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A joint review of William Fischel’s “Zoning Rules!” and “The Homevoter Hypothesis”
What if you could purchase membership in a full-service residential club guaranteeing you not only a nice neighborhood for your house, but also insurance against loss of property value in your home? Perhaps such a club sounds like a private planned development run by a homeowner association. And perhaps it could be. But according to William Fischel in Zoning Rules!, it also describes the zoned residential suburb.
Zoning came late to US land use, not arriving until the 1910s. Moreover, when zoning first appeared, its constitutionality wasn’t obvious. After all, when a municipality imposes a zoning ordinance, it confiscates certain rights of use from the landholders subject to the ordinance. This is an uncompensated partial taking of property. Municipalities are creatures of the state they’re incorporated in, meaning the state permits them to inherit its taxing, police, and eminent domain powers. There’s no question, then, that municipalities can constitutionally take property from their residents under certain conditions. Even so, taking by eminent domain should involve just compensation. Furthermore, most of us consider it unjust for the state to usurp one party’s property rights for another party’s private benefit, even with compensation (see Kelo). Zoning’s practical effect is often to do just that – to take property rights from landowners interested in certain forms development in order to benefit landowners opposed to those forms of development. Why is this even allowed?