BPD says the party's over for Suffolk students in the North End

Boston Police are stepping up patrols in the North End to crack down on both loud late-night parties by students and bars and restaurants that violate their license requirements, A-1 Captain Tom Lee says in an open letter to neighborhood residents.

In recent years, college students have come to rival rats as the annoyance most detested by residents. Lee says that among the steps he's taking are a general beefing up of patrols in the neighborhood, with a specific two-cop patrol along Hanover Street between 11:45 p.m. and 3:45 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, chats with both tenants cited for noise complaints and their landlords, to let them know just what sort of citations they could be getting for future violations, and working more closely with Suffolk on a weekend "noise patrol" that could mean college sanctions in addition to whatever BPD can dish out.

Lee says one neighborhood liquor store has already been cited for selling to a minor and for failing to keep minors from hanging out outside.

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Maybe the mayor

can implement a 1 student per two apartments policy. That should do the trick!

Snark aside, wasn't there plans to build a new Suffolk campus dorm a few years back that was quickly shot down my NIMBYism?

Suffolk dorm

Suffolk wanted to build a dorm where the old MDC building is on Somerset Street in Beacon Hill. That got shot down, but Suffolk then instead bought the Modern Theatre and a neighboring building and built their dorm there.

What is NIMBYism?

If, say, Kerr McGee applied to your town for relief from the zoning laws so that they could build a nuclear waste processing facility next door to your house, and you objected, would be OK to accuse you of NIMBYism?

Not In My Back Yard

Yes, strictly speaking it would be NIMBYism. In the case of nuclear waste disposal, it would be reasonably justified.

However, when people talk disparagingly about NIMBYism, it is usually in reference to cases of abuse. For example, comparing students -- who are human beings -- to nuclear waste makes you a pretty fucking horrible person.

Whoa there guy.

How could you possibly read my question and think that I was comparing students to nuclear waste?

I was deliberately using an extreme case to probe the question of whether or not the people who toss around the term "nimbyism" think that it is ever, under any circumstances, acceptable for neighbors to weigh in when someone wants to have an exception to the zoning laws.

Very easily

anon² wrote about a case regarding students and dorms, and you launched into a theoretical possibility regarding nuclear waste. It's entirely specious to use "nuclear waste" as a justification for discrimination against students.

So, if you did not intend that comparison, I then retract my assessment of you.

Your "extreme case" is how Euclidean-style zoning got its start -- keeping out dangerous industrial uses. And in that respect, it is a useful tool. But it was quickly abused as a means to keep out people who are deemed "undesirable" and that has been the primary purpose of zoning for most of the 20th century and up to today.

If zoning codes were only used for public safety, then they would be radically simpler than they actually are. It is not hard to specify that dangerous uses should not be mixed with residences. But most zoning codes focus on insane little details, like setbacks, lot sizes, lot coverage and minimum parking requirements. None of these actually has any impact on public safety, but they are wielded quite effectively as an economic weapon to artificially inflate prices and protect incumbent owners against competition.

Luckily, you have a choice.

Luckily, you have a choice. If you like living in the kind of environment that zoning creates, you can live in Boston. If you like living in the kind of environment you get when there's no zoning, you can live in Dallas or Albuquerque. Everyone can have what he or she wants.

Huh?

There's zoning a-plenty in those cities. And don't tell me Houston either. They have something called "restrictive covenants" which basically achieves the same thing.

NB: 5 anons responded to me in this thread, at least. Who's who?

Underlying theory of governance?

From where are you getting the idea that zoning should exist only for public safety purposes? "We see a public good in maintainging a mixed-use residential - commercial - retail downtown" is a typical objective.

Euclid vs Ambler

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Village_of_Euclid_v._....

Though Euclid did employ the "character" argument too, which is amusingly familiar.

Also, the primary justification for zoning given by most folks is with reference to dangerous industrial usage. For example, "nuclear waste" above. I think that this is fine, but not the issue we're discussing here, which is zoning used to eliminate "undesirable" persons.

For most of its history, Euclidean-style zoning was used to segregate uses: separating residences from retail and from businesses. The idea of needing a "mixed use downtown" zoning is kind of funny, because "mixed use" is what would exist if zoning hadn't outlawed it in the first place.

Not here on my planet.

The idea of needing a "mixed use downtown" zoning is kind of funny, because "mixed use" is what would exist if zoning hadn't outlawed it in the first place.

Funny, I thought that what you got with weak zoning was downtown Houston or 1990s Kendall Square, which is about as far from mixed use as you can get.

North Slope and Suffolk

The North Slope of Beacon Hill is a diverse neighborhood that has welcomed, with open arms, subsidized Section 8 housing, elderly housing, and even, back when nobody else would take them in, subsidized housing for people with AIDS (link)

The neighborhood also enthusiastically supports services that cater to the mentally ill homeless, right in the neighborhood (link)

This is not a neighborhood that can, by any stretch of the imagination, be accused of trying to create some kind of sanitized, gated community for rich people only.

