Recently, The Pilot ran a series of stories that link Pinehurst and West Southern Pines. Oh, you say you missed those?
Remember the lengthy article about retaining a right of way that could ultimately provide access from neighborhoods along Airport Road to Pinehurst No. 6 off U.S. 15-501? How about the articles dealing with square footage requirements for apartments in Pinehurst? Or the article about the lack of business- zoned land in West Southern Pines?
Ah, now it is coming back to you. But you are still not seeing the link? What could these issues have in common?
The commonality is Euclidean zoning and its impact on how communities develop. And to answer your first question, this discussion will have nothing to do with Greek mathematician Euclid. Rather, the land use regulation that we all take for granted is called Euclidean zoning after the 1926 Supreme Court case (Village of Euclid versus Ambler Realty Co.) that established local land use regulation.
That original zoning effort was designed to separate truly noxious land uses like pollution-belching factories from residences. Since then, most localities have moved to implement Euclidean zoning.
Over time, zoning has evolved to make finer distinctions between uses. Most zoning codes not only distinguish between industrial and residential uses, but provide a large number of separate zoning districts.
Thus most towns have not one residential zoning category, but many of them based on lot size for single-family zones and number of units for multifamily zones. Even within those distinctions, finer gradations are applied, like the square-footage requirements for dwelling units that are currently under discussion in Pinehurst. While not every locality uses every gradation (for example, I have never seen the reliance on dwelling square footage elsewhere during my city management career), most localities have expanded zoning far beyond its original intent to keep noxious fumes away from sleeping children.
And this is where the problems with Euclidean zoning have arisen. By separating uses, urban sprawl has occurred. Before Euclidean zoning, you could have a neighborhood like West Southern Pines with businesses interspersed among the
residences and directly accessible to their customers via interconnected streets.
Another outgrowth has not only been the separation of uses but also of roads. If you do not want a business next door, then you also end up not wanting the traffic going to that business to pass by your house. So we have a street system that forces all traffic out onto main arteries anytime anyone wants to go from one use to another.
The result is the never- ending cycle of traffic congestion that we seek to relieve by building more arterial lanes, which leads to more congestion and more construction.
We don’t think anything of this, but rather what stands out is Pinehurst’s effort to retain a right of way for a future interconnection between two neighborhoods that could help obviate the need for more lanes on our arterial roads.
Another impact of our zoning system has been economic segregation of our housing. By requiring larger lots and larger dwelling square footages, we are ensuring that only people with equivalent incomes will live near us and all those of lesser incomes have to live somewhere else.
An added result of this economic segregation of housing has also been racial segregation in housing. And growing from that over the last half century has been the racial resegregation of our public schools.
The local issues that I mentioned in the beginning are all symptoms of the progressive rot that has set into Euclidean zoning over the last century. Do our local officials try patchwork solutions like retaining a right of way between two neighborhoods, adding retail zoning districts to West Southern Pines, or reducing dwelling square footage requirements? Or should they consider an alternative system that focuses not on uses, but on the physical form of development?
Many of the urban places we cherish most around this country are neighborhoods that could not be built under Euclidean zoning. They have mixed uses and interconnected streets.
These types of traditional neighborhoods can be built again using form-based codes. In fact, there is a nationwide movement called New Urbanism that promotes the establishment of codes allowing neotraditional development to take place.
The ultimate question here is whether to stick with Euclidean zoning and its many problems, or to try something that is based on the best of the old way of developing our communities.
Kyle Sonnenberg, who served as Southern Pines town manager from 1988 to 2004, has returned in retirement after a three-decade career in city management in three states.