The Cassandra Problem

There's a local prophet(ess)—that's a portrait of her tearing her hair out over there on the right—who wrote the following regarding zoning in Dryden in 2010.  It was based on the (then) Amended Zoning Law, revised draft, of September, 2009:

The scope and control the Town would assume over private property owners goes far beyond health and safety and well into social engineering...

...Part of the "character of Dryden" has been that its town government was "minimalist," and apart from providing basic town services, left its residents alone. That is part of the "character" that has made Dryden attractive.  That part of character would be lost as the Town moves into comprehensive socially driven zoning, recreation, and other activities that enlarge Town government...

...this level of planning is unnecessary, adds to New York's passion to overregulate, and will be costly to administer, hence demanding even higher taxes...

...It appears government would like to shape and control how Dryden develops to make its tasks easier and to fit the social mode some residents prefer.  But government is supposed to serve public needs, not direct them...

So, while a lot of time in the last year has been spent arguing back and forth over nitty-gritty details of the new zoning law, the real problem was that the Town's entire approach was—dare we say it so baldly?—just plain wrong.

And, as it's turned out, none of the recent suggested changes that might have made the new law at least somewhat less of an overreach were adopted in the final version that was passed by the town board last week.

Not really surprising.  At this point, we'll don our preferred chapeau

and remind you of where the kind of thinking demonstrated by the Town originates. Watch the PowerPoint presentation—it's still news to many people in Central New York, but will sound distressingly familiar to many others.

Beware, other towns and municipalities...don't say Cassandra didn't warn you:

Hold yer water

We just received the Redneck Mansion water & sewer bill for the quarter.  Down towards the bottom of the bill is a statement: "Your neighbors in the town average 11,900 gallons /quarter."

Well, we're breaking our arms patting ourselves on tha back since we don't use nearly that much water because, as everyone knows, rednecks don't shower, shave, brush their teeth, or flush the commode.

But that's neither here nor there.

It did remind us, though, of a recent Freakonomics podcast entitled, "Riding the herd mentality."  You can listen to the podcast here, but the gist is that it's about "how peer pressure – and good, old-fashioned shame – can push people to do the right thing."

Of course, another method of pushing the great unwashed to do the right thing is the proper kind of zoning, as Alice discovered in Zoningland a while ago...but we digress.

The problem with relying on peer pressure and shame is that people can be exceptionally creative when it comes to avoiding doing the right thing.

To wit:

...in west Texas...a severe drought forced people to cut down on their water use. At least they were supposed to cut down — but those lush green lawns that some Texans were used to don’t just get green on their own...
Local talk-show host Robert Hallmark remarks on the invocation of the Slip 'n Slide Rule:
HALLMARK: The Slip ‘n Slide Rule was that you could operate a Slip ‘n Slide in your front yard for the kids anytime you wanted to. Now you know as well as I do a Slip ‘n Slide is nothing but a water hose with holes in it. It is just pouring water out onto the lawn. So we determined how much it would cost to hire kids to stand in your yard in a bathing suit just so you could water your yard.
Somehow all that good old-fashioned American ingenuity, though, has to get stoppered up or people will just keep on not doing the right thing, dag nabbit!
Enter John Roberts, Esq., and the concept of mandating behavior whilst seeming not to mandate behavior, and all by the fiendishly simple (not to mention revenue-producing) technique of imposing a tax—you know, just to get people to do "the right thing."
Shades of BF Skinner?

Dora Dogood on Dryden, zoning, and freedom

Although, "Dryden, zoning, and freedom" may be a contradiction in terms.

By the way, the public hearing on the proposed changes to the Dryden zoning ordinance is Wednesday, June 27th, at 7:30pm in the town hall. The draft zoning amendments may be viewed here. The draft subdivision law is here. The zoning map is here.


