Category Archives: Zoning and Land-Use

Zoning Out Freedom

Unhappy with legislative failure in Richmond, the leaders of the City of Alexandria, Virginia have turned to a new, rather unique, tool in their effort to force local businesses to ban smoking:

Frustrated that the state legislature failed to ban smoking in bars and restaurants, Alexandria officials have come up with a maverick plan of their own that would prohibit smoking in all new eateries and make it more difficult for existing establishments to allow people to light up.

The unusual proposal would use the city’s zoning authority to mandate smoke-free restaurants.

If successful, Alexandria would become the first jurisdiction to bar restaurant smoking in Virginia, where the state legislature severely limits local authority. That means individual governments do not have the power to institute outright smoking bans in restaurants and bars, such as those adopted in the District and several Maryland jurisdictions.

So Alexandria has decided to use its limited powers to achieve the same result.


Alexandria would seize control of the smoking issue with such mundane tools as use permits. When a bar or restaurant came to the city to request a permit, the city would require it to be smoke-free before granting the permit.

And if you own a restaurant that already has a use permit, don’t think that you’re safe:

Restaurants that have permits must agree to go smoke-free in three months or risk future restrictions or even closure.

So much, it seems, for the right of a private business owner to decide how he or she wishes to cater to potential customers. So much for the idea of sitting outside on a summer evening at a restraurant on King Street and smoking a cigar just because you want to. So much for property rights and freedom in the city that George Washington called home.

Cross-Posted At Below The Beltway

A Victory For Property Rights In Maryland

When you want to buy a property, there are lots of steps you need to take to ensure you end up with the perfect house. First, you must decide on a budget. Then, you have to find the best real estate agent in your area so you’re shown the best houses. After you view a house you like, you need to hire an inspector to check for any issues you need to be aware of. Only once you know every detail about the house and area should you put in an offer.

This is especially true if you’re planning a renovation because any unexpected issues can lead to you spending thousands more than you wanted to. On top of that, you need to know that any plans you have for your house will be approved — and until recently, even that didn’t guarantee your house would be safe!

Last year, a Judge in Montgomery County, Maryland ruled that Marianne and Marc Duffy, who had bought and renovated a home in Chevy Chase, would have to tear the house down because it violated county zoning laws, even though the house as constructed had been approved by the county.

This week, another judge in Maryland overruled that decision and said that the Duffy family would not be required to tear down their home:

Marc and Marianne Duffy, cited last year for building violations in a high-profile case, will be able to resume work on their Chevy Chase home, a Montgomery County judge has ruled.

The decision by Circuit Court Judge Nelson W. Rupp Jr. overturned two rulings by a county board that said the Duffys improperly rebuilt their Thornapple Street house too close to the street and to neighbors. Those rulings had left the couple with a choice between tearing down the house or finding a way to move it a few feet.

“As far as we are concerned, this is now over. . . . The Duffys can finish their home without the need for any more permits,” their attorney, Michele Rosenfeld, said in an e-mail statement.

What was more interesting about the case, though, is the fact that it pitted the Duffy family against some very high-profile neighbors:

The case attracted attention because it pitted the Duffys, both securities lawyers, against a group of prominent opponents, who raised questions about how well the county was enforcing its building regulations.

The Duffy family neighbors had watched with alarm as the early-20th-century house began to look drastically different after several months of work. They complained to county officials that the Duffys, who had obtained permission to renovate the house, were rebuilding it instead, which would require that it be sited differently on the lot.

The neighbors include two journalists who live next door, Jane Mayer, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and her husband, William Hamilton, a Washington Post editor, lawyer Michael Eig and his wife, historic preservationist Emily Hotaling Eig, former ABC News reporter Jackie Judd and real estate agent Kristin Gerlach.

In other words, a few politically connected neighbors were trying to screw over the little guy.

This is not the eminent domain, but it might as well be. Through zoning laws such as this, the government often restricts the ways in which property owners can use their property in manners which have a significant impact on their value, none of which is compensated. Unless you work for a company such as Equity Experts or any other real estate finance company, this might seem confusing. While we are paying attention to the impact of Kelo, we should not forget that there are other laws that restrict property rights. Homeowners may be worried if they are hit with something like this, that their belongings may be put in jeopardy, being that they may get damaged through movement, or they aren’t covered. This is where First American Home Warranty comes in to help make sure that no matter what happens homeowners are covered in the best way possible for what they need.

