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Pennsylvanias flunk zoning test
by Albert Paschall

     As local governments get ready to re-convene after summer recess its time for you to test your local Zoning skills.  The Zoning Quotient Test isnít for NIMBYS (Not-in-my-back-yarders).  Those are the people who hold a season ticket for every meeting local government holds to complain about everything under and including the Sun.  Itís not fair for NIMTOOS (Not-in-my-term-of-office) to take it either.  If you pass the test youíll know who those people are in your community.  Itís really three simple questions with multiple guess answers, so grab your pen and give it a try! 

1)  The twenty-acre bucolic woods behind your home was zoned HI five years ago when you moved into the township.  The real estate agent thought this meant Heavenly Island of open space.  Now you find that a 100,000 square foot compost processing plant will be built there.  To stop it you should: 

a)  Write a protest letter to President Clinton

b)  Sue the real estate agent

c)  Circulate a petition protesting the development and present it to the Board of Supervisors

d)  Donít bother, stay at home the night of the Supervisors meeting

     If you answered A or B, then your correct answer is D.  You didnít bother checking for yourself before you bought the house now youíd better like the smell of compost.  Answer C might get you some free air-freshener from whoever is building the factory, so itís worth a try! 

2)   At the end of the lovely cul-de-sac that your split-level sits on is a nice 3-acre tract where the kids have played for years.  A homebuilder has purchased it because it has R-3 zoning that you always thought meant Recreational Three Acres.  Now you find that 24 townhouses will go on the land and to stop it you should. 

a)  Write a protest letter to Governor Ridge

b)  Go to the township meeting and demand that the township seize the ground

c)  Organize the neighborhood to meet with the homebuilder

d)  Donít bother stay at home the night of the township meeting. 

Once again if A or B were your choice then the correct answer for you is D.  Answer C might convince the developer to build fewer homes, maybe preserve an area for a playground or build homes in character with the neighborhood.  However youíd probably be better off starting a welcome wagon and make a few bucks off your new neighbors. 

3)   The last farmer in your township has finally surrendered to the horrendous economic pressures that family farms face in the state.  A developer had bought the 125 acres that were zoned C-1 thirty-years ago.  You thought C-1 meant Cows-Per-Acre and always took the farm for granted only to find that the farm is scheduled to become a factory outlet mall operating 24 hours a day.  To stop it you should: 

a)   Write a nasty anonymous letter alleging that the developer bribed the elected officials in your township and stick it on car windshields in the middle of the night

b) Go to the Township meeting and tell the Supervisors you wonít pay their salaries any more

c) Put together a community group to attempt to persuade the developer to adopt other uses

d) Donít bother stay at home the night of the Supervisors meeting

      Once again if you are an A or B then take D.   If you answered A call your psychiatrist you have a problem.  But stay at home especially if you answered B.  Most of the elected that govern townships make about $1 an hour for all the time they put in.  Answer B is also particularly risky because the Supervisors may tell you where to put the job and itís a painful place.  Worse yet, you might get elected and have to put up with people like you.

     If you checked one A or one B then you flunked.  Youíve scored D for dumb because youíve never taken the time to learn about the government of your community.  Municipal governments in Pennsylvania that are managed by largely honest people who for the most part volunteer their time.  They are governments that have the responsibility of managing a community based land use and zoning system that works well because of that local management.  And itís a system that under assault as Harrisburg and Washington get ready to pour huge sums into undermining Pennsylvaniaís municipal planning code.

     If you are a D you should continue to sit on the sidelines until the compost plant, townhouses or factory outlet mall comes to your back yard and then youíll meet your municipal government.  But by then the Feds or the State may have taken over and youíll probably applaud.  After that youíll get plenty of answers you wonít like.


Albert Paschall is senior commentator for the Lincoln Institute, a non-profit educational foundation in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Calvin-Graham Enterprises 1999.  www.lincolninstitute.org .

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