A few days ago, I read that the Town of Dryden is having a public hearing on its expanded zoning ordinance proposal in a few weeks.  Yesterday, I was having coffee at the Dryden Hotel with my friend Molly who was visiting from the Village of Massapequa Park, Long Island.  On June 11, her village board unanimously enacted a plan to fine homeowners up to $10,000 --- for letting their property get shabby.  Molly said home and business owners now face up to five-figure fines and fifteen days in jail for such maintenance issues as overgrown lawns, broken windows and graffiti.  Other local governments, including the nearby Town of Brookhaven, are considering similar measures.  Mount Pleasant, S.C. and the Birmingham, Alabama suburb of Pelham also enforce local ordinances pertaining to unfavorable appearances at buildings or establishments.
Molly quoted from the Massapequa law, “The Village finds that the presence of blight upon properties … is detrimental to the health, safety and welfare of the Village.   It is the intent, therefore, of the Village that blight be identified, abated and eliminated …. ”  Owners have ten days to comply with a village order to rectify conditions at their premises before fines are imposed.  First-time offenders for violations like broken outdoor lighting fixtures or fallen trees can lead to fines of up to $1,000, and subsequent offenses can lead to fines as high as $10,000 and up to fifteen days in jail.   What I do know is that one person’s blight can be another person’s beauty.  Who decides what is blight?
I was wondering if this could really happen, so when I got home I did some research.  I found that at least two people this year have spent time behind bars for failure to maintain their properties.  In January, a woman in Mount Pleasant, S.C., was sentenced to ten days in jail after failing to pay a $480 fine for a having a messy yard.  A Florida man was reportedly sentenced to a year and one day in jail after he failed to remove junk from his front yard.
So, how does all this relate to Dryden and its expanded zoning code?  Ordinances like the one in Massapequa are the end product of where zoning may lead.  Can it happen here?  Maybe in won’t, but sure, it can.  I don’t much like properties without curb appeal, with grass that’s somewhat too long, or which don’t get painted.  But, I don’t put my neighbors in jail for these things.  What about the person on a limited fixed income who can’t afford to paint or is physically unable to mow?
But mostly, I asked myself what right do the neighbors or the town have to tell other people how to live?  And, just what is “shabby”?  Years ago, I was a renter for a time.  The landlord demanded certain things.  When I became a homeowner it was to get away from having others tell me what I must do.
Certainly, the good people on the Dryden Town Board will tell me not to worry, they won’t abuse their zoning powers to the same extent as Massapequa.  Perhaps they won’t, but the citizens of Dryden should not be dependent on their good will.  When you give up rights, you eventually learn that you have lost your freedoms.  The new Dryden zoning plan and the vast areas slated to be in “Critical” Environmental Areas are cause for concern.
What Massapequa teaches us is that we must go to the public hearings and let our office holders know we don’t want government taking over control of more and more of our lives.  I’m 88 years old and I worry for our children and grandchildren.  Will they live in a world where the prior generations have eroded their freedoms because they thought things like zoning were “little things?”  Inch by inch, foot by foot, our freedoms erode if we don’t fight for them.

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.

Pastoral Poverty

A piece in the Times today illuminates the divide in Middlefield between farmers and people who have moved into the rural town.  It might reflect some on Dryden, too.

The dispute has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and has often set people who live in suburbs or villages against the farmers and landowners who live outside them. The discord is compounded by hard times on both sides and by communication online giving everyone instant access to limitless information confirming their point of view...

Like many farmers, [Jennifer Huntington] sees the drilling opponents as largely comfortable urbanites in an area increasingly home to retirees and second-home owners who know nothing about the economics of farming and little about the safety of drilling.
“This land and my family are my life,” Ms. Huntington said. “We probably use three to four million gallons of water to feed my cows. I’m not going to spoil something I need to make my living and for future generations to come.”

Proponents of fracking say that many farmers are on the verge of losing their property.

“The term we use is pastoral poverty,” she said. “You have farmers trying to hold on to land that’s been in their family for 100 to 200 years. People like the landscape, but it’s people living in poverty who are maintaining what they like to look at.” ...

Many drilling proponents, meanwhile, say the professionals and retirees drawn to the area have become antigrowth fanatics...

* * *

The crowd of about 120 was quiet and polite at the candidates’ debate at the Dryden Fire Hall last Wednesday.  I spent my time watching the body language in the crowd. The anti-fracking polemic of Linda Lavine got a chilly reception based on the crossed arms, shifting of positions and shaking heads.  Maybe it was the intensity that was off-putting, or maybe they’ve heard just about enough about drilling.

The strongest reaction I saw was in favor of attracting business and spreading out the tax base of the town.  While the town tax rate hasn’t gone up, assessments have and people see their tax escrow payments going up alarmingly every year.  A bunch of new businesses are going in just up the road in Cortlandville... but we won’t see any benefit from sales tax revenue across the county line.

