Few citizens realize the power wielded by local governments until they attempt to make use of their own property. A pattern of Supreme Court decisions dating back to the 1920’s has eroded property rights to an unconscionable level. (See Euclid v. Ambler, 1926 for background. This case established the precedent eventually leading to the infamous Kelo v. New London decision of 2005. The wheels of government bureaucracy grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine.) Local city planners have power that is near absolute. Their frivolous decisions lead to your misfortune.
A client recently bought a small non-record lot in the city with plans to build a house on the property. The lot previously had a house that was removed. A nice asphalt driveway is still there. The lot has been in existence in its present dimensions since the 1930’s. Note that the lot’s existence predates the city’s zoning ordinance by over 40 years. Common sense would dictate that the lot be exempted from modern zoning restrictions since it is ‘preexisting’, but common sense rarely holds sway with bureaucracies.
The lot width is 60 feet where the current subdivision regulations for the city require 75 feet. The city zoning department and the Metropolitan Planning Commission do not accept the argument that the lot should be exempt from the regulations. Neither will they provide relief through the variance process. ‘Sorry,’ the bureaucrats shrug. We are told they will look into it and may have a solution in six months or so. Meanwhile our client is awaiting the results of our survey, investigation and meetings with the city. Nice things we get to relay to him. “Perhaps you can use your property in six months, Mr. Client, if at all.”
Think of it. A citizen buys a nice lot from a seller, both acting in good faith. The citizen ‘assumes’ he will be able to use the property just as it has been used in years past. This use is in perfect keeping with the many surrounding houses. “Not so fast,” says the city. “Nothing is that simple any more. You didn’t think that you could actually use the property, did you? You’re just the owner. Your interests must bow to those of the community” – as the city sees them. With an imperious wave of the hand and a stroke of the keyboard, city officials have rendered hundreds, if not thousands, of parcels useless. Turned from an asset to a total loss and a mere tax and maintenance liability. Who compensates these owners for the loss and the new burden of ‘ownership?’ Do you realize that this means if a house located on a ‘substandard’ lot burns to the ground that the owners will be forbade from rebuilding?
This is the dictionary definition of fascism dear readers. Assets remain in private hands while the government controls them. This is more pernicious than taking. Outright taking would be too honest. It is not just the federal government that is gunning for the citizenry, local governments are moving in lockstep.
Man has to work and produce in order to support his life. He has to support his life by his own effort and by the guidance of his own mind. If he cannot dispose of the product of his effort, he cannot dispose of his effort; if he cannot dispose of his effort, he cannot dispose of his life. Without property rights, no other rights can be practiced. – Ayn Rand, Capitalism, The Unknown Ideal, p. 18
Word to the wise: Get the survey first. Let us know your intentions. Pay a few hundred dollars up front for due diligence. It may be money well spent. Our economy is on the ropes. Thanks for the assist, City of Knoxville.
Note: We attempted to contact the City Law Director for this article since that is the office responsible for interpreting the zoning ordinance. We were able to get him on the phone, but were immediately referred back to the city zoning office. The city zoning office indicated that the consequences of this ordinance may have been inadvertant due to unfortunate wording. They may correct it in the future but have no idea when. Meanwhile building permits are denied and property owners deprived of the use of their own property. The buying public is deprived of the chance to purchase a reasonably priced home in a niche market (100k range).
The moratorium is in effect for ‘sub-standard’ lots. That is, new construction on lots deemed newly created that do not meet the current zoning ordinance.