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Thank zoning laws for your peaceful home


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POSTED: Sunday, December 14, 2008

As an urban planner, I just realized that last year was the 85th anniversary of a very important happening. It has now been more than 85 years since the residents and city council of the little village of Euclid, Ohio, found that their quiet neighborhoods, where their children played, where they walked their dogs and spent their quiet hours after a hard day's work, had no legal government protection from what could be built next door; not from a horse stable, a cement factory or even a slaughterhouse. So to their credit, Euclidian zoning was born, and upheld by the courts as a reasonable protection for residential areas.

  The zoners also recognized that commercial activities needed some protection from incompatible uses, so commercial zones were added. Then industrial zones, so that factories would be provided with a separate place where they would not infringe upon commercial activities or the quality of life of the residents.

Zoning has come a long way since Euclid. Resort zoning and other districts have been added where appropriate, but the basic reasons to protect residential neighborhoods have not changed. There is little more sacred than the need to have a quiet, peaceful retreat from the busy workday, and to know that your children are safe going to school and playing in the park; nor is the need to protect residential property values, and to be sure that an all-night strip bar will not open next door.

  Unfortunately, as time goes by, we sometimes take things for granted, and think that we can add incompatible uses in our residential neighborhoods. We can lose sight of the basic land use relationships responsible for our quality of life. Rules and procedures that have been created by decades of learning, many times the hard way, of what does and does not work in residential neighborhoods can be questioned. It's kind of like the old saying, "If you don't study history, you are doomed to repeat it."

Some of the worst decisions, especially in government, are those based upon short-term economic conditions, or a few self-centered people who might care more about their own personal gain than the character of a neighborhood or what will become of it in the future. City governments and especially city councils everywhere have a responsibility to continue what the residents of Euclid started, because it is basic to quality of life for us all, and something that only government can protect.

Happy anniversary!

 

Chuck Prentiss is a retired former executive secretary of the Honolulu Planning Commission. He lives in Kailua.