The budget talk is complicated, and seems to disintegrate into a he-said, she-said battle of jargon.  A few things stood out... a lot of money spent on consultants for an unloved zoning proposal, a bunch more people working in the planning department, a move by the town board to bypass the tax cap passed by the state.   Recreation used to be done by volunteers.

The next candidate debate will be in Varna on Tuesday, closer to Cornell and the anti-fracking epicenter.  

The green jihad and "benefit corporations"

The hypocrisy meter has to run full-bore not just here in the US but everywhere:

It seems rarely a month passes without some new assault on the lifestyle and housing choice preferred by the overwhelming majority of Australians: the detached suburban home. Denigrated by a careless media as ”McMansions” or attacked as some archaic form of reckless housing choice which is suddenly “no longer appropriate” (according to some planning or environmental fatwa), the detached home is under a constant assault of falsely laid allegation and intellectual derision...

....I’m not proposing that the leftist green agenda which is waging war on the detached home turn the blow torch of blame to the wealthy, nor am I suggesting that there’s anything wrong with apartment and townhouse developments. But what’s wrong with letting market forces play more of a hand without the overt moralising and environmental hand wringing that seems to accompany decisions on urban planning policy? Is it really necessary to malign the detached suburban home, in order to make the alternative more attractive?

We are talking about middle Australia – and their counterparts in the USA, UK and elsewhere – which is under the barrage of assault for having the temerity to choose a form of dwelling that actually suits them... 

....And there’s one of the great ironies in all this: those who advocate denying housing choice and enforcing apartments over detached homes, public transport over private, and inner city density over suburban expansion, invariably seem to do the opposite of what they preach.  Next time you come across one of these green jihadists waging war on the suburban home (and the people who live in them), ask them if they live in a house or a unit, how many children they have, ask how many cars (or homes) they own, and ask what their power bill is like....

(h/t Janis)

There are several posts here on Agenda 21 and ICLEI, which is a phenomenon here in Tompkins County not just in other parts of the US or in Australia. As we've said here over and over again, all of these things are all of a piece: sustainability, environmentalism, certain kinds of zoning, opposition to energy development...Private property? Freedom? Fuhgeddaboudit.

And if you think that this agenda isn't pretty far advanced, think again. Ever hear of Benefit Corporations?  I hadn't either.

Benefit Corporations are a new class of corporation that are required to create a material positive impact on society and the environment and to meet higher standards of accountability and transparency. Model legislation was drafted by Bill Clark from Drinker Biddle & Reath

Benefit Corporations are what used to be called "crony capitalism" or—dare I say it?—"fascism."

Where do these things exist? In New York State for one (where it unanimously passed both houses of the state legislature and is awaiting the Governor's signature):

New York Benefit Corporation

New York State Seal

Status: Passed Senate 62-0 and Assembly 139-0

Sponsors: Speaker Silver (A4692-a) and Sen. Squadron (S79-a)

Legislation: A4692-a and S79-a

Key Supporters: ASBCBuffalo FirstLocal First IthacaNYS B CorpsSinglebrook Technology,

Quotes/Testimony: Speaker's Press Release

What are the other states with Benefit Corporations? Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Vermont, and Virginia.  The states that are currently in this pipeline are California, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

We need to educate ourselves and our neighbors and toot sweet.

Is there an agenda?

Yes, Agenda 21 to be precise.

In an earlier post a couple of months ago (and even before that) , we brought up ICLEI and Agenda 21.  This stuff is not going away and it behooves us all to pay a lot closer attention to it.  Think that zoning debates, fracking debates, sustainability initiatives and so on have nothing to do with you and how you live your life?  Think again.

From the SF Bay 912 group (yes, there actually are active and growing tea party groups on the left coast):

The US Constitution guarantees the right to private property and restricts the government from taking that property without just compensation under the laws of eminent domain. Yet that right is being eroded every day by local and regional governments under the guise of such nice sounding words as “sustainable development”, “smart growth”, “new urbanization”. Other code words for this effort include: “comprehensive planning”, “bike lanes-hiking trails”, “open space preserves”, “wetlands, wildlands, biodiversity”, “public/private partnerships”, “high speed rail-light rail, etc”.

This should sound real familiar and not in a good way.

The Agenda 21 plan openly targets private property.  At risk from Agenda 21:

  • Private property ownership
  • Single-family homes
  • Private car ownership and individual travel choices
  • Privately owned farms

However, people. are fighting back just as we could do here in Tompkins County:

In recent months, citizen groups across the country have organized and become involved in the removal of towns and cities from membership in ICLEI. The Roanoke, VA Tea Party is holding a rally this week in an effort to have ICLEI removed from their local government.