Thankfully, at least one judge in Maryland is on the right side of this.

All that being said, it will be interesting to see what impact this ruling has on the real estate industry in Maryland. Speaking of which, are you considering buying or selling a property in Maryland? If so, checking out real estate websites like the House Buyers of America can help you to find plenty of relevant resources and listings. You can take a look at their website here:

Anyway, what is your opinion on this ruling? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Florida Repeals The Laws Of Economics

The Florida legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill today that supposedlyaddresses Florida’s insurance crisis. The solutions these Solons came up with are:

The biggest savings are expected to come from expanding insurers’ access to the state’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, which pays claims when insurers can’t. Insurance companies pay into the fund, but the coverage is cheaper than the private backup insurance most companies carry.

Why should the state be in the reinsurance business? The reason why insurance companies do not have enough money to pay out claims for hurricane damages along the coast is because too many damn people are living on the coast. Donleaetlook at this company comparison to find out about prices), and even in this instance, without it, you would be less likely to be able to receive help from disaster funds. There are talks that the Florida legislature should pass a law telling insurance companies they must still write homeowners policies in coastal areas. Hopefully, the insurance companies will drastically raise rates along coastal areas to cover the extra risk or mortage companies will stop writing mortgages for homes along the coast since they won’t get insurance.

The bill requires insurers to determine if they could save by purchasing more coverage from the fund – and if they do, to pass the savings on to consumers.

Not content with merely subsidizing the bad decisions of Floridians, the Florida legislature has enough hubris to make the financial decisions of insurance companies. The insurance companies have the right to set whatever rates the public is willing to pay.

The measure also has a mandatory rate rollback for customers of the state-created Citizens Property Insurance, Florida’s largest insurer.

Again, Citizens Property Insurance serves to subsidize the bad decisions of Floridians. When Citizens cannot payout its claims, Floridian and American taxpayers will be on the hook to make up the difference.

It also requires regulators to deny rate increases if they would lead to “excess profits,”

Who’s going to determine the defiinition of “excess profits”, a committee made up of Keith Olbermann, Alcee Hastings, Barney Frank, Ted Kennedy, and John Edwards? Maybe Hugo Chavez, Kim Jong Il, and Fidel Castro are available as advisors. Government has no business determining “excess profits” for any business in a capitalist system.

and allows consumers to choose much higher deductibles, or to go without wind coverage, as a way to reduce their premiums.

Wow, instead of repealing the price controls on deductibles that Florida has apparently imposed, the Florida Politburo is going to graciously allow you to choose to carry higher deductibles. How nice of them. How about making the determination of deductibles the sole concern of the insurance company, the policyholder, and the mortgage company or is that too much to ask?

Another section aims at trying to prevent insurance companies from dropping policies or leaving the state. It requires auto insurers to sell homeowners coverage in Florida if they cover property in any other state.

My guess is, many auto insurance companies are going to say adios.

If the Florida Politburo wanted to really lower homeowners insurance rates, they should have done the following:

1) Make it clear that insurance companies are not required to write homeowners policies along the coast. This, hopefully, will price out from living along the coast.

2) Abolish the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and the Citizens Property Insurance company. These two entities also seek to subsidize the bad decision of living along the coast in a hurricane prone state.

3) Abolish all rate caps and government approval for rate increases. This will allow insurance companies to price policies according to the risk.

4) Tighten all statewide hurricane building codes to the Miami-Dade county standard. This will actually serve to decrease risk and again, make it more expensive to live along the coast.

Florida’s insurance crisis is the result of government subsidizing living along the coast in hurricane prone areas. Similiar crisises are developing in every East Coast and Gulf Coast state for the same reasons. Maybe we should try something like using the free market to limit coastal development in hurricane prone areas and using science and engineering to reduce the risk of hurricane and flood damage in areas already developed, instead of using the American taxpayer as a never ending ATM card for bailing out the bad decisions of others.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Who Makes Up “The Government”?

The refrain is common. “The government should provide X!” or “Why won’t the government do Y?”

