The Hideous Heart of Zoning

When I was about eleven, I loved the Edgar Allen Poe story, “The Telltale Heart”. At the end of the story, the protagonist rips out the floorboards of his house to reveal the heart of his dismembered victim, hidden underneath.

In the town of Chevy Chase, resident (and continual political candidate) Deborah Vollmer rips open the floorboards on zoning regulation. The town just passed zoning regs limiting what kinds of homes people may build on their lots. The regs are more restrictive than what MoCo allows, of course. Vollmer is not satisfied with the restrictions, insisting that they need to be even more stringent. She points out that there are environmental ramifications of tearing down homes; waste disposal, you see, and such. When others point out that the additions and new homes are built to ensure better energy efficiency than the old homes, she won’t back down. The pretense of environmental impacts or esthetics are dropped, and we see the true, malevolence behind the zoning impulse. Some homes shouldn’t be torn down, she told the Montgomery Sentinel — like the one next door to her.

And that’s what zoning always comes down to; Peter doesn’t like what Paul is doing with his property, so he tries to use the force of Leviathan to control Paul’s property. Vollmer (and other zoning advocates) are fundamentally conservative; they don’t like the idea of things changing, and they don’t want to see a house next door that’s different from what they are used to, or different from what the other neighbors have, or different from her own perception of what the house “should” look like.

Well, you know what? It’s not their business to decide what the house “should” look like. My neighbors may not like seeing my ugly punim when I come out in the morning, but, for crying out loud, they’re not trying to use the power of the government to force me to get plastic surgery. Live with it, Deb.

Postscript:  I just read an article on the Post“s “Maryland Moment” blog, recounting the comments of the county’s new Planning Director.  It seemed such a perfect example of the sneering paternalism that I referred to in this post:

A few minutes later, up to the podium strolled Rollin Stanley, the county’s new planning director, who has ruffled some feathers by telling developers their plans are “horrible” and by criticizing the county, which he said seems at times more concerned about due process than about getting well-designed communities . . . The mind-set in this country is wrong,” said Stanley, a native of Canada who was the planning chief in St. Louis before arriving in Montgomery a few months ago.

Imagine the nerve of those little people, being more concerned about due process than what Rollin knows to be best for them. Their mindset is just wrong, that’s all.


Explore posts in the same categories: Civil Liberties, Housing, Regulation

3 Comments on “The Hideous Heart of Zoning”

  1. Blogger1947 Says:

    Nothing is worse than someone using (or increasing) the power of government for the sole purpose of advancing his own agenda.

    There has been an ongoing battle here in Woodlawn over the establishment of a small school that would provide education to Muslim boys–an Islamic version of a Talmudical academy.

    A few neighbors are up in arms, presumably because it’s those Dreaded Towel-Heads, and they’ve raised a ruckus with the county planning commission on grounds entirely unrelated to anything the property owners have done, or say that they plan to do.

    The county has thrown its weight in favor of these, ahem, rednecks. The first scheduled hearing on the matter was removed from the docket, owing to the influence of a county councilman and state delegate. (Not surprisingly, the public record was wiped clean of the very existence of the first hearing.) Something like five months later, a hearing was finally scheduled, and in spite of loud opposition, the Muslim property owner was granted permission to go ahead, subject to a few minor conditions. He was cautioned, however, that there is a 30-day period during which the case could be appealed, and in that interval any changes or construction undertaken would be at his own risk.

    Sure enough, the opposition filed an appeal, on April 24, less than a week before the appeals window closed. The deadline passed, and the property owners have started making their changes. The county–for reasons that have not been disclosed–chose to wait until June 10 to prepare a letter informing the defendants and their attorney of the appeal.

    Apparently those opposed to this project plan to make the process as costly and inconvenient as possible, in the hope the owner (who already has a million dollars invested) will abandon it.

    Of course, none of them has bothered to consider that if they succeed, the next proposed re-use of this economically obsolete property may be even more objectionable.

    I am not generally in favor of SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) litigation, but in this case, I sincerely hope the owners of the property will file such a lawsuit.

    Haven’t yet digested the latest material, received only Friday. But those interested in the specifics are invited to read my last (April) blog entry on the subject, which will back-track to the beginning of the matter.

    As Mencken observed, “When A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel.”

  2. Ron Says:

    Hmmm, and Poe didn’t know the truth about The Lost King of France!

    So ya wanna come over to Not Yet a Leviathan Fairfax?

  3. Zinzindor Says:

    “Nothing is worse than someone using (or increasing) the power of government for the sole purpose of advancing his own agenda.”

    Sheesh, Stan, that’s at least 80% of government.

    ““When A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel.”

    And that’s another 15% right there!

    But, no Ron, that’s not enough to get me to move to Virginia.

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