Missouri Ranks 9th For Most Restrictive Zoning In U.S.

According to a recent report published by the Cato Institute, the state of Missouri ranks 9th in the nation for having the most restrictive zoning regulations.  Many anti-development folks may applaud this fact and look at it as a victory.  However, many people in the real estate industry, including yours truly, believe that overly restrictive zoning regulations greatly impact the cost of new home construction resulting in increased home prices and less affordable housing.  Couple the increased costs along with the reduced density permitted by overly restrictive zoning and you have a real impediment to the development of affordable or “work-force” housing.

Zoning regulations first came about in the U.S. early in the 20th century first around 1908 when Los Angeles adopted municipal zoning and land-use laws.  In 1916 the city of New York passed a comprehensive zoning code as well.  Other municipalities followed suit and, according to the Cato report, 68 additional municipalities had adopted zoning by 1926.  In 1926 the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case, Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926) ruled that “If they are not arbitrary or unreasonable, zoning ordinances are constitutional under the police power of local governments as long as they have some relation to public health, safety, morals, or general welfare“.  After the Supreme Court decision, zoning regulations exploded around the country and, just 10 years later, another 1,246 municipalities had adopted zoning.

Today, while much of the zoning, and the people that created it and enforce it, are well intentioned, in many cases it goes well beyond it’s original purpose of “health and human safety”.  It is common for zoning and land use regulations to include minimum lot sizes that severly limit the development potential of the land thus driving up the cost of the housing.  In addition, it’s common for zoning to include design requirements and features, driven by the personal preferences or ideology of elected and appointed officials with nothing to do with health or human safety, thus further driving up the cost of new housing.

It’s not just zoning and land use regulations however that are keeping new homes from being built at a faster rate in St Louis.  There are other regulations that negatively impact new home construction and drive costs up such as the clean water act and similar environmental-related regulations which have caused the costs of lot development to more than double over the past few years.


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