Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Defining "Family" For Zoning Purposes

Defining "Family" For Zoning Purposes

Recently, as reported by the Post-Dispatch, the City of Black Jack in north county has ruled against an unmarried couple with children in their application for an occupancy permit.

It appears such ordinances do comply with existing state laws in Missouri. As the article notes, "In 1985, the city of Ladue sued a couple for violating a city ordinance prohibiting an unmarried man and woman from living together if they were not 'related by blood, marriage or adoption.' A year later, the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the couple, who had lived in the home since 1981."

The article fails to mention that couple's identities: Terry Jones and Joan Kelly Horn. The appellate case was City of Ladue v. Horn, 720 S.W.2d 745 (Mo. App. E.D. 1986).

These days, neither UMSL Professor Jones nor former Congresswoman Horn (who also was director of the City of St. Louis Community Development Administration for a couple years) live in Ladue.

But perhaps their efforts did accomplish something in posh Ladue nevertheless. The current City of Ladue Zoning Ordinance defines "family" for their purposes as:

"Family. (a) One or more persons related by blood, marriage or legal adoption, or (b) any number of persons so related plus one unrelated person, or, (c) two unrelated persons, occupying a dwelling unit as an individual housekeeping organization."

Perhaps Black Jack should consider a similarly modern definition of family for occupancy permit and zoning purposes.

Also not mentioned in this P-D article is the history of exclusionary zoning practices by the City of Black Jack in the 1970s (Hint: Look up "U.S. v. City of Black Jack" or "Park View Heights Corp. v. City of Black Jack" (1974)). The context is quite different today, of course, since Black Jack is now a racially mixed, majority African-American municipality.

As far as I know, the City of St. Louis Housing Conservation Districts ordinance simply limits the number of individuals who may reside in any given dwelling unit, based on square-footage and number of bedrooms. Although it sure ain't perfect, it also seems like a pretty reasonable approach, which doesn't required defining what a "family" is.

Ultimately, is it really the job of local government to define what is and is not a "family"? Such morality-based ordinances seem incredibly outdated.

1 comment:

Urban Review - St. Louis said...

Great post! So many other rules exist that make it difficult to live like we used to. For example, the garage apartment is allowed only in a few places. These are great for the mother-in-law or the college aged teenager, or just for some additional $ to help with the mortgage.

I'm glad to see Ladue has changed their definition of family. They have enough gay couples in their city they were probably forced to, since these couples can't get married.