Anarchy in the GA

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Who says deregulation is dead? Last month, Habersham County, Georgia, abolished all its land use regulations, eliminated its planning commission, and fired all its building inspectors. "We're going to see if people truly need to be regulated," Commissioner Jerry Tanksley explained.

Needless to say, the American Planning Association is upset.

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  1. –During a phone interview Thursday night, Tench said he has reconsidered his vote, after having a few days to calm down and getting some outside legal advice. “I think it was probably illegal and we’ll have to rescind the action,” Tench said.–

    I wonder about that. Legislative bodies can repeal their own actions, right?

    –It is unlikely that this act of political revenge will have any lasting effect. A judicial circuit judge already has ruled that the action was an unauthorized exercise of power…–

    Can anyone help me out on why this would be the case? I can’t find a published court order anywhere. It sounds to me like the judge just didn’t think it was a good idea. I can’t imagine that the municipal charter constituted a commission that expressly prohibited it from abolishing itself or its own programs.

  2. Note to webmaster: some rudimentary HTML support in comments would be really helpful, it’s hard to quote things without italics, or at least the “blockquote” element.

  3. Jesse,
    Thanks for posting this news. I hold a Master of Architecture degree, with my thesis/practicum in historic preservation. Yet, I hold little sympathy for planning philosophy in general, and ‘historic preservation’ laws in particular. I believe that design, like other art forms, is speech, and so deserves First Amendment protection. That holds for planning, as well.

    Hysterical Preservation – like municipal planning – has become a tool in a religious war against eeeville developers and entrepreneurs.

    My hat’s off to Habersham County, I hope it’s deregulation holds firm.

  4. As usual, the damned goo-goos see a problem caused by government intervention on behalf of fat cats (the car, real estate and housing industries for starters), and the only solution they can imagine is even MORE government intervention. Sound anything like one of those bizarre machines Rube Goldberg used to invent?

    Here’s a proposal for eliminating urban sprawl:
    1) end government subsidies to highways that conceal the cost of long commutes;
    2) stop FHA loan discrimination in favor of outlying suburban developments at the expense of old residential neighborhoods;
    3) quit charging utility customers in settled in-lying areas to subsidize extension of utilities to suburbs;
    4) eliminate all zoning restrictions on mixed use development (especially neighborhood groceries and other retail outlets); and
    5) eliminate zoning restrictions on walk-up apartments over downtown businesses.
    6) fund roads, utilities, and all other services with user fees prorated according to real cost imposed on the system.

    Oh, but that would put a lot of do-gooding planners out of business, wouldn’t it? Anyway, the real agenda behind most urban planning is gentrification and catering to the aesthetic tastes of yuppie bastards who don’t want to see anyone working on their truck in the front yard.

  5. “an awful lot of neighborhoods ended up coated in soot.”

    Even with zoning, planning, etc. they still do in the 21st century. Take a trip through the south side of Chicago some time. The free market is still in control, a pesticide factory can still get built next to some poor bastid. The key word is “poor”. The only difference is the government is in on the deal.

  6. A strong property-rights based approach to pollution could have prevented the soot-covered neighborhoods.

    As a property owner, I certainly appreciate that my investment value is protected by restrictions on buidling sewage plants and such next door. Of course, the restriction itself adds to property value. If one is concerned about affordable housing for those who don’t already own the property, this is a bad thing. In any case, in all other areas except real estate the government offers no protection for the economic expectations of investors. Purchasing real estate has risks to it just as purchasing stock. My own personal rule of thumb is never to by a house on a road that leads to anywhere but your neighborhood, because sooner or later it’s going to be a busy road that people don’t want to live on. Also, don’t buy next to vacant land and expect it to stay vacant. Your ‘wooded lot’ is only good if the woods are on your lot. It’s up to individuals to make smart (or dumb) decisions regarding this.

    Private developments with homeowners associations do allow people to live with acceptable restrictions of their free choice that prevent the guy next door from opening a nudie bar or zinc plating plant, or even from painting his house pink and leaving non-functional cars in the yard.

  7. Part of the reason industrial projects tend to go into poor areas is not just the fact that the people there are politically powerless (that certainly is a factor especially when the government has ’eminent domain’ powers), but also because the land is cheaper there. No one is going to buy 5 city lots in a middle to upper class neighborhood for an industrial development when much cheaper land can be found in ‘brown field’ already industrialized sites or greenfield sites built on underutilized farm land.

  8. I think historical preservation is sometimes needed when star architects cannot restrain themselves from building the most outrageous “postmodern”/”deconstructivist” structures they can get away with, with no regard to the world outside their “vision”. There used to be a time when architects respected the built environment and knew how it functioned. No longer–witness the new fantasy proposals for the World Trade Center site. Some of those proposals are downright scary.

  9. As someone who once covered town hall meetings in the Towns of Delafield and Lisbon, Wisconsin as a part-time reporter for The Lake Country Reporter, I would like to say I have some first hand info on what goes on in regards of zoning laws and planning commissions.

