Your View: What are master plans for, anyway?

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By Dino Drudi, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
What are zoning and master plans all about if they are changed willy-nilly to suit some project that comes along? Why bother doing them when master plans merely mean, “Heads: I win, Tails: you lose?” If some proposed project agrees with the master plan, the developer can go ahead, and if not, then City Hall will just change the master plan.

Zoning is supposed to be a protection for nearby properties, which is why, when neighbors petition, a super-majority override is required. The spot-zoning change the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority sought for the Ramsey Homes (“Council fails to approve Ramsey Homes rezoning,” February 25) benefits the developer, but comes at the expense of neighbors, whose enjoyment of their property is impaired and effectively subsidizes the new development.

If our legal system forced City Hall or the developer to properly compensate these neighbors — “fully internalize the costs” as economists phrase it — neighbors impacted by a rezoning decision would have no cause for complaint.

Instead, if the zoning override obtains the requisite super majority, the neighbors are, in effect, expected to subsidize some development benefitting someone else or the community as an aggregate, adding insult to injury.

What could be more grossly abusive?

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1 COMMENT

  1. “If our legal system forced City Hall or the developer to properly compensate these neighbors — “fully internalize the costs” as economists phrase it — neighbors impacted by a rezoning decision would have no cause for complaint.”

    Can we also charge them for the positive externalities associated with the development? And fully charge people for the negative externalities of their auto usage (the gas tax does not begin to cover that)? Heck, we can’t even put parking charges on a completely market clearing basis. Adding one “internalize the costs” policy into a system that so much not like that, will not necessarily improve outcomes. So instead we need to look at costs and benefits together.

    Fact is of course that the value of houses in that area have gone up tremendously, in response at least in part to the addition of metro, to amenity and safety improvements around Old Town. Major windfall gains. So a tiny cost (BTW, I am still not quite sure what the negative externalities of a few more units at Ramsey actually are) to the homeowners does not seem grossly abusive to me.

    Zoning is in fact a guide to policy – it is not a property right, as you imply, and as far as I know, no court has held that it is.

    But creating new property rights for people who already have much is one of the favorite pass times around here, so have at it.