This Property Was
Idaho land use lawyer JoAnn Butler talks
sprawl, zoning and seeing the future
INTERVIEW BY EMILY WHITE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOSHUA ROPER
Q: Can you talk a little about the history of zoning law?
A: It started in New York City in the early 20th century. High rises and
tenements had been built so close together that there was very little light, very
little air that could circulate between the buildings. Fire could spread easily.
So when you talk about zoning, you talk about protecting the public health,
safety and welfare. That’s really the whole background behind zoning. It was
to develop a regulatory system that would allow for things like more light,
more air, better building codes, better fire access for vehicles.
Q: When do you get into court battles?
A: Very little winds up in court, to tell you the truth.
Clients put the money, effort and time up front; they involve planners
in the community ahead of time. They say, “This is what we’re thinking,”
and they actually build in people’s comments. During the public hearing
process, of course, people will give you their opinions. That’s where you
have your battles—in the public hearing process, before the planning and
zoning commission and the city council.
Traffic is always an issue. It’s always, “We don’t want to turn this two-lane
road into a three-lane road.” Some people believe that maybe if we stop all
development we won’t have to change the roads. For other people, it’s, “How do
we work with developers in their municipalities to channel traffic? Do we send
them away from existing residential areas towards more state highways?”