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The Seven Lies of Zoning

by Gregory Allan

Bad ideas, like bad pennies, always seem to turn up again and again. Far from settled, the People of Giles county are once again facing the question of whether to accept countywide zoning.

Zoning is one of those ideas that seems more complicated than it is. Most people think zoning helps the community control land, but it doesn't. Zoning is a way for a few elite people in the county to control everyone else. Zoning is "people control."

It's so simple. Just as Esau sold his birthright for pottage, so may Giles' people sell their land and homesteads for lies. Identify and expose those lies, and maybe we can avoid tragedy.

Lie #1: "Zoning will protect us from pollution and noise."

This lie is easy to expose. We already have laws to punish people who damage other peoples' property and disturb the peace. No additional laws are necessary. I have seen many examples where zoning actually helped corporations do things they could not have done without zoning in place. The "will of the community," although opposed, was powerless because they'd given all their power to the zoning board. I've never seen one of them stopped by zoning.

Truth: Zoning helps persons with enough money, do things for which they would otherwise be punished by existing laws.

Lie #2: "My neighbor will have to clean up the junk in his yard."

As with many really effective lies, this one is couched in a half-truth. This particular lie works really well. Most of us have a neighbor or two with a lot of unsightly junk we'd like to see cleaned up.

Trouble is, once the precedent is set for forcing people to clean up their property, the only question is where to set the standard. We all know that everything government does is a one-way ratchet. Have you ever known the real tax-rate to go down, or seen a single bad law repealed? Zoning boards, like other government bureaucracies, always gain more power over time.

Face it: a zoning board is nothing but a pack of thieves; a "goon squad."

People who live under zoning are familiar with the “red tag.” When they see one stuck on their property it means they have only a few days to comply, or face a stiff fine. In the beginning, only the worst junk is "red-tagged." But after their first pass through the county, the Goon Squad must raise its standards for what they consider "junk," or put themselves out of work. In ten or fifteen years anything in your yard, no matter how neatly stacked, may be classified as junk. Any car in your yard that doesn't have a current license plate will have to be removed or you will be fined and sent a towing bill. You'll receive no payment for your lost treasure.

Like it or not, that "junk" car or tractor in your neighbor's yard has a value. Under zoning, sentimental value is irrelevant; plans he may have had to restore it and sell it for a higher price someday are gone. No one else in the county will buy it because they also fear the Goon Squad. If he sells it at all it will be for much less than its true value, but it will probably go for scrap. There's no way around it folks, that man's property was stolen.

Truth: Zoning makes it legal to steal peoples' property. Zoning boards are made up of thieves, and everyone who supports them is an accomplice.

Lie #3: "Zoning will raise my property value."

Another half-truth. Under zoning, permit fees are raised and building codes are made more restrictive. All this costs money. It becomes much more expensive to build new structures. Supply and demand then forces up the price of existing structures.

If you're not planning on selling your home, you can look forward to higher property taxes. Just as others have found under zoning, Giles county property owners who are currently paying between $400 and $800 yearly can expect to start shelling out $1,200 to $2,500 within a few short years. You need only look as far as Maury county to see this trend in action.

If you plan to build a new barn, garage, or make some other improvement, be prepared to comply with the Goon Squad's new rules, and pay 50% to 100% more to finish the project-- that is assuming that the Goons approve it at all (much less likely than you may think). Unless of course you have enough money to bribe the Goons, but that's illegal so we're supposed to pretend it doesn't happen.

If you're planning to sell your home, you might want to do it quickly, before zoning goes into effect. "But what about that higher property value I'm expecting," you ask? Many Goon Squads require that a house be brought up to current "code" before it can be sold. Even with its newly inflated value, the expense of upgrading might make it more cost-effective to tear it down and rebuild.

But be careful about tearing down existing buildings. Although they are always grandfathered in areas where they violate new regulations, if the building is torn down or "accidentally" burns, the Goon Squad will almost certainly prohibit your building another structure, even if it's intended for the same use as the one it replaces. Scores of family businesses are lost this way.

Truth: Zoning raises the value of your property by raising the cost of everything.

Lie #4: "If we don't get county-wide zoning my property will lose value."

Nobody wants to admit it, but none of us really owns land. Each year we must pay property tax on "our" land. If we don't pay the tax, then the county takes it away and sells it to someone else. So let's call it what it is: rent.

So long as we pay our yearly rent we can do pretty much what we want with the land. But under zoning, the landlord will write a book of rules to tell us what we can and cannot do with "our" land. It will grow thicker every year with more rules enacted "for your own good." It no longer matters what you plan, as your planning will now be done by the Goon Squad.

