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Ethnicity: a justifiable criteria for considering a variance?

Dan

Dear Leader
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aerdona's post on pig slaughtering caused me to ponder the following: should race, culture or ethnicity be considered as a criteria or hardship in justifying a variance, or even changing zoning or design requirements?

Consider the following scenarios:

1) The "signature color" of the Professor T.J. McBuffonery's Good Time Eatery and Drinkery chain is red. In their stock buildings, at least 50% of the wall area is red. The architectural design regulations of the community state hat only 5% of the surface area of a wall can be a primary color. Professor T.J. McBuffonery's Good Time Eatery and Drinkery insists that all their buildings be 50% red to maintain "consistent corporate identity."

2) Rudy Montoya is opening "El Jalisco," a Mexican restaurant in a freestading building formerly used for a convenience store. He wants to paint the entire building red and yellow. His justification: Mexican-Americans like bright reds, greens and yellows, and traditionally commercial structures in Mexican cities and towns are painted bright colors. Having a brightly painted building for a restaurant is part of the culture.


I've heard planners defend variances or waivers of certain regulations based on cultural preferences. What they never explain, though, is why Rudy Montoya should be more entitled to a red building than the chain.

Slaughtering pigs ... let's say an Anglo or African-American wanted to start such an operation near a school or day care center? It would probably be denied with extreme prejudice. Now, let's make it Mexicans, or Dominicians, or Hatians. "Easy accessibility to freshly killed pig is part of the Bolivian culture. 50% of the Bolivian diet is pork." (I don't know if that statement is true, but let's just assume for argument's sake that it is.) Now what?

Othier things to ponder:

Why should the Hmong be entitled to have poultry in residential areas, when such a use wasn't considered acceptable for others?

Should accomodations be made for ethnic groups that eat what are considered by Americans to be companion animals? If you saw skinned dog carcasses hanging from hooks outside a meat market, does it make it any better if the butcher was named Park instead of Smith? What about fighting animals, where it's an important part of a culture? When I lived in New Mexico, Hispanic groups would complain whenever the police busted a cockfight or dogfight - "They're oppressing a part of our culture, those racists!" Should zoning allow for animal fighting?
 

giff57

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a justifiable criteria for considering a variance?

Ok, I am not afraid to say it. These are just more examples that the politically correctness pendulum has swung too far. Ethnicity should not be a factor in granting variances. While in grad school I lived in a university apartment complex. Accross the courtyard lived a Middle Eastern couple. This guy was a wife beater, plain and simple. His argument was always "that's our culture" Where do you draw this line?
 

Wannaplan?

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Variances based on design and use are different issues

Here's my two-cents, though I don't claim to have thought this through thoroughly. I'm just a grad student, so please be gentle.

It feels like there should be a difference between granting a variance based on design as opposed to a use. In terms of livability, I hope a community can deal with buildings that have vibrant primary colors. A few buildings like that in a sea of muted earth-tones and pastels should be tolerable and shouldn't cause any permanent eye damage. But in comparison, the pig-slaughtering scenario is a deeper issue and has nothing to do with design. If it was me, I would be partial to granting a variance based on a design that is relevant to an ethnic group's tastes and heritage. However, if the argument was ever presented that cock-fighting or public floggings should be accomodated for the sake of ethnic heritage, then I'd be hard-pressed to grant a variance. Last time I checked, ethnic expression in this country through art is acceptable, however, ethnic expression through behavior is highly regulated at federal, state, and local levels.
 

mike gurnee

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I think the scenerios are worthy of discussion, but the original question is wrong. No variance should be granted based on ethnicity. It is not one of the grounds in any legislation I have seen, and I do not believe such would stand judicial review. A wise board of appeals/adjustment should not grant such a variance, but rather direct the staff to vist the ordinance in light of these circumstances.
 
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Here's a simple answer from the Queen of Denial - NO. A precedent may be set that may make a denial even harder in the future or lead to senseless litigation.
 

mike gurnee

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Now for the second part of Dan's question. Yes, we should consider race, culture, and ethnicity when drafting zoning and design regulations. Hopefully a community's diversity is represented on review committees. If not, there are other ways to solicit viewpoints.

I am currently struggling with housing occupancy standards. Our Viet Namese and Hispanic customs have extended families under one roof, at least until they are financially established. Perhaps a bad example, but the first one that comes to mind. I know of one metro area that proclaims in their ordinance that occupancy standards are not regulated due to the cultural traditions of certain population segments.

As for design standards, I have problems with the concept unless there is solid justification. Being all for preservation and revitalization, I can usually justify standards in a CBD. Santa Fe or Taos would be ruined if modern plastic styles were allowed downtown. But would it bad on the outskirts?

Our town has a few brightly painted houses, favored by some Hispanics, and many people want it regulated. In San Francisco, bright colors may be required for Victorian houses. Point is to justify the regulations in light of your population segments as well as your economy and history. Is not heritage a part of history?

When it comes to health and safety, stand firm. Pig slaughtering is not permitted in residential back yards even though it is a festival tradition for some. Raising chickens is not permitted in residential areas. That is, these are not allowed now--they were before we revised the codes.
 
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