As a city council member, I have seen my share of projects blocked by arbitrary zoning laws. The premise behind zoning varies wildly depending upon whom you ask. For some, it’s a way to ensure that a toxic waste dump doesn’t end up next to your house. Nevermind the likelihood of something like that actually happening. For others, it’s a way to ensure that the “character of the neighborhood” is preserved.
This latter objective rubs me the wrong way. What is the character of a neighborhood? Who determines it? What claim does a group of neighbors have over an individual property owner?
A black businessman attempting to open a restaurant in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ran into the “character of the neighborhood” roadblock. As reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, he’s crying foul:
Rodney DeWalt had wanted to open Gossip in the Creekside Plaza Shopping Center on 85th Avenue, a few blocks from City Hall. The City Council unanimously rejected DeWalt’s application in April after dozens of neighbors raised questions about noise, parking and public safety.
In the lawsuit filed Dec. 14, DeWalt said he was deprived of the “same right to make and enforce contracts as that of white and Asian citizens.”
DeWalt said he picked Brooklyn Park because one-third of its population is black, but was confronted with hostile residents who said the restaurant, which would be open until 2 a.m. on some nights, was not compatible with the neighborhood.
“This supposition is obviously based on a stereotype of African-Americans being noisy, messy, disruptive and violent,” DeWalt alleges in the complaint.
DeWalt said a restaurant currently operates across the street from his proposed location, evidence that Gossip could have blended in with the neighborhood.
Whether or not DeWalt has been discriminated against on account of his race, the fact remains that zoning laws enable such discrimination. Limits on multi-housing units are explicitly intended to keep “a certain type” out of the community, people “who can’t afford it.” But when the only reason a would-be resident can’t afford to live in your city is because you’re blocking a free-market development, affordability ceases to be the issue.
Forced integration like affirmative action, public housing mandates, and similar racial quotas ought to be opposed, because they violate individual rights and infringe upon the freedom of association. Zoning laws should be abolished for the same reason. Whether the market manifests integration or segregation, it’s right either way.