Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Western Front Editorial Speaks to Zoning and Student Responsibility

The student newspaper at WWU, the Western Front, ran an editorial on May 5th regarding students being responsible neighbors. You can read the article in its entirety by clicking here. I sent the members of their editorial staff, Jeff Richards, Shana Keen, and Lisa Hust, the following email in response:

"I just read your editorial piece entitled “Students can be responsible neighbors.” Although I agree with some of the points, I think you have made some unwarranted assumptions and several errors of fact.

First of all, you state “This ordinance, often called the rule of three, has been intended to prevent mostly students from living together because of complaints of parking issues, litter and noise.” This interpretation is, regrettably, widespread but has no basis except in anecdote. The single family zoning definition is in place to control neighborhood density. It is also a tool for neighborhoods so they can plan for the future. If there is no control over density, then planning is meaningless. If you can not define the terms in your plan, i.e., zoning types, then you are talking gibberish.

This brings me to your second statement, “The arguments for this law are that the students living with two unrelated people will have more cars, be more noisy and cause more litter.” This is a misconstruction. The arguments for the law have to do with the reasons I laid out in my previous paragraph. Although more students living in a house may bring about more noise, cars and litter, so might any home with an unruly family. The issues of density and bad behavior are separate issues.

“The rule of three law is just absurd and discriminating toward college students.” Similar zoning ordinances have been upheld by the courts in other jurisdictions throughout the country. Although the code may appear absurd, courts have ruled that cities have the right to control densities through zoning ordinances which read much the same as those in Bellingham. Although college students may be affected, the law applies across the board and is not aimed at students specifically.

“We should not make discriminating laws but search for solutions to problems associated with extra vehicles, litter and noise complaints.” This is true; however, it does not deal with the issue of zoning categories. My question to you as an editorial staff is, “How do you propose the city define single family zones within the city?” Lest you forget, when a few months ago the city attempted enforcement of parking regulations near the university, there was a great hue and cry from the students about their cars being ticketed. You can not have it both ways.

As for discrimination in law making, it is done all the time for many reasons, most of which have to do with the common weal. If you read our single family zoning definition, you will find that it does exempt several categories of persons who have been identified as protected groups by state or federal statutes.

If you are not yet familiar with my Zonemaven blog, […], I encourage you to read it. I would also be very happy to meet with your editorial staff at any time to discuss these issues.

By the way, my wife and I have entertained hundreds of students in our home over the past 6 years at dinners and BBQs. I work at all football, soccer, and basketball games at WWU. I enjoy the presence of students and appreciate their enthusiasm.

I look forward to hearing from you."

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