It’s Called Free Enterprise

The City Council has decided that there are just too many banks on the Upper West Side.

As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have asked, what’s next? Will the Council tell Starbucks to move some of its stores a little to the east, or north? Will the Council set a limit on the number of greengrocers in the neighborhood?

And why stop at the Upper West Side? Why not regulate for the entire city? Surely the Upper West Side is not so special, not so—dare one say it—elite that it is the only neighborhood deserving of special protections against banks, coffee shops, greengrocers, fast-food joints and other such grievous assaults on urban life.

Whether or not we are headed down such a slippery slope remains to be seen. For the moment, however, the Upper West Side has been saved from the devastation that follows the opening of banks in otherwise healthy neighborhoods. Who said the City Council is good for nothing?

According to a zoning change that the Council recently approved, street-level storefronts in general will be limited to 40 feet in width on the Upper West Side. Banks, however, will be allowed just 25 feet. The measure came about after the local community board complained about the proliferation of banks in the neighborhood.

Residents have only themselves to blame, of course. Had they kept their money under their mattresses, banks would have had no reason to invade the neighborhood. Instead, residents apparently chose the security of FDIC-insured accounts, and, voilà, through the miracle of supply and demand, bank storefronts appeared on Amsterdam Avenue, Columbus Avenue and Broadway, spoiling the neighborhood’s rustic charm.

Mayor Bloomberg’s initial skepticism of the zoning change has given way to approval, which is unfortunate. The mayor generally is an advocate for common sense in matters of private property rights, but on this occasion, planning commissioner Amanda Burden apparently persuaded him that banks truly were a blight that had to be legislated away.

This silly and discriminatory zoning change is a lawsuit waiting to happen. The New York Bankers Association has taken a “wait and see” attitude, but that shouldn’t last very long. The group has every right to take this case to the courts. With any luck, a judge will ask defense counsel, “what’s next?”

That will put an end to this misbegotten regulation.