Planning Leads to Land-use Regulations

Joe Webb, chairman of Blueprint Houston, an organization that helped draft the city’s General Plan, recently repeated the statist mantra that planning isn’t the same as zoning. At the same time, he noted that the plan will help the city control development and make neighborhoods better.

Technically, Webb is correct. Planning is a process of identifying goals and the means for achieving them. Zoning is a tool used by government to control land use and development. While zoning seldom exists with planning, planning can exist without zoning.

However, a plan without the means of implementation is useless. If the city is going to use the plan to control development and make neighborhoods better, at some point land-use regulations will be required. Whether those regulations consist of something comprehensive like zoning or a more piece meal approach is merely a detail. The end result is the same–the city will assume the power to regulate development.

In principle, the city has already assumed this power. The preservation ordinance is the most obvious example. That ordinance gives the city the authority to completely control development within historic districts. It is only a small step to expand that power throughout the city.

Webb explained that the General Plan is simply a way for Houston officials to coordinate the plans of the city’s various departments to improve efficiency.

The city of Houston is a $5 billion corporation. We don’t have a business plan. Think of the general plan as our business plan. It helps us make decisions, policies, move forward. How do we grow the city. How do we build the city? We’re building it for not just for us but for future generations, so we want to do it well.

Government is not a business, nor can it be operated like one. A business depends on the voluntary choices of its customers. Government is an agency of force. A business cannot compel you to purchase its products. Government regulations compel you to act as it deems appropriate.

There is nothing wrong with improving the efficiency of government, so long as government is limited to the protection of individual rights, including property rights. But making government more efficient in violating our rights is not something to applaud or desire.

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