Righteous Dominion

Original Intent of Zoning and Land Use Regulation?

Why was government ever given so much control over what people can build on their property in the first place?

Zoning law as a means to control land use didn't even start to take shape until the 1920's. The original and appropriate intent was to give government a legal means to protect other property owners and the community from harm that could come from inappropriate or dangerous construction and development. Somehow that control has morphed into a level far beyond the original intent. Zoning law is now regularly used to barter with and extract from property owners benefits for the town that have nothing to do with protecting neighbors and community from harm. That is not why government was given that much control. Misuse or outright abuse of that control is unethical, unconstitutional, and violates the sacred trust we have given our government to rule righteously.

The right to own and use property does not originate with government. Property rights are not something that the government owns then grants when it feels it has been adequately compensated. When it comes to property rights, government is simply a referee. The zoning laws it uses in that limited role are the rules property owners have to play by so they don't cause harm to others in exercising those rights.

All too often, people in government act as if property owners have no right to do anything with their property until government gives them explicit permission to do. Too many in government believe that permission must come with a price. A common yet potentially ethically troubling response from government is: "What do we get in exchange for giving you permission to use your land?" Up to a certain point that is appropriate. I explain this in much more detail elsewhere. Government spends significant time and money building the infrastructure, public safety, and framework to have a desirable community to build and develop in. The phrase "development should pay for development" means that land owners who rely on public investment in infrastructure (roads, utilities, parks, etc.) should pay their fair share of those costs. And, when a town asks for a land owner to "pitch in," up to a point that is property owners contributing to the betterment of the community in and appropriate and healthy way. But, at some point, with no judicious restraint from government, a line gets crossed and it becomes abuse of power, unrighteous dominion. At some point it is no longer government requiring things from property owners because it is the right thing to do, but for no other reason than it can.

Quite often, it isn't that people in government are abusive or unethical. It is that the system has given so much power to the government that the system itself becomes abusive and unethical. The land use regulation system has been given so much power that people in government think they are supposed to squeeze, extract, deny, and control as much as they possibly can. It has been done that way so much for so long that people think that's the way it is supposed to be. That's not why government was given so much control. A respect for the proper and limited role of government is essential to avoiding unrighteous dominion.

In basketball, the referee doesn't hand out the points. The players earn the points by making baskets with their own skill, teamwork, hard work, and yes, even luck. The referee is just there to enforce the rules, call fouls, and maintain order in the game. Imagine basketball becoming a thing where the referee starts the game with all the points then hands them out based on his own arbitrary system of which players or teams he likes, or who compensates him the most to his liking. That is the makings for an incredibly broken and corrupt game of basketball. That is the kind of broken outcome that happens when government sees itself as the owner and grantor of property rights.

Pendulum Jail for Morrison

Graphic: The Balanced Pendulum of
Government Control
(PDF Version)

"Still Mine" Movie: The Proper and
Balanced Role of Government


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Jason Barney | jason@jasonbarney.com
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