I live in this wonderful little town in Western Massachusetts. One of the things that I like about it is the annual town meeting. Last night I attended this year’s version along with 100 other registered voters. One of the things that we do at these meetings is approve spending and changes in zoning. We don’t have much zoning in our town because we are a rural community and kind of out of step with the rest of the state which is experiencing modern zoning madness. We like our freedom here and I like that. Having said that, there are always people who are concerned about preserving the rural character of our town so the local planning board puts forth suggested new zoning regulations every year or two. This year was one of those years.
The current zoning situation is that if you own a plot of land that is at least one acre and you have a minimum of twenty feet of road frontage then you have a lot that you can build on. That’s basically it, the whole zoning code. (Chuckle) The proposed changes in zoning that were presented last night would increase setbacks from property edges and increase the road frontage requirement to fifty feet.
Debate ensued and most of it was centered on how this would affect people who owned large plots of land with minimal frontage that might want to subdivide in the future so that their children or grandchildren could be given their own land to build on. This is a big deal here and it happens quite often. The bulk of our community is set in a valley between two ridges so many people own plenty of acres of land but have very little road frontage. We are land rich but road poor. (Chuckle) I am not one of those people and so my thoughts began to drift as the debate continued. I’m also a big picture guy so my mind began to consider the larger issues of local zoning. One of the things I considered was maintaining consistency with our personal view on immigration. Like an idiot I raised my hand and shared my thoughts and the response I got was less than enthusiastic. “What does immigration have to do with local zoning?” was a question that a friend had for me after the meeting ended. Apparently I didn’t do a very good job of making my point. (Chuckle) I will attempt to do a better job here and now.
Whether you favor zoning or not, hopefully you are intellectually honest enough to admit that zoning is about restricting freedom. You may own a piece of property but if your community has zoning laws then your fellow citizens are going to have a say in what you can do with it. At its heart, zoning is about who can build what and where. The new zoning regulations that were proposed last night were entirely reasonable and their purpose was to ensure that future residents wouldn’t construct buildings right on top of one another. Many of the people who have moved here did so because they value space. People who grew up here also value space. If they wanted to live right on top of each other then they would have moved into a town like Adams where the houses were built as tightly together as they possible could. Country living is supposed to be spacious living. Requiring 50 feet of road frontage per building lot isn’t very much, a mere 17 lineal yards. One resident wanted it increased to 75 feet which still isn’t much, just 25 yards. All of this is completely reasonable to me in terms of preserving space but let’s also look at the bigger picture.
If you measured the total length of all roads in our town and then divided that by 50 feet you would get the theoretical limit of how many building lots the town could be divided into. Once you obtained that number you could multiply it by 2.58 which is the average number of people per household in the United States. This would give you the theoretical population limit for our town.
Therein lays the problem, zoning regulations that limit construction of new homes limit the population. You might not see that as a problem. Like my friend at the meeting last night, you might see that as a worthy goal. He told me that a developer wants to improve land near his home and he doesn’t want that. He has his piece of rural America and he doesn’t want it disturbed by new people moving in to get their piece. It is much easier to be in favor of keeping people out when you are one of the people who are already in.
So what does immigration have to do with all of this?
Immigration laws are the equivalent of local zoning laws because they restrict who can move into our country/community. Contrary to the current propaganda, the United States is not stingy on immigration. In fact, no other country in the world admits more legal immigrants than the USA. We welcome roughly one million new citizens each and every single year. The number two most popular destination for migration is Germany who welcomes about a half million new people annually; half that of the United States. We are not only the most generous country to immigrants, we are number one by a huge margin.
Our nation’s immigration laws are roughly akin to my town’s local zoning laws. They are constructed to allow a lot of freedom in terms of people moving in and establishing themselves but what is my point? My point is that it is intellectually inconsistent to be pro-immigration at the national level AND pro-zoning at the local level. If you are one of these people that believe that our borders should be more open to the people of the world than they already are, but you want to restrict construction of new housing in our local community then you have some serious inconsistencies in your thinking. Our country is growing and will continue to grow not only due to immigration but the natural population growth of our citizens which is about 1.5 million annually. That’s a total population increase of 2.5 million people annually AND that doesn’t include all of the people who are here temporarily or people who have immigrated illegally.
Where do you want these people to live? Local zoning laws respond with a resounding “Not in my back yard.” So, if you consider yourself to be compassionate in terms of immigration AND you also want to be intellectually consistent then you must oppose any additional zoning laws that would potentially restrict the population growth of our town. If you hold the contrary view then we might as well build our own version of the border wall and I am open to having that conversation as well. (Chuckle)
I hope you have found this article to be thought provoking and enjoyable. Regardless of your viewpoints on immigration and zoning I wish you the very best of joy and peace. We have so much to be thankful for and I thank you for reading this.
A friend of mine dubbed me “The voice of reason in a very unreasonable world” which I am flattered by because I am less than that. Having said that, if you enjoyed my writing I invite you to scroll to the very bottom of this page where there is a button labeled “Follow”. If you press that button you will receive a notification whenever this blog is updated with new posts. Thank you for reading.