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Free Minds & Free Markets

Why a Small New York Town Is Banning New Restaurants

Protectionism takes many forms, but it always leads to the same end: fewer choices for consumers

Skaneateles, a town of 7,000 that rests at the north end of Skaneateles Lake, one of New York State's Finger Lakes, is considering a ban on new restaurants in the city's historic district.

The Auburn Citizen reported last week that the measure would prohibit new sit-down restaurants from opening along Genesee Street, which runs along the lake. That's despite the fact that the waterfront district that would be impacted is composed of approximately 60 buildings that are "predominantly of commercial" nature.

Why the ban? There must be hundreds of restaurants in the area, right? Well, no. Yelp lists no more than a handful of restaurants in the proposed ban area.

But that's probably plenty, according to Mayor Marty Hubbard.

"I think that Skaneateles certainly supports restaurants," Mayor Hubbard said last month before explaining the limits of that support. "We have plenty of restaurants, and we have plenty of area left in the downtown district...where restaurants, in fact, would be approved, and I think it's fair to say that the village very much supports restaurants. It's just this particular area has residents."

One person who won't feel the sting of the ban is Adam Weitsman, whose planned Mexican restaurant within Skaneateles's no-go area has already received the necessary permits to open. Still, Weitsman doesn't love the ban.

Weitsman told the Citizen that "'there's not a lot of variety' among Skaneateles' downtown restaurants when it comes to ethnic food and more affordable dining."

Save for Weitsman's Mexican restaurant, it's safe to assume neither variety nor affordability will improve after the ban.

The Citizen notes the ban was first considered last summer, when the planning board determined that "new restaurant development can destroy the value of one's home investment." (I'm a little bit skeptical.) The board considered that much of the area consists of "owner-occupied condominiums valued over $1 million." Indeed, the Citizen reports residents of those pricey condos generally support the move, while those outside the historic district are generally opposed.

Another worry cited by the city was the potential for "noise and smells," local news outlet LocalSYR.com reported last month.

The rationale for the ban appears to be a familiar mix of protectionism: protecting neighborhood character, protecting existing restaurants from competition, and protecting existing home prices.

This isn't the first restaurant ban I've written about here. For example, in 2013 (and again in 2015) I discussed the absurd ban on the construction of new fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, a patronizing plan adopted by the city to combat obesity. Two RAND studies concluded the plan did not combat obesity, as everyone from The Atlantic to NPR to the L.A. Times reported.

Neither is the Skaneateles ban unique. For example, Gig Harbor, WA, about an hour's drive from where I live in Seattle, is currently considering a Skaneateles-style ban.

But the proposed Skaneateles ban makes for an interesting juxtaposition against the reasons behind your typical food-truck ban. Consider that prohibitions of food trucks around the country often rest on the (misguided) assumption that brick-and-mortar restaurants are somehow better for a community than are food trucks. (They're not better. Neither are they worse.) But Skaneateles takes that further, presuming that million-dollar condos are better for a community than are brick-and-mortar restaurants. (I wonder if the condo owners will feel the sting down the road when the town suggests two-million-dollar single-family homes are better for the community than are mere million-dollar condos.)

Regardless of the target—restaurants generally, fast-food restaurants specifically, food trucks, or any other food business—a ban like that proposed in Skaneateles or Gig Harbor is a counterproductive, dumb, and potentially illegal measure designed to protect one small subset of the population at the expense of other taxpaying residents and businesses, diners, visitors, and others. Whether or not a problem exists, a ban is really no solution at all.

Photo Credit: Andre Jenny Stock Connection Worldwide/Newscom

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  • Cy||

    Welcome to the land of the free!

  • libertynugget||

    Long live Tweek's Coffee!:

    "You see, when my father opened this tore 30 years ago, he cared about only one thing: making a great cup of coffee. Sure, we may take a little longer to brew a cup, and we may not call it fancy names, but I guess we just care a little more. And that's why Tweek Coffee is still home-brewed from the finest beans we can muster. Yes, Tweek Coffee is a simpler cup, for a simpler America."

    Even if it does "have that bland, raw, sewage taste that Tweek's coffee has."

  • Rich||

    "'there's not a lot of variety' among Skaneateles' downtown restaurants when it comes to ethnic food and more affordable dining."

    If Skaneatelesians (?) wanted ethnic food or more affordable dining wouldn't they have had it by now? After all, the town must have been around since, gosh, quite a while!

