Imagine these zoning scenarios

Published 12:00 pm Friday, June 3, 2016

Land use. Area management. Zoning.

Without doubt, the third one in this list is the most commonly spoken. As with many emotionally charged words, the way it is spoken usually makes it clear whether the speaker is for zoning or against it.

In recent months zoning has been a popular topic of talk. Talk — as opposed to conversation. Currently there are folks in Lafayette County who see the creation of land use zones as the answer to all our prayers. Often that pitch is made by people whose real beef might be far beyond the scope of zoning, which is but another straw to clutch at. Opposed — and sometimes quite belligerently so — are residents who display an almost palpable fear of zoning, as though it will somehow thwart their chance at a happy life.

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Imagine for a moment that you live in the house of your dreams. You keep your yard neat and you have neighbors you’ve become fond of. One day a sign goes up in front of the vacant lot to one side of your property.

You walk over to see what it says, almost instantly feeling your heart beat a little faster. In small letters the message tells you that someone has applied to the county for permission to build a scrap metal place there. Visions of piles of rusty iron and junk cars flash before your eyes.

You and your wife note on the calendar the date of the hearing for the scrap yard application. On that occasion you show up early, perhaps with your neighbors, to tell the Planning Commission you oppose the venture. After some discussion of the proposal, the vote is taken, approving the application to go forward to the Board of Supervisors. Outraged, you leave, vowing to take your objections to those folks.

On the day a final decision is made on the scrap yard, approval is given, and you perhaps go home furious at those elected officials and sick at heart at the thought of the blight planned for your neighborhood. Despite the fact that neither reviewing bodies had any legal grounds to take your side in the matter, you still hold them to blame.

In the absence of zoning, this scenario is not only possible — but plays out in real life. After a controversial case is decided in such manner, there follows a period of intense demand for more regulations. Folks want zoning enacted in order to protect them. Proper zoning might very easily prevent the disruption (corruption?) of a neighborhood if actively written and firmly enforced.

Imagine for a moment that you live in the house of your dreams. Caring folks live on one side and on the street behind you. Your other side is empty because you had the presence of mind to purchase that empty lot when you obtained the one under your house. In time, you retire and spend more and more time at home.

And in more time, you develop an itch to do something productive and perhaps even profitable. After all, a little extra money might help the grandkids through college. Over morning coffee at the Beacon one day, an old pal says, “Why don’t you open a little convenience store on your empty lot?” At first you shrug off the idea, but your wife likes it and encourages you to look into it. And before long you’ve gotten an engineer to draw up a set of plans for such a store. Soon after that you fill out an application to the county and submit it to the Planning Commission.

You get to the meeting and find a room full of folks, including many from your neck of the woods. Your engineer presents your plan, which includes securing a variance from the zoning laws the county then has in force. One of those regulations prohibits the opening of a business in your neighborhood because of its zoning classification. It takes the commission only a few minutes to deny the variance.

The result: even though you own the land free and clear, and even though you only want to put in a small convenience store (perhaps one some of your neighbors have urged you to do), the answer is still no. Of course, you appeal the denial to the Board of Supervisors, who confirm the decision of the Planning Commission.

You refuse to accept that some body of folks can tell you what you can or cannot do on your own property. Your rage likely matches that of the folks in the first example above, who found a scrap metal operation next door. The reality is that in a world that is crowded with individuals seeking their own goals, some counties enact zoning ordinances to control growth.

With these scenarios in mind, next week I will present the current status of zoning, what it regulates in Lafayette County and what we can expect in the future.

TJ Ray, a retired professor of English at Ole Miss, can be reached at