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Love your neighbor. But if you’d rather not . . . pass a law?

The Planning and Zoning Department for the city of Casper is studying a measure, recently referred to them by the City Council, which would restrict people owning homes and businesses from displaying cars for sale without a dealer’s license. If the measure is adopted, one could still sell his or her own car on personal property, but could not display someone else’s car, either as a favor or for a fee.

According to the Casper Journal (Volume XXXIV, Number 39, page A10 – article unavailable online):

City Manager Tom Forslund said the new law was requested by some business owners with highly visible locations, who felt in an awkward position when valued customers requested permission to use their lots to sell a car or truck.  Forslund also said complaints had been received about homeowners in high traffic neighborhoods . . . renting their driveways to people wanting to sell their vehicles.

Whether the “business owners” were car dealers was not specified. Casper would not be the first city, even in Wyoming, to adopt such a zoning law: The town of Jackson has development regulations that heavily restrict commercial use of land, including the sale of automobiles.  The aesthetic sensitivities of neighbors and town officials frequently drive zoning, often to absurd levels. The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit litigation group, has fought a number of local commercial sign regulations on free speech grounds, including this case in Washington state.

Zoning laws hinder business by forcing entrepreneurs to focus on details such as signage and parking lot restrictions instead of serving customers and making a profit.  Yet the American entrepreneurial spirit is usually strong enough to take most restrictions in stride. It’s only the most egregious laws, those that completely shut out a business or activity that usually draw public ire.

This may be one of those times.

Casper’s careless (or car-less) move toward restricting sales would have serious consequences: first, in commercial areas it would insulate car dealerships from competition. Individuals can almost always expect to get paid less by a car dealership for their used vehicle than if they sell it on their own. Unless one lives on a busy street, there will be almost no other option to publicly display their vehicle than to sell to a dealership.

Another consequence, the cultural consequence, is the message the Casper city government would send to its residents with this restriction: if you can’t work out your differences, we’ll just pass a law. Perhaps some neighborhoods would be better communities if third-party sales and displays of cars were prohibited, but this is probably not the case in every neighborhood in Casper. Through neighborhood associations and community involvement, residents could themselves determine what’s best for their respective neighborhoods.  City government is certainly more in tune with the community than the state or federal government, but something as trivial as automotive sales doesn’t call for a blanket restriction across a town of more than 50,000 people.

I’d rather avoid “teachable moments” by elected officials, but it would be a fine lesson to the people of Casper if the problems of a few passive business owners and residents were left on their own plates, and not “solved” by restricting car sales to established dealerships.

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Monday, 20 November 2017

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