Friday, October 05, 2007

Arbitrary Government

Via Kim and Say Uncle, we have the story of Ronald “Bo” Ward, an owner of a barber shop who needed a zoning variance in order to stay in business. His request was denied and Mr. Ward exclaimed “Ya’ll have put me under ... I’m out of here,” and then shot himself in the head.

On the surface, most people will say: That seems to be an extreme reaction to a minor setback, but the first thing I thought was that I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often.

You see, I work in the land development field and I deal with these zoning boards all the time. Massachusetts zoning boards. Massachusetts has 351 towns and each town has different rules and requirements for zoning. Thus, we have to keep track of the rules in every town in which we do business. This doesn't even take into account the restrictions caused by various environmental regulations like the River's Act.

All that is bad enough. But now we get to the real fun.

For example, a client wants to add a pool to his property in one of those W towns in the western suburbs of Boston. OK, this shouldn't be too hard. Look up the Zoning rules for the town, check if he has wetlands on his property, apply the rules and regulation, design the pool accordingly and then we're done.

Right. Not so fast.

We go to the board and the board mentions that our client's house is on a Scenic Road and that his landscaping needs some work. Well, I can't seem to find the zoning rule that mentions landscaping, but the client agrees in order to work with the board and to facilitate approval of his pool.

Time passes.

Another meeting.

Now the board has issues with our client's lighting. Lighting that can't even be seen from the road. The board wants low environmental impact lighting with a low wattage.

Now our client is getting pissed.

He wants to get his pool built before the end of summer. We draw up lighting plans that show the negligible impact of our client's current lighting arrangement. The board still wants the low impact lighting and now wants tighter development restrictions on our client's property.

Restriction that would guarantee that our client would no longer be able to add improvements to his property.

Now you might say: Why doesn't our client sue the town? Well assuming that our client has enough funds to afford a long, protracted law suit, the outcome would still be far from assured.

The town doesn't care, they have a nice tax base to defend any potential law suit. So our client finally gives up and decides to try again later, even though, according to the town's zoning rules and regulations, he had a legal right to build a pool on his property.

This is arbitrary government at its finest.

I have seen scenarios like the one outlined above, over and over. It does not surprise me in the least that a few people reach their limit and push back.

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