This commentary is by Lynn James Edmunds, of Wallingford.
How would you know if zoning objectives really measure up to the ideals of their stated goals or purpose? And more importantly, how can you distinguish the real need for regulation from when it goes too far?
While the purpose for zoning regulation conjures up a myriad of benevolent premise for its justification, sometimes you may feel like you are being micromanaged by an out-of-control home owners association. Could this be an indication that something is wrong with your local Planning Commission? Rest assured that is not the case; they are simply tasked with developing zoning regulations that conform with the guidelines set forth in Title: 24 VSA Chapter 117, which is a 178-page document known as Vermont’s Municipal & Regional, Planning & Development Act.
Section 101 – Purpose
“These Zoning Regulations are meant to promote the public health, safety, and welfare of the community of Any Town as authorized by the Vermont Planning and Development Act (24 V.S.A. Chapter 117; “the Act”). The specific objectives of these regulations are to protect and enhance the value of property; to protect and consider the natural and human environment; and to provide for orderly community growth. In order to control potential threats, certain uses are either not permitted, conditionally permitted, or permitted subject to compliance with specific criteria outlined within these Regulations. These constraints are designed to prevent over-development, to mitigate the negative impacts to the natural and human environment, and to minimize effects to the historical and aesthetic character of the Community.”
You must understand, to the extent you feel pressured by your local commission, they are also under pressure from their Regional Planning Commission to implement provisions passed down to them from Montpelier. Consequently, the pressure you feel is ultimately emanating from a menu of bureaucratic desires that may in fact have little or nothing to do with your communities real or authentic needs.
Choose wisely from this menu, for it is often misinterpreted as mandate, especially by those entrusted with its implementation. But if these guidelines where really mandate, you would not be asked for your approval, you would simply be expected to comply with them!
Remember, you hold the power of approval, so you should not blame your local commission for restrictions that are self-inflicted by your failure to comprehend how power can be transferred away from the people of your community, culminating in a top-down system of governance.
Your local commission is continually tasked by their regional counterpart to seek your consent for selected items from a current menu. Keep in mind this continual bombardment can neutralize your resistance to defend your individual sovereignty recognized under common law. If not held in check, this repetitive process can cause a transfer of power that would not otherwise happen without your permission or neglect, or by your community identifying its own legitimate needs organically.
Common Law bestows your individual rights and freedom to choose; however, much like entering into a civil or corporate contract, a zoning agreement merely manipulates around those liberties. When this occurs, either with or without an authentic need being present, it is nearly impossible to reinstate the individual choice you once enjoyed, and in time you may realize you have no say or sovereignty anymore.
If incremental erosion of your freedom of choice is a concern, you may wonder why you are still participating with a system of local and regional planning that continually asks for more and more restrictions — especially when many of these requests seem only remotely relevant to the stated purpose they allege, or the reasons identified for their existence.
Do you feel forced or pressured to give up additional property rights each time you are asked, and would you feel that way if these requests came from an obvious need identified within your community that felt less like a power grab hidden behind an illusion of benevolent cause?
Could it be all this planning and zoning taking place harbors agendas other than just promoting the common good? Only you can determine if an unbalanced system of governance is reversing the polarity of your voice and depleting your power to self-govern.
There are 11 Regional Planning Commissions in the state of Vermont acting as power brokers devoted to promoting contractual agreements of self-regulation with local planning and zoning acceptance from your community. Perhaps you should know the price for this service is tendered with the currency of liberty.
Your dilemma is a structure of brokers installed strategically between you and your state government. Maybe you thought it was just for the common good, or didn’t realize there is a fee for the service. Perhaps the cost is so well hidden in plain sight you thought they were only here to help. The reason really doesn’t matter; the brokers are already in place and they expect to be paid!
Retaining your power is not selfish. On the contrary, it protects others in the same way it protects you. And as long as you do no harm, there is really no need for excessive preemptive regulation.
Needs rooted in honest endeavor require no high-pressure sales pitch. Perhaps wants are the real reason for this brokered buyers’ club system of membership?
To belong or not to belong seems to be the main question.