STEVE SPELLMAN: When government interferes, good projects often suffer

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Columnist Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” on 89.5 FM KOPN at 5 p.m. every Tuesday.

Last November, voters made Missouri yet another state to approve medical marijuana. The average person in favor of the issue came to assume patients would be able to get approval from their doctor and pick up their prescribed cannabis dosage at the corner store in the near future.

Not so fast.

The state bureaucracy is methodically rolling out rules and time frames where producers must get government approval to even start operations.

The application filing fees alone cost thousands of dollars, for example, which can be regressive for small start-ups. There is a cap on the numbers of certain kinds of producers who will be approved statewide and within regions of our state.

Designers of Amendment 2 intentionally included several restrictions in order to address common concerns from opponents, and perhaps wisely so, as the measure did pass.

Oddly enough, progressive Columbia was going to place major stumbling blocks before local producers, processors, retailers (dispensaries) and consumers.

Amendment 2 offered municipalities flexibility but defaulted to a 1,000-foot setback from family-friendly buildings like schools, day care centers and churches, which city staff unfortunately proposed to strictly maintain.

That would have made any shop downtown illegal, pushing dispensaries to the edges of town — certainly not what local voters expected.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and ultimately the City Council itself, decided to liberalize the setback to 500 feet and also eliminate another stipulation, that dispensaries be on the second floor — a counterintuitive notion for many patients with disabilities.

In other news about government regulation, our state legislature passed a bill this spring that reduces the time frame for legal abortions.

Bureaucrats also required Planned Parenthood to track down non-employee service providers for interviews with regulators as a condition of renewing its operating license.

This is on top of an existing requirement to keep an admissions contract with a hospital within so many miles. The result became obvious: A St. Louis abortion provider was nearly regulated out of business, which would have made Missouri the only state without such a facility in nearly half a century.

Even the political left may be getting a taste of what government overregulation looks like. And there’s more.

Columbia requires — yes, requires — businesses to have a minimum amount of parking available, which encourages surface lots and results in less density and more stormwater runoff.

In a similar manner, small, infill and green developments are often regulated out of existence, too.

Local photographer Amir Ziv had an idea for cottage homes on a couple defunct lots just west of downtown.

But his development — three humble bungalows — were classified in the building code as an apartment complex, requiring expensive overbuilt infrastructure, stifling this beneficial project from coming to fruition.

I recall just over a decade ago when the visionary Bear Creek Community tried to develop energy-efficient homes that fit nicely into the adjacent woods and native prairie.

But the city’s rigid requirements discouraged such out-of-the-box thinking about trash facilities, the width of driveways, etc.

So, by the time the developers finally started getting exceptions approved, the national housing crash had set in, and the plans fizzled out.

About 15 years ago, Columbia was awarded funding for a non-motorized transportation pilot project called GetAbout Columbia to expand its bike and pedestrian network.

I recall then-Mayor Darwin Hindman (a big proponent) saying he wished we could just get a Bobcat and build a good trail. Then he lamented that federal red tape meant such a project would be delayed and the grant money would not go as far as it should have.

I recall a Columbia Public Schools official bemoaning the necessary hoops to jump through before building the newest middle school on Columbia’s southwest fringe — the extraordinary costs for adjacent road improvements, including a roundabout down the road from the school itself.

Hearing this, several local real estate agents pointed out that CPS now knows how they have felt for long time.

And yet, restrictions on reasonable activities are sometimes amended.

When the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture noted that it was illegal for residents to raise chickens within the city limits, many agreed that this was unreasonable.

Rules were then revised so residents can legally own up to six laying hens.

The city also wisely approved outbuildings on a lot so mother-in-law apartments could become legal dwellings. This helps increase infill and adds to the stock of low-income housing — two sound issues often passively overlooked in general zoning regulations.

A wider commentary on the way low-income housing has been effectively regulated out of existence in this community will have to be a column for another time.

Let’s just end with this: Those who lean left often want more rules that clamp down on business practices and profits.

I admit there needs to be a balance between free markets and consumer and environmental protections.

But we also need to be mindful about the side effects of the limits we impose, because in the process, we might do away with what could be pretty good for society.

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