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Alice in Zoningland

By Publius Ithacanus

Once upon a time, a young girl named Alice decided she was going to cut out paper dolls for herself and perhaps sell a few to classmates and friends.  She decided that she would create her paper dolls in her home’s kitchen.  Alice told a few adults about it and one of them told the town zoning department.  Alice received a notice that without a zoning variance, paper doll cutting was a prohibited use and would require a variance.
 
Alice’s next door neighbor, the White Rabbit, said he’d go with her to the Zoning Board.
 
Alice was puzzled.  “Why do I need a variance just to cut out some paper dolls in my own kitchen,” she asked the White Rabbit.  “It’s not really your kitchen,” the Rabbit sighed, “it belongs to the Town, they just let you use it for some things.  You need a variance because you are changing the nature of the community.”
 
Alice frowned.  “But my parents pay a lot of taxes for this house.  Surely we can cut paper dolls out if we want?”
 
“Poor Alice,” the Rabbit said, “it doesn’t work that way.  Think of it as renting, not owning.  Your parents paid taxes this year and the Town graciously let them live in the house.  Then next year your parents will have to pay taxes again.”
 
When Alice and the White Rabbit reached the Zoning Board, the members were sitting at the high table and they were allowed to kneel on the floor until the Board was ready for them.  The Queen called the meeting to order, shouting “off with their heads.”
 
“Wait,” said Alice, “aren’t we supposed to say the pledge to the flag before we start?  My father says that is what they are supposed to teach us in school.”
 
“Hush, child,” the Queen huffed, “it’s not patriotic to say the pledge and your father is a subversive who should be reported.  Instead we will sing the Obama hymn.”  And they did, the members of the Board enraptured.
 
“Now, it is time to cut off their heads,” stated the Queen.
 
“Not yet,” replied the Dormouse.  First we have Alice’s application for a H3-1-A-679 variance to cut out paper dolls in one or our kitchens.  Remember all uses are prohibited unless we permit them.”
 
“Cutting out paper dolls is subversive to good order,” Humpty Dumpty opined.  “Why there will be traffic in and out, tractor trailers, and some could deem it heavy industry.  Alice, what color are the walls in your kitchen?
 
“Light green,” Alice told Humpty Dumpty, hoping that was the right answer.
 
It wasn’t.  “Oh, Dear,” the large egg clucked, “that won’t do, won’t do at all.  According to the H3-1-A-679 standards, you can paint your walls any color you want from the approved color list.  Now, let me see.  Today’s only approved color is International Orange.”
 
The Queen snapped, “I hate International Orange.  Let’s change it and make everyone repaint in some color I like.  I’m thinking Dark Purple.”
 
“I think my Dad will repaint any color if I ask him,” Alice assured them.
 
“Will you be drilling or using any energy?”  The Dormouse wanted to know.
 
“I’m planning to cut out paper dolls,” Alice responded, “I’ll just be using a scissors.  The only energy I’ll be using is my own.”
 
“Ah,” roared the Queen, “Do you have a permit for the use of human energy?  We’ll need an environmental impact statement before we can approve that, takes about six years.” 
 
“Then there is the matter of your widening the road out front to six lanes and we could use a salary increase ourselves you know.  It isn’t easy making zoning decisions.”
 
“All uses are prohibited that aren’t permitted,” intoned the Queen, then she muttered “off with their heads, is it time for the executions yet?”
 
Alice frowned.  “On what do you base zoning decisions anyway?”
 
The Mad Hatter scowled.  “Basis, basis, what is this basis thing?  We don’t have any basis, we just social plan and zone, whatever “the community” wants.  We have met the community and they are us.  You have to follow the plan.”
 
“But, just what is this plan?”  Alice persisted.
 
“Beats me,” laughed the Mad Hatter, but we, “the community,” will know the plan when we devise it.  I’d offer you some tea if we had any, but I think it all went into Boston harbor.  After all this is a tea party.”
 
“I thought it was a zoning meeting,” said an increasingly irritated Alice.  “Can I please just have my variance and go?
 
“A world without social zoning, why that would be a world without love,” said a reporter from the Llenroc Daily Sun and of course Alice knew from her dear Papa last Christmas that “if it said it in the Sun, it must be so.”
 
Alice looked blank, so the Mad Hatter explained “Social zoning is when you do only what your neighbors think you should do, not what you want to do but shouldn’t do because they might not like it and then it's prohibited unless WE permit it.  Your use of the kitchen to cut paper dolls might change the entire nature of the community.  Some of us moved here to keep it as it is.  What if someone is offended by paper dolls?”
 
 “Drink this,” the White Rabbit said, handing her a large bottle with a picture of the Town Supervisor on it and the words, “to get a variance, drink me.”  To Alice’s surprise the liquid inside, with its deep green color, the color of money, was rich and delicious. 
 
Alice found herself getting very sleepy.  Soon she was wandering through a vast array of zoning maps, showing cluster housing, special use districts, carve outs, conservation zones and rural residential plots.  Alice kept falling into the very deep potholes, the services local government and the Chair of the County Legislature called traffic calming devices, that were everywhere.  The voice of a big fat cat broke in, “now if you were to declare yourself a business, then we might look at some other variances.”
 
“But I’m not a business, Sir. I’m just Alice.”
 
“So, your business is known as Just Alice.  How nice.  And you being a human a newcomer to town, not having lived here for much more than one of your nine lives. And this paper doll industry you are seeking a variance for Just Alice, how many jobs will it create in the entertainment industry?”
 
Alice told the truth.  “It is just me.  I plan to cut them myself.”
 
“Ah, you are a contractor then and are building for someone’s dream.  Congratulations, this changes everything.  Alice, you qualify for a B-7-23V variance, but you must cut at least two thousand paper dolls a day and we get to keep one percent of your profits for ourselves.  Also your kitchen must be in a cluster of kitchens, not sprawled.”
 
“But, sprawl is good, space and air, or so it seems to me,” replied Alice confidently.
 
After a shocked silence at this utter heresy, “Off with her head,” the Queen ordered and Alice was led outside and swiftly and truly zoned away.  The character of the neighborhood was conserved.
 
 
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