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Historic districts are themselves a pox on society. The idea that you should freeze buildings at a given point in time is ludicrous; why not ten years earlier or later? Those buildings were almost certainly built on the graves of earlier buildings; what was wrong with them? Then there's the tremendous cost of maintaining older buildings in the face of structural improvements (wiring, plumbing, lighting. safety, fires, earthquakes, flooding) and simple utility (different office plans, store efficiency, home use). The replacement buildings were better and so would be their replacements. Everyone who thinks some historic building is awesome knows nothing about what it replaced or what would have replaced it.

    Just another fine example of government of cronies, by cronies, for cronies.

  • Sevo||

    "Historic districts are themselves a pox on society."
    + many!

  • Rich||

    "And the building you're standing in was the Smallpox Sanitarium."

  • Shirley Knott||

    It is a never-ending source of amusement (of a certain sort) that the former Bedlam asylum is now The Imperial War Museum in London.

  • Rich||

    That's great! Thanks, Shirley! 8-)

  • SQRLSY One||

    That's poetic, ironic, iconic, AND sardonic, 'cause the whole idea of "Imperial War" DOES belong in the Asylum of Bedlam! As I thoroughly studied and learned Bedlamist, I can assure you that this is true!

  • SQRLSY One||

    In my deepest, most mystically enlightened studies of Bedlamism, my wisest Bedlamist scholars have explained to me, "SQRLSY One, oh ye of little grasshopperishness, don't you see that the Gendarmes of Government Almighty need to be gendarmically mutilated, that they should NOT quite feel so much pleasure in exercising the Vast Powers of Government Almighty? If only we can implement gendarmic mutilation as a condition of employment with Government Almighty, then MUCH chaos and badness could be averted!"

    I'm still a grasshopper, but I'm starting to see the Wisdom of Bedlamism…

  • ThomasD||

    A developer is a guy who wants to build cabins in a pristine wilderness. A conservationist is the guy who already owns a cabin in that pristine wilderness.

    Thus as it always was.

    Used to live in Shoshone county, ID. The county seat is a historic old mining town - Wallace. Back in the late 80's the feds wanted to raze about half the town to make room for I-90. The locals fought tooth and nail, not because the place was booming (silver had already crashed) and half the buildings were vacant anyway, but because they liked what they had. And were going to lose until one of them thought to get the place declared a National Historic District.

    They still lost a slice of the town, but the Feds had to build an overpass instead.

  • Rich||

    They still lost a slice of the town, but the Feds had to build an overpass instead.

    Look on the bright side. It's a future *historic overpass*.

  • ThomasD||

    " It's a future *historic overpass*."

    Forget the future, it's already legendary to them. A visitor cannot spend a day in the town without hearing at least some of the story. It's another thread in the love-hate tapestry between the west and the Feds.

  • ThomasD||

    Oh, and right about the same time the Feds were looking at running I-90 through town, the FBI showed up to raid and shut down the last brothels (1988.) Go figure.

  • Longtobefree||

    Except, of course, that the building of the first cabin means it is no longer pristine wilderness - - - - - - - -

  • ThomasD||

    I used the term ironically. Nothing about a wilderness ever was, nor ever will be pristine. It is always in a state of change, otherwise it's not really wild.

  • Sevo||

    In what should be no surprise, San Fran takes the protection racket to new levels:

    "Great news for the poor and middle class in San Fran. The City has decided to use your tax dollars to keep businesses open, if they had been opened more than thirty years. So, you pay taxes, so your competition can get grants and subsidies from the City, to be in competition with you. Sounds fair doesn't it?"
    http://www.capoliticalreview.com/
    capoliticalnewsandviews/legacy-program-
    aims-to-keep-longtime-sf-businesses-thriving/

  • Rich||

    The City has decided to use your tax dollars to keep businesses open, if they had been opened more than thirty years.

    "McDonalds has stood the test of time. Anyway, we use your tax dollars to keep *The City* open, don't we?"

  • perlchpr||

    The Roxie Theater, the more than century-old theater in the heart of the Mission District, was paying $9,792 per month in rent, which the landlord tried to increase to $21,200 per month. The theater ultimately negotiated a three-year lease and now pays $10,963 in monthly rent.

    So... they've been paying rent for over a hundred years? Sounds like they should have invested in, like, buying their property.

  • ThomasD||

    I'm guessing the owners never saw any reason to sell.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    Bad news for Dipshit Dave Weigel and all the rest of our junior grade Block Yomommatards: economic growth is absolutely exploding now. The Atlanta Fed just raised their second quarter growth estimate to an awesome 4.8%!

