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Monday, July 19, 2004

LET ME GUESS: COMMERCIAL ZONES ARE FOR FAIR-TRADE COFFEE, AND RESIDENTIAL ZONES ARE FOR "SAY NO TO BUSH" SIGNS  

A story in Friday's Star Tribune provides an illuminating peek into the workings of the Minneapolis City Council. The story concerns Sam's Club and its quest for a zoning variance so it can open a store in Northeast Minneapolis. The proposed site is in an industrial zone, where retail stores are evidently not allowed, so Sam's Club is arguing that it's not a retailer but a wholesaler. The city's zoning administrator didn't buy the argument, and now the city's Zoning and Planning Committee, whose deliberations prompted the story, has rejected it too. (The variance request is marching on to the full City Council for a vote next week.)

Here's what Council Member Lisa Goodman had to say (emphasis mine):
"If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck. You sell stuff. It's retail. This belongs in a commercial district. I can't even believe we're having debate over this," she said. "Industrial zones are for living-wage jobs."
Well that's funny. I always thought industrial zones were for, you know, industry.

Now, we can have a debate over whether Sam Walton's empire is evil or just efficient. Seems to me that as long as the transactions between Wal-Mart/Sam's Club and its customers and employees are voluntary there's not much for third parties to complain about, though I'm open to counterarguments. And I don't have much of an opinion on whether or not the variance request is reasonable as a matter of zoning law, though I'm puzzled about why a retail use in an industrial zone is objectionable, since there would seem to be little incentive for a true retailer to open up in an area filled with loading docks and factories instead of shoppers.

But what on earth does a company's wage structure have to do with zoning? Unless, of course, you're on the Minneapolis City Council, where you can feel free to advance your agenda by any means possible.

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