Basic principles on planning, zoning and land use

As I run for city council, one of the biggest issues in local government is land use policy. What should be built where and how should the city grow over the next five, ten and twenty years? What used should be allowed and where? There are a lot of specific issues with specific developments, but here is my basic philosophy on land use policy:

I do not know best.

My basic assumption on land use policy is that I do not know better than the property owner when it comes to how their land or building should be used. My role as a city councilor is to protect the rights of Bloomington’s citizens, and private property rights are an essential right for any people. Provided a proposed development does not cause harm to neighboring property owners or residents, people should be allowed to do what they want with their land. My role is to facilitate economic development, not stand in the way of it.

Obviously, there should be reasonable restrictions on what should be built where, primarily to protect the private property of neighbors. That is why we have planning and zoning. The most often used example is someone who wants to put a pig farm into a residential neighborhood. That would harm the neighbors though the smell wafting into the neighbor’s property, the loss of property value, increased traffic and so forth. There are also environmental issues with runoff and waste disposal. There is a controversy on that issue right now in my hometown.

But as city officials, our basic orientation would be one of humility, recognizing we do not know best. This is because – let’s be honest – we do not know best. It is arrogant to assume we know better than the property owner how a property should be developed. Our basic orientation should be that private property rights should be infringed only if the use of that property would harm someone else.

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