    It's especially hilarious when you consider those left-wing assholes said this wasn't possible anymore; that Mofobama's shit-ass, moribund 2% growth was the "new normal" and there was nothing anyone could do to increase it again.

  • Cy||

    4.8% is exploding? Wake me up when we're back to 6.

  • ||

    Well, from 1% it is.

  • Sevo||

    WCR is right up there with SIV as right-wing twits I'd support, but:

    "Percent United States GDP Growth Rate stands at 1.4 Percent. Euro Area GDP Growth Rate latest value is 0.6 Percent, it is ranked as the 33rd world's lowest gdp growth rate. China GDP Growth Rate was last reported at 1.7 Percent. Japan GDP Growth Rate stands at 0.3 Percent and is the 11th lowest gdp growth rate."
    https://ieconomics.com/
    ndefined-gdp-growth-rate

    Pretty hot shit.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Politicians think recessions are the end of the world. They think they can fix things and always fail.

    Recessions are a market adjustment. Obama and his moronic economists delayed economic recovery by not allowing this natural process of adjustment to occur.

    So many Americans are economically ignorant, many buy into the government lies and bad economic policies. Trump is rolling back government regulation to allow the market to do its thing

    Even during Trump's 8 years as president there will probably be a market correction. Hopefully Trump and Congress remain hands off so the adjustment will end quickly.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Funny how small town tyranny increases are inversely related regulatory rollbacks in Washington DC.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Wait until you see how Homeowners Associations behave.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Oh yea. You have to be a fool to buy into a HOA home.

  • Paloma||

    I didn't buy into an HOA, they made one a few years after I bought my house. Horrible institutions. I hope they could be abolished.

  • ||

    "mix of protectionism: protecting neighborhood character, protecting existing restaurants from competition, and protecting existing home prices."

    That building really needs to be torn down but look at all that character! And where would the ghosts go?!

    There's something creepy about obsessing over nostalgia for its own sake. Like Berlin, Maryland. I thought I entered a vortex when we stopped over night last year on our way to the Outer Banks. It's all pretty and all that (we even stayed in a haunted hotel!) but I can just imagine the cronyism. My little town here 40 minutes north of Montreal does the same shit. The municipality dictate terms. The shenanigans are what you'd expect.

  • Rich||

    There's something creepy about obsessing over nostalgia for its own sake.

    "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be."

  • ||

    You have a knack for Yogisms.

  • kevrob||

    `Twasn't Berra!

    {per Quote Investigator}

  • Longtobefree||

    You think that is nostalgia? Back when I was a kid, we had REAL nostalgia!

  • kevrob||

    @ Rich:

    `Twasn't Berra!

    Kevin R

  • kevrob||

    Squirrels cause not nostalgia, but deja post.

    Kevin R

  • ThomasD||

    Jerome, Arizona has become much the same. A den for free wheeling hippies and hermits got taken over by wealthy 'progressives.'

  • Rich||

    Knife-Wielding, Snake-Dancing Man Shot By Police

    No officers were injured.

    And apparently the snake escaped.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, it did not look like a dog, did it?

  • creech||

    If the dips want to preserve historic structures, then they need to realize that preservation costs a ton to keep facades looking good, upgrade the utilities, etc. And one of the best ways to ensure that is to allow re-purposing for businesses such as restaurants that can generate sufficient income! Easiest way to get the historic structure torn down is to refuse to allow profitable uses.

  • Cy||

    "then they need to realize that preservation costs a ton to keep facades looking good, upgrade the utilities, etc."

    Of course they 'realize' it. They realized it before they ran for office and made sure that their brother or BFF from high school got the maintenance and construction contracts. DUH!

  • kevrob||

    My university wanted to tear down an ugly 19th Century house and purpose-build a new facility. They told the preservationists,
    "We'll give you the house. You raise the money to re-site it." Nothing happened.Years later it came down, to be replaced by a fine new practice space for basketball, and an HQ for the athletic dept and intramurals.The women's hoops team plays regular season home games there, and the men use it for "pre-season" games, instead of the local NBA arena.