Imagine a bundle of sticks. Each stick represents a single right you have in your land. Grouped together, the bundle is your total right of ownership. The right to keep your land without rent doesn't belong to you, that stick already belongs to the county.

Now let's say that "Joe" wants to mine phosphate on your land. If you agree, Joe gets some of the sticks in your bundle. If Joe finds phosphate, he'll be able to come and go as he pleases; build roads as needed; cut trees; tear up the surface to get the phosphate underneath; sell all the phosphate that he finds; and leave behind a mess when he's finished. While he has those rights, your own use of the land is limited: you can't do anything which might interfere with Joe's operation, and you can't keep any of the phosphate for yourself.

Some people discover this isn't such a good deal. Others may be satisfied. After all, they are paid at the time the contract is signed, and they're also paid a percentage of the profit from the phosphate. A parcel of land just west of Pulaski was mined for phosphate. I hope the owner made money on the deal, because anyone can see the land is worthless now to everyone but snakes and coyotes.

Compare zoning with this model: You lose rights in your land; Goons decide how the land is used; if you can't use it for what you want then the land (to you) is now essentially worthless. The big difference? You don't even get paid! That's right folks, you surrendered your rights for nothing. You didn't even bring home a handfull of magic beans.

But there is still hope! The county will sell back some rights, one at a time, in the form of a permit. And if you want to do something that's against the Goon Squad's rules, you can apply for a variance. If you're politically connected you'll have no problem getting one. What, you don't own any politicians? No problem-- if you have lots of money. The wealthy buy variances all the time. They hire local attorneys to handle this for them. Attorneys know this, which is why they are nearly all in favor of zoning.

Truth: The only value land has to us is in its use. If we lose the right to decide how land is used, then it has lost value.

Lie #5: "Other people may be effected by zoning, but not me."

I have to say it: This one is just plain stupid. Unless you are an actual member of the Goon Squad, or you are one of a half-dozen people in the county rich enough to own your own Goon (you know who you are), then you too will lose your property rights. Everyone who is in favor of zoning thinks it will be the other guy who loses his rights. By the time they see the truth, it's too late.

Truth: Zoning benefits the very wealthy, the very privileged, and the bureaucrats who administer the system. Everyone else suffers.

Lie #6: "The county will change for the worse if we don't adopt zoning."

One thing is certain: with or without zoning, the county will change. Everything always does. Every person I've met in Giles county has always been polite to me, and for the most part you are all polite to each other. There are not many places I can say that about. Giles has been a county since 1810. That's 192 years, and in all that time, the sky has not fallen. But it has never before been burdened with the weight of zoning. I know from considerable experience that zoning will be bad for Giles county and its people.

Truth: Once you've lost your freedom of choice, it's too late to change your mind.

Lie #7: “I still own my land even if I must pay yearly rent to keep it, and can't decide how it's used.”

I'll admit it: even the pro-zoners don't tell that lie. It's so obviously false that it might actually help their victims see the truth. But this is the Big Lie that Lies #1-6 are supposed to lead you to believe.

Selling the right to decide how your land is used in exchange for empty promises of security, then claiming the sale has somehow "added value," is exactly like taking a dollar out of your pocket, tearing off one corner, giving the rest to a stranger, then trying to explain to your kids how the corner you have left is really worth $2. Even kids know that only the bigger piece will spend. You can try this at home. Put a piece in each hand and offer any kid his choice. See which one he picks.

The yearly rental-tax makes the county the true legal owner of your land. There are only two other main sticks in the bundle: The right of use, and the right to sell. Under zoning the county has two sticks to your one. Where is the added value in that?

Truth: Whoever has the most sticks in a bundle of rights is the real owner.

Do you normally hand your wallet to strangers for safekeeping? Trust lawyers with blank checks? Have you given the county a duplicate housekey, or the deed to your land? If you're in favor of zoning then you may as well answer "yes" to all the above.

Under zoning, if you want to own a home, raise a family, or run a business, you'll have to do it the Goons' way or not at all. That's people-control. I'd prefer to think you have enough sense to manage your own affairs, as I insist on the right to manage mine. If not, maybe you'd like to buy some Florida swampland, or Enron stock? Or maybe you'd be in favor of zoning?


Reprinted from The Giles Free Press, August 15, 2002, with permission of the author; Copyright 2002, Gregory Allan, All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint is granted on the condition that a copy of the publication in which the reprint appears is sent to The Lawful Path. For contact information, please visit http://www.lawfulpath.com.


(Isaiah 33:22) For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.

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