Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Plano, Zoning and You --- tube.

The City of Plano recently produced a Facebook post with an accompanying YouTube Video describing Zoning. Not Plano's zoning per say even though Plano is mentioned throughout but Zoning... just Zoning.


There is a lot of subtext in this video and its message. There is also a lot missing.

Zoning, as described in Plano's video, applies to most cities. Plano posted it within a Facebook post, which doesn't add much. Some cities have advanced beyond the concepts in the video, and some have different nuances but most U.S. cities of any size use (more or less) a version of zoning described in this video. Richardson is no different in this regard, but it had the good sense not to produce a video like this.

As a disclaimer, I am only picking on Plano because they produced the video. Plano is no better or worse off than any other city with similar zoning. If another city had created this video, I might be saying almost all of the same things.

Technically this style of zoning is called "Euclidean Zoning." In that zoning style, the allowable uses of property in a zone are of prime concern as opposed to the physical structure and how it relates to what is around it. If you ever wondered why my kid can't walk to the store to get a jug of milk and why I can't build a livable unit in my backyard for grandpa to live in, then the answer is "Euclidean Zoning." That name derives from the Supreme Court case [Euclid v. Ambler: 1926] that established that such a right can be a city's constitutional police power. If you want to read more, here is a decent link.

Plano recently fought and lost a case involving what might have been its future Comprehensive Plan entitled the Plano Tomorrow Plan after a set of citizens petitioned to have it put up for a citizen vote. While a Comprehensive Plan is not a zoning ordinance, it is a legal requirement for a zoning ordinance. The Plano Tomorrow Plan may have resulted in a non-Euclidean Zoning ordinance for Plano had it gone ahead.

The problem with the video is that it has some head-scratching moments. The narrator says,

 "....You want options to live, shop, and play close by. That's why zoning laws often allow buildings we live and shop in as well as green spaces within close proximity of each other..."

 Except that Plano's zoning laws - like most suburbs - do not "often allow buildings we live and shop in ... within close proximity of each other." Those are generally restricted. I would go so far as to say that most things put up as benefits of zoning in the video are made harder by Euclidean Zoning laws like Plano's.

I would submit that opponents of Plano's Tomorrow Plan had a point in a twisted kind of way. Plano, like most suburbs, restricts housing to either single-family homes or apartments. Yes, I know some exceptions dot the map in Plano, but they are minor in the vast scale of numbers of units and land area. Most housing in Plano is single-family or apartments (mostly enormous scale) and not much else. If the opponents perceived the plan as merely an expansion of apartment rights, they did have a point. The Plano Tomorrow Plan was of course not merely an expansion of such rights.

Another thing about the video is the visuals of the video. What would I think if I dropped in from space and watched that video thinking this describes Plano?

I would think Plano has no sidewalks, no pedestrians, and bicycles. Maybe I missed one. If I did, let me know, but it looked like all transportation was centered around automobiles. It seems that the best way to have "options to live, shop, and play close by" is to walk between them and show that in the video.

What else is missing? It is good to live, shop, and play but not work.

What is also missing is the business of the city. A city must pay for itself. Instead, a municipality must ask citizens to pay taxes for its services and features. Land use is the key feature that provides the city with the ability to do that through property taxes. If you would like to see examples of this, watch the video series Not Just Bikes and a brief discussion of how land use relates to city revenue. If you doubt Plano has these problems, visit intersections like Independence and 15th and look at the surrounding retail.

The video does not address any of that concerning zoning despite being one of the most potent zoning features when implemented correctly. It seems more concerned to suggest that zoning is a way to make sure that immediately adjacent land uses get along with each other and not much else.

While I have to hand it to Plano for trying to explain zoning, the result is to make Plano look like it is locked into 20th-century thinking. I doubt Plano is closed into it as much as the video implies, but the message certainly does not help. That old thinking is why Plano, like other American cities, struggles with various financial issues.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I would argue that the zoning laws in Plano (and Richardson and suburbs in general) are specifically designed to ensure that you *do not* have "options to live, shop, and play close by." Zoning is designed to separate these options by enough distance to ensure you need a car to get to them.