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Zoning: It's all about power

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

Wilsonville Mayor Charlotte Lehan and Metro President David Bragdon are both complaining. Why? Because state legislator Jerry Krummel (R-Wilsonville) has introduced a bill that would expand the urban growth boundary by 520 acres immediately north of the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. The reason for the legislation is that construction of the prison destroyed the value of nearby land for residential development, but local officials refuse to re-zone the land for industrial use. Thus, eight landowners now have property that is nearly worthless.

Lehan and Bragdon argue that the proposed legislation will take away local control, but what they really object to is anyone challenging their power to tell property owners what to do with their property. Oregon’s land-use system requires that every square inch of the state be zoned for some specific use. But millions of acres have been mis-zoned for uses that make no sense in the marketplace. If government planning actually made sense, local officials would re-zone those lands, or implement performance-based zoning, to accommodate the market. But they rarely do this, because zoning is not actually about sound land-use planning; it’s just about power.

The state created the zoning problem in Wilsonville when it mandated the siting of the women’s prison. Therefore it’s appropriate for the state to also de-regulate nearby land. Local officials should help their own constituents by getting out of the way and allowing the market to work.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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