Editorial: Peaceful coexistence through zoning

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There was an interesting discussion on a recent OBSERVER AM broadcast where the topic focused on the newly constructed Bay Street pigsties. The guests were pig farmer Fitzmorgan Greenaway and Chief Health Inspector, Lionel Michael.
The interview got started with a question to the pig-farming expert that related to why pigsties should not be located in residential areas. Mr Greenaway smartly and rightfully steered the conversation towards the larger picture of land use. He said, “There are bigger issues beyond just the isolated situation that we are recently dealing with at Bay Street … it would be difficult to give a quick fix or a yes or no answer to a particular situation when we do not look at it in a holistic manner.” He added, “There are a lot of other factors surrounding why we are where we are at, at this point in time.”
It was then that Mr Greenaway dove into the issue of land and it began a discourse that looked into the wider issues. Issues that transcend pig farming and touch on the way we live and the rights of individuals to make a living and to just live peacefully. “Coexistance” is the term that Mr Greenaway utilised and there is little to disagree at a high level. The devil, of course, is in the details.
The segment may have been a discussion on pigs but it was a good example of the need for a clear land use policy and more specifically zoning regulations. We have touched on the need for zoning on more than one occasion but this latest dust-up is another good opportunity to thrust the topic back into the public for discussion.
Credit to Mr Michael as well. He went beyond the land use and rights issues to include the environmental and health impacts. In addressing the issue of livestock farming, he said, “The manner in which they keep these animals and the manner in which they raise these animals is a serious public health and environmental concern.”
It is at this point that we can start to look at this issue with an even broader lens. Rest aside the fact that we started this discussion talking about agriculture or farming and start to look at the big picture. What about mechanic shops, body repair shops, restaurants and pretty much any non-residential/commercial entity that could encroach on a person’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their home.
OBSERVER has fielded countless complaints from residents who are shocked that the authorities allow various commercial businesses to operate from the middle of residential neighbourhoods. We have all heard the complaints of the impact of “shade tree mechanics” who take over streets with abandoned cars and perform their work in the roadway, literally. Traffic becomes a mess and the neighbourhood becomes a mess from all the used oil and old car parts littering the now grass-less lawns.  Ironically, some people have referred to the look and stench as a “pigsty”.
Or how about the neighbour who decides to open a restaurant? Suddenly, barbecue smoke chokes the air, with those downwind suffering the most. The traffic increases to the point where cars are parked everywhere, with no regard for private property, or safety. And speaking of safety, parents and children become prisoners in their homes for fear of something bad happening.
With just these few examples, you can see the need for a clear land use policy and zoning regulations. And let us not forget enforcement because without enforcement, the rest is pretty much useless. So far, we seemed to have coexisted and practiced a ‘live and let live’ way of life. We enjoy freedoms that many in the world envy but it all comes at a cost and many times the freedom of one person tramples on the freedom or rights of another person, the community or the nation.
Just think of a pig farm or mechanic shop on the banks of a lagoon. One that has abundant mangroves and is a breeding ground for sea-life. What happens when the pig waste and automotive oil leach into the earth and contaminate the sensitive ecosystem? It is not just the community or the fisherfolk that suffer, we all suffer.
Visitors often come to our shores and marvel at how free we are to do as we like. Similarly, we are sure that you can identify some rule or regulation that you have witnessed in another, more developed, country that made you say “Nah!  I couldn’t live like dat!” as you long for the freedoms of home.
The point is that these countries have evolved. In days gone by, they would have enjoyed a ‘live and let live’ attitude but as time progressed, they realised that coexistence requires some rules. Yes, the farmer needs to be near his livestock but it does not mean that the livestock needs to be near the farmer in a residential neighbourhood. Yes, the mechanic needs to be able to practice his trade but not at the expense of his neighbours’ comfort and safety. And, yes, people barbecue at home but rarely do they do it on the scale of a restaurant and have their friends and family invading the neighbourhood at all hours of the day and night.
What these countries have realised is that a land use policy and zoning combine for the answer. Certain areas are carved out for residential and certain areas are commercial. There are even mixed-use areas. The end result is:  expectations are set and people can rely on the zoning and enforcement to maintain their peace and the value of their property. That is why any change to zoning is not usually an easy feat to accomplish. It requires consultation and a certain level of agreement.
Zoning protects both sides. If you build your home near or in a zone that allows pigsties then you can hardly complain about the stench. If you buy the condominium above the nightclub, you cannot then complain about the noise. Zoning helps bring order to what can become chaos.
With all of this in mind, it is time that we evolve and look at zoning in our bit of paradise.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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