, according to Matt, folks there seem to have found work-arounds to this problem, including private agreements. When I was in law school I wrote a paper about the use of nuisance law as a type of land use regulation, and it seemed like Houston was a great example of that. My impression was that in Houston use of prospective nuisance seemed to get at some of the same problems addressed through zoning by other cities. Of course, I wrote that paper a long time ago, so things may have changed. I'll be curious to see if Matt has a perspective on that.
Here in Georgia the issue of no zoning has some other ramifications. I'm often contacted by rural jurisdictions who have no zoning controls whatsoever, and are being confronted by having nuisance-type uses located in their city or county. Landfills and scrapyards seem to be the two biggest issues. Atlanta has to send its trash somewhere, and nearby jurisdictions with no zoning seem to be prime targets. In fact, a few years ago some commissioners from Taliaferro County went to jail to stop a landfill in their county.
The UGA Land Use Clinic is working with our partner GreenLaw to help some of these counties get appropriate regulation in place. Sometimes it means passing ordinances strictly related to landfills or scrapyards. This is because, in my experience, getting a full scale zoning scheme in place can be heavily contested. I'm often told that Georgia "is a property rights state" and that folks are reluctant to have the government tell them what to do with their land. I don't think this is unique to Georgia, but it's possible it's a more prevalent attitude here. I'll be curious what commenters and my fellow editors have to say about this.
Jamie Baker Roskie
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