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Editorial - The zoning controversy

February 19, 1998

For more than a decade, the supervisors of St. Thomas Township have been battling a proposed new municipal landfill in their area. Last week, they got a surrender offer from the landfill's would-be developer, but the terms of peace proved unacceptable.

Supervisor Edmund Herald revealed that during a closed session Feb. 11, developer Harold L. Brake offered to withdraw his landfill application if the commissioners would repeal a zoning ordinance they passed Oct. 2.

The offer is significant because some zoning opponents switched sides because they felt zoning would make it more difficult to build the landfill. We agree, however, that to repeal the ordinance under these conditions would probably be illegal. To scrap the ordinance - as opposed to amending any problem areas - would be unwise under any conditions.

Zoning is usually opposed in areas which are both rural and conservative. With lots of land and a tradition of neighborly courtesy, yielding control to the government seems both unnecessary and distasteful.

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But depending on courtesy to maintain peace in a residential neighborhood is a chancy business. The old gentleman who repairs bicycles in his garage may not disturb anyone, but what about the next owner, who wants to service motorcycles as well?

Under zoning, the tranquility of the neighborhood can be preserved by declaring the bicycle shop a "non-conforming use" that can't be expanded or modified without a hearing.

In our view, zoning is a way to ensure orderly development so that truck terminals aren't built next door to nursing homes. And if it seems like a great inconvenience to get a zoning permit to put up a storage shed for your lawn mower, consider the fact that your neighbor who decides he wants a backyard sawmill has to go through the same review.

A hearing on the proposal to repeal zoning will be held at the supervisors' March 17 meeting. Between now and then, interested parties need to look at areas where zoning is in place and decide whether what the supervisors did in October should really be undone now.

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