Who Do You Think You Are?

Dear Management Doctor:

What is the best response you have heard to the person who does not understand the value of controlled growth and development standards? When this person learns that regulations and ordinances dictate what he can, or can't do, his response is often neither cerebral nor community spirited.

His disdain often sounds something like this: "It is my land. Who do you think you are telling me what I can and can't do on my own property?"

What would be your response?

Thank you,
Dave Holton

Dear Dave,

That’s a planning question, not a management question. But, since I used to be one of those, and many of my readers are, we should be able to give you some advice. Several thoughts occur to me.

  1. First of all, make it clear that it is the community, not you, that is saying what can or can’t be done with the property
  2. The regulations are designed so that the entire community, including said person, benefit by mutually deciding that is will have certain controls, i.e., the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  3. Even communities like Dallas, that don’t have zoning, have found they want some type of regulations — generally done through deed restrictions or other special controls that avoid the use of that word — zoning. One of my clients was Victoria, Texas that did not want zoning. However, when you look at its various regulations, it amounts to the same thing.
  4. Some communities have less regulation than others. It is the choice of the elected officials. In some cases, the elected officials include the State.
  5. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear for many years that these types of regulations are legal.
  6. Preplanned community development has been the norm for the establishment of European colonial settlements in the New World since the Law of the Indies had fixed the form of Spanish municipalities in the Americas in the late 1500s — actually, I wouldn’t say this, but it is true.
  7. You could always say what planners have been saying for years — do you want a pig farm next to you? But I wouldn’t.

Let us know how it goes and wait for the rest of the planners to chime in on this one.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

The best piece of wisdom I ever received was from a good town manager who had actually received the same advice from a personal mentor of his:

Local governments exist, in part, to control behavior. This especially applies to zoning and land use regulation. No one (including you and me, too) likes to have his or her own behavior controlled. But most all of us see some value in controlling the behavior of others. Achieving the appropriate balance is, of course, how you get to community.

Sue Cotellessa

My growing response to the question is to remind the questioner that his neighbors have rights which his actions may hurt. His neighbors outnumber him. Therefore, majority rules in most cases.

Zoning, supported by planning, seeks a three-way balance between the rights of the individual, of his neighbors, and of the whole community.

Glen R. Boise
Kokomo-Howard County, IN

My response usually goes something like this:

I understand your frustration with rules. Very few of us really like being told what to do. But when we live in groups, we sometimes have to look at things from the viewpoint of the group rather than the individual. Our state has authorized cities and counties to plan for the future and to enact local rules to help make the plans reality. Our development rules represent one set of tools adopted by our community leaders to make sure we can reach our planned public vision and goals over the next 10 to 20 years. Hopefully, these have been designed to be the minimum imposition on individual freedoms necessary to preserve and protect the collective future of the community. If you have reviewed the plan and feel the town can achieve its vision without some of these rules, by all means address the Planning Board with your ideas.

This explanation is usually received with a degree of civility, although it never actually changes the opinion of the person who dislikes rules.

North Carolina

Good answer. One small suggestion — it's Houston that has no zoning, not Dallas.

Carol Barrett
San Marcos, TX

For the record, Dallas in fact does have zoning. It is Houston that does not. Correct state, incorrect city.

Marcie Diamond
Coppell, TX

Here's a theme song for all the unabashed NIMBY groups out there...or, as my mentor Darrell Meyer, FAICP called them, the NIMLTs (Not In My LifeTime). Thanks for your continued words of wisdom.

Click here to hear the song.

I'm lobbying for your firm, by the way, to be included in a search for management consultants to assist us with our continued problems in plan check and project review turnaround.

George A. Berger, AICP
City of Newport Beach, CA

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