The Worst Kind of Puritans

Sharing Options

Yesterday Nathan Wilson and Aaron Rench released another press release on the zoning mess in Moscow. As a public-spirited citizen, I am happy to post that press release here.

May 23, 2005
The Future of the Zoning Complaint Industry in Moscow
Public Statement from Aaron Rench and Nathan Wilson

We have filed three zoning complaints. The first was against the Moscow Food Co-op because of their announced move into the Central Business District. The other two were against the Moscow School District’s Paradise Creek Regional High School for operating in the Neighborhood Business district, and the University of Idaho for operating in the University district (when “educational institutions” are not specifically mentioned as permitted uses).

Despite the parody involved in these complaints, and our tone in making them, we were and are quite serious. Given the logic presented by Mike Curley to the Board of Adjustors, and the precedent they have set in ruling in his favor, all of these complaints have newly “legitimized” legs that, in the words of the poet, go from their hips to the ground. They should be taken as seriously as the complaint against New Saint Andrews College, and, in the case of Paradise Creek Regional School, more so.

Curley’s logic in handling the current code leaves us with two options. On the one hand, life as we know it in Moscow can end. We can all dress up like the worst kind of Puritans and call upon every entity in town to bend before the unbending code. We can eat organic food and walk around with minds as collectively inorganic as an abacus. Or, on the other hand, we can be this kind of Puritan when it comes to selectively enforcing an inorganic interpretation of the code on people who view life differently than we do, and allow it to do hand-springs for our friends. In the first option, we can lose all sanity and universalize anal-retentiveness. Or, in the second, we can be hypocrites.

The complaints we have filed are not vindictive. We have no desire to dish out retribution, or to multiply injustice. We simply wanted city officials and residents to have a look at where a broad and equitable application of the Board of Adjustors’ ruling would begin. It would not stop where we have stopped. We wanted the city to stare this sort of “equity” in the eyeball and want none of it. Some of our complaints appear ridiculous (while we honestly believe them to be viable given current precedent). And that is the point. Of course the University of Idaho is supposed to be in the university zone. Any sane person could see that. Of course the Food Co-op won’t hurt the Central Business District. And of course New Saint Andrews College has been good for the Central Business District already. But sanity was not the precedent set, ridiculousness was, and given the current ruling, the zoning code is now free to be used as a weapon by citizens who only want to be Puritans for one day, and only for one building, only for one church, and only for one church’s people. And oh, by the way, the same goes for property tax exemption.

There should be no question that the city needs to rework its zoning code-now. And when it does, there should be no question that it should be equitably applied and enforced. And that enforcement should be human, organic, and pesticide free. The Co-op should enjoy the walk-through traffic of NSA students downtown between classes. And green-aproned cashiers should sell them each a tomato.

On a more technical side, we have been asked where the finish line is for us. When will we feel that we have made our point? On the Co-op, while we initially intended to appeal Joel Plaskon’s recent decision, we have come to agree that any appeal or future complaint should wait until the Co-op does more than announce their move and stick it on their sign. It should wait until they have applied for a building and/or occupancy permit. So for now, and perhaps for later, we no longer intend to appeal. As for the other two, we will drop both of them as soon as we feel they are distracting the city from reworking the code. The point is not to make the city focus their attention merely on our particular complaints. Hopefully we will see genuine and equitable changes. If we do not, and the recent ruling is applied to NSA only, then we have a very clear case of selective enforcement of the law.

Despite the seriousness of this statement, we yet retain our senses of humor, and we suspect that zoning complaints are simply a gateway drug to bigger things. The real high-flying comes when the technicalities of property tax exemptions start coursing through your veins.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments