Should the right to open a new business be put up to a public vote?
At a meeting this week in Geneva, Ill., aldermen voted to reject tattoo artist Ramiro Guillen’s plan to open a tattoo parlor on Randall road because of opposition from other business owners. And, one alderman speculated, because of stereotypes about tattoo parlors.
Geneva has an unemployment rate higher than the national average. If the City Council doesn’t vote to approve the parlor at a later meeting, Geneva will have one less business and several fewer jobs than it would otherwise.
Some may ask why a city is holding a hearing on whether someone can open a particular business. The answer is zoning law.
In the case of the Geneva tattoo parlor, though the city had zoned most of Randall road as a B5 business district back in 2007, it didn’t include the strip mall where the tattoo parlor wants to set up shop. So to open his business there, Ramiro Guillen had to petition the City Council for a special use permit that would exempt him from the current zoning law.
Is this a challenge a business owner should have to face when the property owner already approves of the use? How many new products or services would have never come to fruition if entrepreneurs had to get public approval at a zoning hearing before starting up?
Zoning is meant to keep land uses thought to be incompatible separate from one another. The idea does have a veneer of legitimacy to it – you wouldn’t necessarily want a factory set up in the middle of a residential area. But this is incredibly unlikely to happen even in the absence of zoning laws. The conceit underlying zoning rules are that government planners can determine in advance both what the most efficient uses of land will be and how to avoid conflict between residents about “nuisances” (loud noise, pollution, etc.).
But no one can successfully anticipate and plan for economic developments this way. What might have made sense to use as a home five or 10 years ago might have a better use as a bakery or a mixed-use property today. The optimal use of any given property changes with time and the availability of resources, and property owners know this best. No one can know what a piece of property ought to be used for into the future, let alone city officials who likely wrote the rules decades in advance. They have the best incentive to make the right decisions and should have the flexibility to use what they own without needing to get other people’s approval first.
If a person’s use of a given property genuinely interferes with someone else’s use of their property, tort law allows them to be sued for nuisance remedies. In the absence of an actual, demonstrable harm – not a theoretical or imagined possibility – people should be free to use their property as they fit. That way, economic progress won’t be abandoned to the whims of “NIMBY’s” but legitimate grievances can still be resolved.
Zoning prevents individuals and organizations from making the best use of their property and hinders economic development, which makes us all worse off in the long run. Tattoo artists shouldn’t have to beg for the chance to earn a living in Geneva or anywhere else – they should be welcomed as job creators and for providing a service to consumers.