Zoning laws: Wasilla is no Wayland

Sarah Palin has sought to connect with voters in the "lower 48" by telling them Alaska is just a microcosm of the United States.  It seems doubtful that the GOP vice presidential candidate has been to a town meeting in Massachusetts. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

Mainstwasilla

For while residents here treat proposals for zoning relief as nothing less than potential threats to life as we know it, Palin has had a decidedly different view of rules governing what gets built where:  She’s against them. Perhaps it’s because of the complete disconnect between the approaches to land use in Wasilla and Wayland that the Boston Globe’s Sasha Issenberg reports a 1,400-word story from Wasilla on Palin’s zoning record that has the feel of an anthropological account of a distant civilization.   

Issenberg reports that the centerpiece of then-city councilor Palin’s 1996 victory over Wasilla’s incumbent mayor was her opposition to his effort to introduce zoning to the community.  And the weak zoning plan approved over Palin’s objections was hardly an obstacle to what one Wasilla city councilor calls the "willy-nilly" development of the small town into something that "looks like a big ugly strip mall from one end to the other."

The municipality Palin repeatedly heralded as a classic "small town" in her convention speech has no discernible center and a Main Street in name only.  To its critics, Wasilla has become a famously bad example of suburban growth even by the standards of Alaska, a place where city planners have long noted a dangerous combition of too much land and too few rules about how to build on it.

"Every time we meet with people for the first time, they say, ‘We don’t want our town to be like Wasilla,’" said Thea Agnew Bemben, a planner whose firm has worked in neighboring communities.