An observation about zoning bylaws

An observation about zoning bylaws: we all agree they’re never perfect and whether we own the property in question or not, we hope to organize the rules in ways that benefit our own ideas about where we live or our own financial needs.

Having spent over six years on the Wrentham Planning Board, I have noticed abutters and the community tend to think of zoning bylaws as a rigid set of rules for holding landowners to prescribed uses. This seems especially true of residential property owners who live near the edges of commercial land.  Property owners, developers or business owners in particular, most often think of zoning bylaws as an obstacle to maximizing a  return on their investments.

Both are true after a fashion but I’ve grown to think of zoning as something else entirely. They mark a place in a sometimes contentious, always boring conversation among the people of a community about what we were, what we are, and what we hope to become.

The stakes are high because land and buildings are money disguised as dirt, rocks, plants, and building materials. Even so, we’re fortunate to have a land use laws that strive to balance the interests of the various parties equitably.

That conversation takes place at Planning Board meetings, Zoning Board meetings, Town Meeting, in neighborhood groups, and in the local press.

There are many things I dislike about the process. People act out of fear. They seldom educate themselves sufficiently to talk about the issues intelligently. They can be blind to logic. They can be excruciatingly cruel to their neighbors and government officials. And they hold grudges.

But in places like Wrentham, MA we have the right to have the conversation and the little guy has as much chance of prevailing as the big guy.

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