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Well-intended though it may be, a still-developing property-rights resolution proposal would be bad for Roanoke County.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
One Roanoke County supervisor’s quixotic quest to protect private property rights would erode them, by the common understanding of the concept. Advocates miss the irony because they miscast competing private interests as battles between “the people” and government.
Tellingly, a Regional Chamber of Commerce spokesman spoke in opposition when Supervisor Ed Elswick first floated his idea of a private property rights resolution to a skeptical county board of supervisors. Simply put, it would not be good for new or expanding businesses.
Elswick’s resolution-in-progress is posted online with the board’s latest agenda, with a statement explaining why he thinks it is necessary. That would not have been needed had he called it, more properly, a resolution for the protection of neighborhoods against unwanted development.
Maintaining the integrity of neighborhoods is a good thing. The draft resolution is filled with clauses most residents would applaud: Whereas . . . “the County intends to manage growth in a positive way . . . ; to empower our citizens to protect and maintain their neighborhoods . . . ; has adopted ordinances and programs to preserve the integrity of the surrounding mountains and open space . . . .”
All products of planning by local government to protect quality of life, a process we heartily endorse — to a point. Because government regulation, whether by local ordinance or state or federal law, infringes on an individual property owner’s right to do whatever he pleases with his property.
The deep flaw in Elswick’s proposal is its confusion of a collective interest with private property rights. Indeed, he identifies the latter as “the foundation of individual liberty” and cites in support of his resolution a recent state constitutional amendment “that no private property shall be damaged or taken for public use without just compensation.”
But the projects that have drawn his scrutiny — Keagy Village, a proposed Home Depot, the county’s Industrial Wind Turbine Ordinance — did not involve government “takings” of property for public use. They were controversial private development proposals. Neighbors objected that their property values would be hurt.
Zoning ordinances lay out rules for development that need to be applied fairly and consistently, but with enough flexibility to meet changing circumstances. Sometimes, elected officials must decide between conflicting goods. Then, neighborhood groups complain, their interests get short shrift.
So Elswick proposes a new Site Plan Review Committee of citizens from affected civic groups to give input on projects before formal public hearings. A self-interested party lacking expertise and objectivity not only would be a high hurdle for developers. It would be unnecessarily duplicative: The planning commission, appointed by elected supervisors, is a citizens group that weighs community interests. Both bodies hold public hearings on development plans.
Elswick makes some useful suggestions about making the process more accessible — a planned website improvement should address that need. Narrow group interests do not always align with those of the larger community. Taken altogether, though, they do define the kind of community the county will be.
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