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Column: Like Communication, A Little Zoning Goes a Long Way

It isn’t something that occurs to most of us very often, but there are few government actions that have the immediate power of a zoning decision. Deciding what can be built where tends to have significant consequences for the lives of the people already living there, especially if they are the property owners.

For the most part, areas zoned for residential use allow only homes and apartments. Sometimes zoning rules are so specific they allow only single-family houses. On the opposite end of the spectrum is mixed use or commercial zoning, where pretty much anything goes. Again, sometimes super specific zoning allows only certain types of businesses, i.e. retail or office, but for the most part if you wanted to build a house there, you could.

Generally speaking, the big threat to the property values of homes is that something obnoxious will be built nearby. What counts as being obnoxious is surprisingly benign. Something as simple as a gas station built next door likely means more trash in your front yard, more traffic and what not, and would dramatically affect the resale value of your house.

As a society, we need gas stations, but no one wants to live right next to them. If where you live has some locational value to businesses, the only thing preventing that from happening is how your neighborhood is zoned. As a result, seeing your neighborhood be rezoned for mixed use because business are asking for it, is about the worst thing that can happen to your property value.

It seems like that just happened to wide swaths of Sioux Falls at Tuesday’s city council meeting. There was a standing room only crowd there asking to delay passage of the city’s new master plan, so that people could have more time to review the document, but the council ignored their pleas and voted overwhelmingly to approve the plan.

Council members argued that there has been a healthy number of public information meetings that people should have come to if they wanted to voice their concerns. You remember all those, right? I mean they were so widely publicized that the local media spoke of nothing else for days on end, you remember that don’t you?

It may turn out that the new master plan is good for the city, that sensible and necessary updates were made; but let’s be serious for a minute. The reason that there was a standing room only crowd on Tuesday, and probably next to no one at any of the informational meetings is because this is the first that most people have heard about it. If you don’t think that this was by design, if you don’t think that the council didn’t really want people to know what was going on, go right now and have a look at the city’s zoning ordinance web page and try to find out what this plan will mean for your immediate area.

Council members aren’t going to get serious about communicating their intentions until we the people get serious about communicating our intentions at the ballot box.

Previous Column: Desperate but Not Serious

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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