Government regulations are typically so complicated that not only can the lay-person not understand what they mean, but they are written in such a way that even people that think they know what is meant are left arguing completely different interpretations.  Zoning regulations are no exception.

In fact, in NYC the zoning regulations are so convoluted that “In a recent case, a judge said the word “development,” which appears at least 2,500 times in the [zoning] resolution, did not mean what the city said.” (source: New York Times article — we’ll see more about that article in just a minute)

The Planning Commissioner for NYC, Amanda Burden, is attempting to make the zoning regulations a little more accessible to the general public by issuing a new city handbook with plain explanations and cartoon drawings that illustrate what particular zoning designations look like and what they mean.  Check out the coverage in the New York Times about what she has been doing to bridge that gap.

While this may not be the right approach for every locality, the idea is one that every local government should take to heart:  Start building tools that puts control of the government back into the hands of the people.  Sure, we elect officials to represent us and we should not be ruled by mob mentality (see: California), but the people also need to be able to understand what is being done — especially when we are expected to interpret these rules and abide by them.

I have seen far too many business and property owners try to follow the rules that have been laid out, only to find a health inspector or building inspector come in with a totally different understanding and cost the owner thousands of dollars in hard cost and lost business because the rules were not clear enough.

What do you think, Richmond? Have you had any issues with the local zoning regulations (city or county)? What would you suggest could be done to make the rules more clear?