    Kevin R

  • Jerryskids||

    Not really OT, I saw a 60 Minutes piece on the guy who has a rhinoceros ranch in Africa who's working on getting permission to sell the rhino horns he cuts off in an attempt to keep poachers from killing the rhinos for the horn. 60 Minutes of course spends a good bit of time being fair and balanced by giving a full hearing to the conservationists opposed to this "controversial" idea, mainly opposed because this evil bastard is saving rhinos for a profit rather than for altruistic reasons. It's almost as if they don't give a shit that the guy is saving more rhinos by turning them into a cash crop than they're saving by being noble saints, they're not interested in saving the rhinos for the rhinos' sake. The guy says he's not making a profit due to the costs of maintaining a significant army to protect the ranch and, having a basic understanding of economics, assumes that he never will make a profit because if he begins releasing a large quantity of legal rhino horn into the market the price of rhino horn is going to drop like a rock, further discouraging the rhino-poaching due to decreased profitability. But there's some self-righteous asshole arguing that increasing the supply of rhino horn is going to cause the price of rhino horn to go up and that's this evil bastard's real intent.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    That an government banning ivory and rhino horns create an artificial shortage which drives up the price....creating more incentive to get the horns, usually form a dead animal.

  • creech||

    Saw that story too and my thought was as soon as he releases his rhino horn prices will plunge and that will make rhino horn powder even more in demand now that many more Asians will be able to afford it. Therefore, more incentive to poach even if each rhino horn brings less. The only solution (good luck at it) is convincing these Asians that there is no special powers to rhino horn powder and they are only wasting their money.

  • Jerryskids||

    Does rhino horn powder look anything like fentanyl? Asking for a friend.

  • D-Pizzle||

    I've been wondering for years how many species are now endangered so that Chinese men can get boners.

  • ThomasD||

    Every wild animal in Africa is a cash crop for somebody. If it weren't so the local farmers would eradicate them.

  • lap83||

    New Orleans takes the historic preservation baloney to an extreme. My brother lives there and a building on the corner of his block was literally deteriorating and the guy who owned it wasn't allowed to do anything. Last I heard he was thinking about doing something drastic.

  • Longtobefree||

    Listen to Dylan -
    " . . . . drop another match, go start anew . . .

  • lap83||

    Yeah it's got to be tempting...

    "That's a nice historic dilapidated building I've got here....would be a shame if something happened to it"

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Killdozer?

  • Duelles||

    So the existing restaurants will be full and have waiting lines not because their food is so goood. Theory! Without competition the quality of dining might suffer driving tourists out of town completely! Let's hope for that!

  • Homple||

    Food trucks are the solution to this problem, as they are to all problems.

  • Myshkin78||

    This is the one area where I disagree with free market economics. Roach coaches (aka "food trucks") should be banned entirely for the good of mankind.

  • AdamPliska||

    I wouldn't want to live in a town that did this sort of thing. Though… I suppose I could move! That being said… let them do their thing. A group of 7k people trying some odd protectionist ban may seem silly 1000 miles away, but who are those that don't live there to say they can't mess up their own development? I'm glad they have the right to try this, even if I disagree with what they are doing.

    Good luck with that Skaneateles.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    " Skaneateles."

    Skankeateries?

  • kevrob||

    New Chamber of Commerce slogan;

    Historic Scanteateries, NY!
    You'll leave wanting more!

    Kevin R

  • Rich||

    Nice!

  • Benitacanova||

    I know the area. Who can pay 1mm for a condo? Who upstate doesn't live in a house?

  • I'm Not Sure||

    Could be worse. You could be dealing with a HOA.

  • Echospinner||

    Talk with me about that.

    I will never make this mistake again.

  • perlchpr||

    "Why a Small New York Town Is Banning New Restaurants"

    Is it because the town government is full of feckless cunts? I think it is...

  • Eman||

    But who would know the town's appetite for restaurants better than Lord Skaneatles himself?

  • Mickey Rat||

    The buildings that are under this restrictions are the ones that have the pricey condos in them. When I was there, there were only about a half dozen actual sit down restaurants on Genesee, including a sushi bar/Thai place which closed. The whole area is only about a 1/2 mile stretch, much of it taken up by the town park at the head of the lake.

  • HeteroPatriarch||

    Do any of the existing restaurants serve steamed hams?

  • RabbitHead||

    I stopped reading when I got to the part about the author living in Seattle. I figured anything written by someone who does that voluntarily is just a tale told by an idiot.

  • a2plusb2||

    The mayor said "It's just this particular area has residents." = owner-occupiers of million-dollar condos.
    One may suspect, with high odds of being right, that those residents want to establish and protect an exclusive high-end zone, where the hoi-polloi can't afford anything and hopefully won't intrude.

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