    One thing I noticed is just how “tight” developers are with the commission officials, especially in Delafield. The Town Engineer of Delafield would bring up discussions he had with developers over friendly games of golf. One of the lawyers who represent a company involved with several sub-divisions is also the Fire Chief.

    I hate the throw around the world “classism” (it sounds so leftist) but in recent years last decade the make up of town changed from agriculture and recreational, to upper-class residential when a large influx of young-to-middle-aged urban professionals have started building their gated communities and condominium tracts in the “rustic” areas around Milwaukee. Slowly and surely the concerns and property rights of the farmers, hunters, fishers, and summer renters are being to be put aside in favor of high-end residential development.

    For instance there was one case of a poor fellow, a diesel mechanic with two cottages on his land, in Delafield who was really being screwed by the planners. He had purchased one of the lakeside cottages with the intention of renting it out during the summers back in the early 90s with the blessing of the plan commission. At the same time, he started to make some renovations to the other cottage, his home. However, when the members of the commission were replaced by the present administration, they said the second cottage violated the density restrictions and demanded he tear it down. They also issued a “cease construction” order on his house, leaving the renovations largely incomplete. The deal was this, raze the second cottage and we’ll let you finish your house. This man had to use up his savings and his children’s college fund to legally fight the commission, and he was blocked all the way.

    No developers were eyeing his land (as far as we know), however the point is that the old plan commission was willing to let this fellow be, while the new one (run by lawyers, doctors and other “professionals”) started to find all sort of “violations” that he had committed. To him, the message was clear: This is “our” town now; you riff-raff have no place here.

    I’m not sure how the story ended. I quit the paper shortly afterwards. Mainly because I knew that I wasn’t going to get any higher than a lowly “stringer,” but also because covering the antics of these greedy yuppie snobs became just a little too much for me to stomach.

  10. Kevin, Kevin, Kevin…..I lived in Georgia for a couple years and I assure you there is no place in the state where a Yuppie Bastard can look out and NOT see someone working on their truck in the front yard.

    You SILLY boy.

  11. “Georgia’s residents – note, not “citizens”(!) – have said that growth is too important to be left to chance.” Growth is too important to be managed by politicians and bureaucrats. And who is this guy to say that the people can’t decide to do away with regulation that nobody except those with an ax to grind wants?

  12. I honestly don’t think you people understand what planner do. Speaking as a city planner, I think Kevin Carson’s suggestions are right on the mark, and so would every other planner I’ve ever spoken to. The Supreme Court case that upheld zoning regulation, Euclid v. Ambler, came about because a town in Ohio didn’t want a Chinese guy to open up a laundry in town.

    That said, do you really think a company should be able to buy five lots in a residential subdivision and build a steel mill? And what about private covenants that forbid mixed use buildings? Finally, it’s the private utilities that charge extra to subsidize growth, Kevin.

    With all the lousy planning that’s happened over the last sixty years (urbar renewal, government redlining, etc.), I understand why there’s a backlash. But there are important interests that need to be protected. The answer to bad planning is good planning, not anarchy.

  13. Sorry, Steve–I live in a college town whose government is trying to turn it into Burlington. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t live down there in the United States–I live in Fayetteville, Ark.

    Joe: I’m glad that most planners would agree with my proposals, but the only thing they would have to do to carry them out, for the most part, is to stop doing what they’re doing now. The fact still remains, besides, that most of the existing ugliness and urban sprawl results from the consensus ideology of planners fifty years ago. You give someone the power to do good coercively, and they can also do evil.

    As for buying five lots to build a steel mill, I came by my version of free market economics by way of Proudhon and Tucker. Since a community or regional mutual bank would probably have to front the capital to build the mill, and since (with a system of land ownership based only on occupancy and use) there probably wouldn’t be five adjacent lots in a central area to build on, I doubt the problem would arise.

    In short, the solution IS anarchy.

    BTW, I just thought of an interesting anecdote from *The Geography of Nowhere*. In a nice old Georgetown neighborhood, all the turn of the century houses are set close to the street, with sidewalks and shade trees–you get the picture. Well, according to the new design standards, any NEW house built in that neighborhood has to be set back from the street in the same fashion as houses in the suburbs everywhere. So when one of those neat old houses burned down, the neighborhood wound up with one house in the row set back like a split-level ranch in Brady Bunch land.

  14. Kevin,

    I can’t really take exception with the general thrust of your argument, but you take it too far. In the real world, either the government regulates land use, or some poor bastid gets a pesticide factory built next door.

    “As for buying five lots to build a steel mill, I came by my version of free market economics by way of Proudhon and Tucker. Since a community or regional mutual bank would probably have to front the capital to build the mill…” Um, no. The small local banks and credit unions don’t fund major industrial projects. Do you really think MBNA or CitiGroup would give a *&$@% about harming the neighborhood character of some little town in Iowa? It would be a nice world if everything just worked out for the best without any interference, but it’s not the world we live in. Even in the 1800s, with local financing et al, an awful lot of neighborhoods ended up coated in soot.

    The arrogant consensus of mid-century planners and architects has become the central element of the curriculum in planning schools. Funny eh?

    And yes, The Geography of Nowhere is a great book.

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