In the right sidebar over there under Blog Roll, click on Virginia Right for more information about the anti-Agenda 21 work going on in VA.

This video (90 minutes long) from just a few days ago is notable because the featured speaker at the Bay Area Tea Party meeting, Rosa Koire, is a liberal Democrat who understands that Agenda 21 will destroy America as we know it:

If you need something short and sweet right now (and suitable for helping you craft your elevator speech re: Agenda 21 and "sustainability"), see the American Policy Center's Agenda 21 in One Easy Lesson.

For more info and links, see Is The Soros-Sponsored ‘Agenda 21’ a Hidden Plan for World Government? (Yes, Only It Is Not Hidden).

Homework assignment: Go the ICLEI page that lists all the member governmental entities (here) and check out the USA participants.

You can worry about being thought of as wearing a stylish tinfoil chapeau and ultimately end up like this guy:

or you can educate yourself and others.  You do have a choice—for now.

Discomfort zone

Zoning laws can sometimes be used in backhanded ways, for instance, by tacking a noise ordinance on to the existing zoning code that would prohibit heavy, industrial noise like what would be emitted from gas drilling operations—and voilà! No fracking.

But even in its more mundane manifestations, zoning laws can have (perhaps) unintended, albeit foreseeable, consequences.

In an earlier post, we linked to a blog by a fellow Dryden resident who pointed out some potential problems with the proposed update to the town zoning ordinance.  At his blog, Economics, my dear Watson, Dr. Watson has unearthed some additional interesting information:

...A new article in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics by Liu and Lynch (an ungated version here) asks "Do Zoning Regulations Rob Rural Landowners' Equity."

They find that if you own agricultural land, there is no effect. On the surface, it appears that non-agricultural land loses 50% of its value, but at least half of that comes from being in an area that is considering down-zoning. Once you account for political decision making (endogeneity), down-zoning reduces non-agricultural land values by 20-28%...

Do read the whole thing.  Probably many people have had the uncomfortable feeling that this was so, but the journal article provides some empirical evidence to support what had previously been largely anecdotal.

Construction moratorium in Varna?

In the March 8th Ithaca Journal (comments by Henry Kramer):

VARNA -- Residents here are pushing for a nine-month moratorium on new construction in the hamlet to force proposed developments like Stephen Lucente's 250-unit townhouse complex to adhere to updated zoning requirements when they are considered for approval by the Town of Dryden.

First, a legal issue. I wonder if the town can put into place a moratorium for just one part of the town or would they have to do it for all of us?  I don't know.  I am somewhat concerned about Varna driving the rest of the town.

Second, the article assumes pretty much that the proposed zoning changes will become law.  That assumption is not helpful to those who would like to stop or substantially alter the huge transfer of power from homeowner to government they are planning for us.

[...] The petition to enact a moratorium, which had at least 23 signatures since late last week, would enable the town and residents to finish the Varna Master Plan, an element of the Town of Dryden's proposed zoning code revisions, before new developments can be considered.

The master plan, toward which the town allocated $70,000 to finance consultants, will take about six months to complete, and will attempt to manage growth in a way that most residents find agreeable.

Third, since the only survey is ten years old, I don't know how the town is supposed to know what "most residents" (of the entire town, not just Varna) will find "agreeable."  Nor do we know that most residents want growth "managed" by government.  Outside Varna, I see no groundswell demanding that government start determining land use to the extent proposed.

[...] Town Planning Director Dan Kwasnowski said although the decision on a moratorium is up to the town board, he said receiving a development application during the creation of a master plan could be "a huge distraction" both for his office and for Varna residents.

He said including proposed developments in the master plan would allow for a more realistic idea of future water, sewer and traffic requirements...

Finally, this reflects an approach by government that I don't much like.  Water, sewer, and traffic is to be shaped to serve town government's determination of what is good for us.  I prefer to have the town respond to water and sewer requirements as the need arises and to limit their intrusion to health and safety issues (such as water supply and sanitation), not what is easiest for the town.  In other words, people's preferences, as much as possible, should drive government; government should never drive our choices.  One of our principles is that government is to serve the people, people are not to serve the government.  The trouble with planners is they love planning and particularly planning that institutionalizes their view of how we should live.


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