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Supervisor Ed Elswick’s property rights proposal reflects a basic misunderstanding that should worry residents this election year.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
The damage to logic being done by ICLEI conspiracy theorists was on full display at the last board of supervisors meeting in Roanoke County.
Whether the county eventually suffers the ill effects might depend on this year’s elections.
Incumbent Ed Elswick, who is up for re-election in November, offered for consideration a property-rights resolution so ambiguous that the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce’s public policy expert showed up to object.
Which, we suppose, now makes the chamber suspect as part of some shadowy U.N. conspiracy to slay private property rights on the altar of sustainable development.
Let’s be clear. No county supervisor wants to erode private property rights. Not through ICLEI’s voluntary energy (and money) savings measures. And certainly not through Elswick’s property rights proposal, though it represents the real threat.
No. 1 on the list of provisions is that “citizens’ private property rights shall be placed in the highest priority of consideration during planning and zoning activities,” a starting point in many disputes where exercising those rights steps on neighbors’ toes.
A case in point: the right of a Poor Mountain property owner to lease land for proposed industrial turbines — in sight of Bent Mountain, in Elswick’s Windsor Hills District. Though Elswick likes wind power in concept, neighbors’ fierce opposition prompted his unsuccessful fight in 2011 to keep the county from adopting special-use conditions for turbines.
The rights of property owners came into conflict. Who should prevail?
Elswick tries to resolve that with another, inherently contradictory, provision: “That property owners have the right to use their land as they see fit as long as that use does not interfere with the rights of others.”
Sounds nice, but that’s the trick, isn’t it? If they do interfere, why should the rights of one’s neighbors supersede one’s own rights to use private property? Who determines the greater right, as it were, and how?
That’s the function of a zoning ordinance, to give landowners and developers predictability about what will be allowed, either by right or with a special-use permit, and what will not be allowed unless property is rezoned.
Elswick’s proposal “is adding a layer of subjectivity on the zoning process,” the chamber’s Tori Williams commented later by phone. “What is the purpose of this?”
Another provision states residential or agricultural land cannot be rezoned for commercial or utility use “unless there is a significant benefit to the public.” In hopes of blocking dormant plans for a wind farm?
Rezoning was not required anyway; the zoning amendment Elswick fought in 2011 is designed to mitigate the impact on surrounding property owners should turbines ever be built.
His opposition then made no more sense than his latest proposal, which the board majority waylaid for now.
But it touches on several “don’t tread on me” themes likely to appeal to the county’s anti-ICLEI zealots.
Like them, it betrays no awareness that often, one person’s infringement is another person’s assertion of rights. Orderly societies follow laws to sort things out.
That understanding is basic to holding elected office.
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