The issue around the proposed Suffolk dorm was one of balance. Adding 800 18 year olds to a neigborhood of 8,000 people, one that already has a significant student population, is a real demographic shift, and possibly a tipping point. Add to that that Suffolk had a bad track record of policing its own students, and that Suffolk wasn't necessarily perceived as playing straight with the neighborhood about its own plans, and the neighborhood didn't support the dorm plan. Remember that Suffolk couldn't build the dorm by rights; they needed to apply for various exceptions to the existing zoning rules governing the use of the space in question. It's not as though the neighbors deprived Suffolk of its rights; it's that they didn't want to cut Suffolk a special deal.

As it turns out, relocating the plan to Downtown Crossing turned out well. Suffolk (and now Emerson) have built dorms that have injected a huge amount of foot traffic, late night activity, and general vitality into a neighborhood that badly needed it. A win for Suffolk, a win for the North Slope, and a win for Downtown Crossing.

The entire "NIMBYS on Beacon Hill hate students" argument is as tired as it is wrong.

Interesting background, just one point

Remember that Suffolk couldn't build the dorm by rights; they needed to apply for various exceptions to the existing zoning rules governing the use of the space in question. It's not as though the neighbors deprived Suffolk of its rights; it's that they didn't want to cut Suffolk a special deal.

This is the oldest dirty trick in the (zoning) book. Place overly restrictive codes on everything, then only allow developments that you agree with to go ahead and get "an exception." Perhaps extract some money and/or concessions from the developer while you're at it.

The neighbors did deprive Suffolk of its private property rights, and you shouldn't pretend otherwise. They just did it ahead of time, using a bribery technique that has been accorded legitimacy, for better or for worse.

Ahead of time?

While I understand the theory of your argument, it doesn't apply in this case. The only way zoning could be construed as depriving someone of their property rights would be if it is imposed on an existing owner. For example, you own a piece of property on which a house can be built. Then the government changes the rules, saying you can't build a house there.

That would be a taking, but that's not the case here, and that's almost never the case when people start whining about zoning. What's going on here is that someone owns an unbuildable lot; you know it's unbuildable; you buy it (at a very cheap price, because the market reflects that it's unbuildable), then, hoping for a windfall, you apply for regulatory relief to build a house there, and, when you get turned down, you holler about your rights being deprived by zoning. Complete and utter bullshit.

Not bullshit

If someone told you that you were free to speak, so long as you didn't say mean things about politicians, you would be well justified to complain that you were being denied freedom of speech in fact.

The taking away of private property rights, whether it happened before or after the person purchased the property, is still the taking away of private property rights.

There might be just cause for doing so, but it is still taking away private property rights, and you can't worm your way around that.

Whose property rights were infringed?

You and I don't have the right to build a dorm on Somerset Street, because we don't own property there. And Suffolk didn't own property there, either. So no rights were infringed.

You and I and Suffolk each have the right to buy property. Whatever property we buy is subject to various restrictions, which are fully reflected in the price: Property on which you can build a big apartment building is more expensive than property on which you can build a single family house.

If I buy a lot on which a single family house can be built, and I pay for it the price one would expect to pay for a single family lot, then what value has been taken from me by the law that prevents me from building an apartment there? I lost no rights; I suffered no loss in value.

The only one who has a claim is the person who owned the property way back when, before there was any restriction imposed on it. He might have a claim that the zoning cost him and therefore represented a taking. But not you or I if we were to buy the property today.

What's "Overly Restrictive"

This is the oldest dirty trick in the (zoning) book. Place overly restrictive codes on everything, then only allow developments that you agree with to go ahead and get "an exception." Perhaps extract some money and/or concessions from the developer while you're at it.

The devil, is, of course, in the details. Let's talk about the West End. Is it "overly restrictive" to say, "whoa, that was a really bad idea, let's not do that again?"

The West End

The "urban renewal" program of the West End was certainly a very bad idea, and it's one that couldn't have gone forward without planning offices ready to designate "slums" of neighborhoods that didn't fit their idealistic zoning schemes. Zoning would not have stopped the bulldozers, and in fact probably encouraged them because the old West End didn't fit the modernist vision of segregated uses and wide open spaces.

Effective zoning

Good point; "Zoning" is a rather broad term; Bad zoning intended to benefit private developers was a key factor in the West End; good, effective zoning would have prevented it.

I was always amused by people talking about Kelo v. New London as though that shit had never happened before.

What private property right?

Could you please be specific about what private property right of Suffolk's was violated? Bear in mind that Suffolk did not own a piece of property on which they were told they could not build.