There is an implicit assumption here, upon which the entire idea is predicated, which is and always has been flat wrong. That assumption is the idea that government is populated with selfless altruists, who happen to be philosopher-kings, able to discern correctly what should be done and execute it flawlessly. As we all know, nothing is further from the truth.

Over my Christmas vacation, I happened to be sitting with my wife and her grandparents. Her grandfather is retired now, but used to be in construction back in the days when the town was growing, and did quite a lot of building throughout the area. He was telling us of the backroom deals going on with the town currently, the graft and corruption, and the way that the rich and well-connected get projects rushed through the planning commission while everyone else languishes. Corporations push friendly politicians into power to ensure they get their projects through. When one politician’s pet projects look to be in jeopardy, they level charges against the politician standing in the way of being “on the take”. In this little local town, politics is driven by money, charges of corruption and shady dealings abound, and very few people have faith that they’re being treated fairly.

It must be a town controlled by heartless bastards, right? Here’s the kicker, though. I know some of these people. Quite a few of them are acquaintances of my wife’s parents. I’ve met them at parties. Several of them were invited to my wedding. I live 2000 miles away, so I don’t exactly interact with them on a “professional” level, but these aren’t monsters. They’re very nice people. They just know that government may give them the ability or keep them from the ability to do what they want, and thus they want to control government to get the benefits of government. And even more importantly, they’re no different from local politicians in any other town.

And as we’ve seen from our elected officials in Washington, they’re no different from most national politicians. They reward their friends (the people who help them get elected) and punish their enemies (the people who support their opposition in an election). It’s not personal, it’s just business. There’s a lot of money to be made controlling the levers of government, and thus it attracts the sort of people who are willing to use government to enrich themselves (or their friends). It’s only rarely that we have stories like that of William “Cold Cash” Jefferson, but none who watch government can realistically claim that slightly less egregious (and often completely legal) affairs don’t go on every day.

So when someone tells you about all that wonderful things they expect “the government” to take care of, ask who will really be the ones behind it? I’m no fan of Social Security, but I see “the government’s” designs of privatization to be a cure with problems worse than the disease itself. Why? Because I know that government’s solution will enrich the friends of the current administration, punish the enemies, and create unintended consequences where the rest of us get screwed. And that’s government in a nutshell. When people ask me why I don’t want the government to do anything for me, it’s not that I don’t think an ideal government could do it. It’s that I know that our government, and all governments, can never be ideal, because they’re led by people who pursue their own interests, not mine.

A Massive Denial Of Property Rights

The Board of Supervisors of Prince William County, Virginia, where I live, is threatening to put a halt to all new home construction in the county unless the State of Virginia gives it more money for transportation:

Prince William County supervisors, angry that the state government is not responding to residents tired of traffic congestion, say they will approve a radical plan Tuesday to halt construction of new homes in Virginia’s second-largest county.

In interviews, the seven board members said they will back a proposal by Supervisor W.S. Covington III (R-Brentsville) to freeze residential development as a way to spur Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the General Assembly to take action to improve Northern Virginia’s road network.

Whether Covington’s resolution can survive a possible legal challenge is uncertain. County attorneys and other officials have been working all week on the wording of the resolution in anticipation of legal action by the building industry or the legislature. Virginia law generally protects the right of landowners to develop their property.

“I am hearing a lot of support for this on the street,” Covington said. “This is not taking away anyone’s property rights. People are just fed up with not having any action on improving the transportation infrastructure, and they are hoping that the governor and the General Assembly listen to us.”

I’m sorry Supervisor Covington, but what you’re talking about doing is taking away property rights. You would be telling property owners that they couldn’t build on their land. They should be able to just get some Metric Aluminium Flat Bars and get started on building what they want, like a house, and extension, a garage. But what you’re proposing would have a real impact not only on developers but on the citizens of Prince William County:

[Jim Williams, executive vice president of the Northern Virginia Building Industry Association] said the freeze would not only hurt builders and developers would also have a profound impact on regional employment and the economy. “I think we are going to see a high rate of impact in secondary markets,” he said, including employees of small businesses who depend on construction to survive, such as plumbers, electricians, carpet installers, dry wallers and painters. “If you clamp down on construction and are not creating that demand out there, everybody is going to be out of work.”

Well, if nothing else, that should clear up the traffic on the roads.

1 3 4 5 6