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Editorial - Enforcing courtesy

August 15, 1997

The people of St. Thomas Pa. have spoken: They don't want zoning. Deciding how much or how little government control they want is their right, and we would not presume to tell them otherwise. But we've heard these arguments before, usually from rural areas, where folks don't want to have to go before a zoning board before they put up a new picket fence or shed to store the law tractor.

But consider the fact that without zoning, all of the following would be possible:

- Your neighbor retires as a fleet mechanic, but decides to keep his hand in by running a tune-up service out of his garage. Traffic on your rural road increases, and the sound of engines being revved up drowns out those songbirds you used to listen to.

- The farmer across the road decides to leave the land, and sells his acreage to developers who put up a warehouse complex. Diesel fumes replace the sweet country air, and the rattle of 18-wheelers breaks the silence (and your sleeping pattern) when they make midnight deliveries.

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- The folks next door decide they need more storage space, especially for their large motor home, so they put up a prefabricated building as big as a railroad boxcar. Not only is it ugly, but it blocks the breeze coming into your yard and your view of the mountains.

Impossible, you say. Our nice neighbors would never do such things, you declare. Maybe not the ones you have now, but what about the next batch, who don't know you or care how long you've been living here? Will your new neighbors be as courteous and sensitive as your old ones were?

If we could count on courtesy and on people caring about their neighbors' feelings, or about what their actions would do to the community, we wouldn't need zoning. But there are too many people who want to do what they want to do, and to heck with anybody else. Zoning is government's way of forcing property owners to pay attention to what effect their actions would have on others. It's a shame that it's needed, but unfortunately, it seems to be easier to change laws than it is to change people's hearts.

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