Land Development and Property Rights

Land Development and Property Rights

The knee jerk reaction to development of property is frequently for neighboring land owners to band together in opposition. They attend public hearings earnestly voicing their concerns about increased traffic or the negative impact of development on the community. Is this opposition warranted? Sometimes it is. Other times the negative impacts of development are overstated and opposition is fueled by an emotional reaction instead of carefully thought out criterion.

Most land owners think that they should have the right to do whatever they want with their private property. This right is being increasingly intruded on by government regulation. The most intrusive regulations usually come from local government (not federal) in the form of land use restrictions, zoning laws, and property takings. Often, private property rights are outrageously trampled by these laws. One such example is King County, Washington which recently proposed that property owners with 2.5 or more acres may only develop ten percent of their own land!

King County lost a previous case in December, 2000 in which the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that King County cannot use “innovative zoning techniques” to convert agricultural resource lands to recreational uses. It seems that they did not get the message.

There are, no doubt, some neighbors who may be happy with these intrusive laws – as long as it is not their property that is being adversely affected. But what about the landowners who saved and paid mortgages for the better part of their lives to own the property? The public good must be balanced with individual property rights. With government bureaucrats wielding seemingly limitless power, this line is too easily crossed. From personal experience I can tell you that a main function of bureaucrats is to enact new laws and regulations from year to year. Each time a new land use regulation is dictated, someone’s property rights are adversely affected.

I live in a home inside a subdivision. Before my home was here, there was a sprawling dairy farm. Before the farm, there were trees. I am glad to have a place to live. Up the road, there is more undeveloped land. If someone plans to develop the land, would it not be a bit hypocritical of me to oppose that development, thereby denying others the same opportunity to have a place to live as I have been given?

As land use is restricted usable land becomes increasingly expensive, contributing to the rising costs of homes and other buildings. This will ultimately have a negative impact on everyone.

I am not suggesting that land development should never be opposed. I am suggesting that opposition should be tempered with careful consideration of private property rights and the impact of restrictive land use laws on future generations. America, land of the free, is increasingly drifting towards social Marxism.

“The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.” – John Adams

Story from Fox News:

A more recent development in the assault on property rights is the abuse of eminent domain, the process by which government can seize land for the “public good.” The problem is that governments — local, state, and national — have an overly broad interpretation of what makes a “public good.” Often, it means taking land from ordinary people for a pittance, then handing it over to corporations and developers who can offer the state or city more tax revenue. In New Jersey, to cite one example, Atlantic City officials interpreted “public good” to mean that the city could seize the home of an elderly woman so Donald Trump could build a garage for his limousines.

In cases where it is deemed that a taking must occur, or that land use must be denied or excessively restricted, the government (taxpayers) should be willing to pony up the funds to justly compensate the private property owner for their loss in land or land value (see the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). In my view, ‘just compensation’ equals fair market value. Until that occurs, the public does not own the land, therefore encroachment on individual property rights should be kept to an absolute minimum.

A Real World Case

Sometimes, it is clearly not in the best interests of a neighborhood to oppose local property development. The development may be opposed anyway out of an emotional anti-development response. A clear example follows.

A ten acre parcel is being prepared for development. The property is permissively zoned for various uses, including use as a mobile home park. The developer decides to build duplexes on the property. The building of duplexes is only permitted through Use on Review. This means that the proposed use is in conformity with the existing zoning but the use must still be reviewed by the Metropolitan Planning Commission before approval is granted.

At the Use on Review hearing, many neighborhood property owners show up to oppose the approval. The developer states that he is going to develop the property because that is why he bought it. If he is not permitted to build duplexes, he will develop the property according the use that is already permitted; mobile homes will be placed on the property. The opposing neighbors see this as a veiled threat and continue to oppose the building of duplexes.

The Use on Review is denied based on neighborhood opposition. The developer subsequently turns the property into a mobile home park, which was already permissible under the current zoning.

No one can deny that the building of duplexes would be a ‘better and higher’ use of property than a mobile home park. The neighborhood undermined their own best interests and possibly lowered surrounding property values because of an unwillingness to consider the logical result of their actions.

Further Reading

Protecting Private Property Rights from Regulatory Takings

Private property rights: In Florida, a win. In San Diego, a loss.

Private Property Rights and Local Control: Can We Have Both?

Are Knoxville / Knox County guilty of extortion? You be the judge.

Property Rights Cases

Chinese protesters fight suppression of land grab march

2004-07-03T20:24:46+00:00 By |Eminent Domain, Legal issues, Property Rights|