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Is your private property in jeopardy?

By Henry Lamb
web posted October 31, 2005

In the United States of America, where private property was considered to be sacred by the founders, and where the right to private property is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, your private property is not in jeopardy - unless: (1) your property lies within a municipality; (2) your property lies within a county; or, (3) your property lies within federal land.

There was a time when local elected officials created building and zoning ordinances to ensure that structures met minimum safety standards, and to separate residential from commercial properties. These ordinances had to be acceptable to the people governed by them, or the local elected officials would be replaced, by new officials more responsive the will of the governed.

This fundamental principle of freedom gives meaning to the idea that government is empowered by the consent of the governed.

In recent years, this principle has been replaced by a new idea, advanced by the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. Goal number 8, of the PCSD, says:

"We need a new collaborative decision process that leads to better decisions; more rapid change; and more sensible use of human, natural, and financial resources in achieving our goals."
This new decision process empowers professionals to make the policy decisions which govern how people must live, and empowers bureaucracies to implement and enforce these policies.

During the sustainable development epidemic of the 1990s, the federal government provided millions of dollars in grants to the American Planning Association to develop a master plan which would bring all communities into compliance with the PCSD’s vision of sustainable development.

The 1500-page plan is called Growing Smart Legislative Guidebook: Model Statutes for Planning and the Management of Change.

Prodded by state-level planning professionals, and enticed by the promise of federal funding for implementation, state governments rushed to enact state comprehensive planning laws fashioned by the American Planning Association. Invariably, these state laws require counties to develop local comprehensive land use plans that conform to the regulations set forth in the APA’s master plan.

Municipal and County governments, dependent upon state and federal government funding, have no choice but to comply with the dictates of the state’s comprehensive planning laws. Consequently, it no longer matters what the people who are governed want, they must comply with the regulations designed and decided by the professionals, and implemented and enforced by government bureaucrats.

These regulations may be so detailed as to dictate the varieties of plants that may be used for landscaping, the color of paint used inside and outside structures, the size and color of business signs, and require that materials used for construction be certified as "environmentally friendly" regardless of the cost.

One of the more onerous concepts introduced in the master plan is the idea of "Amortization of Non-Conforming Uses." This scheme allows structures that do not meet the new regulations to continue in use for a specified period of time. If the structures are not brought into compliance by the deadline, the owner loses his right to the property, which could be taken by government, without compensation.

No private property within any municipality or county is safe from this new vision of sustainable development.

People who have a property interest in federal land are in even greater jeopardy. Ranchers, who have invested thousands of dollars and years of sweat-equity in fences and watering systems, are seeing their grazing allotments reduced to the point of economic non-viability. Loggers are now prohibited from harvesting timber on vast stretches of the national forest. Miners and drillers who pay for leases and invest millions in equipment are denied the right to extract natural resources from federal land. People whose families have invested in summer cabins on federal land are discovering that their permits are not being renewed, and the cabins are being confiscated or destroyed. Off -road vehicle enthusiasts are finding it increasingly difficult to use federal land. Even sightseers and bird watchers have discovered that new signs are spawning all across federal lands, that read: "Area Beyond This Sign Closed - All public entry prohibited."

Ownership of private property means that the exclusive right to use the property belongs to the owner. Restrictions on the use of private property, imposed by any authority other than by elected officials accountable to the people who are governed, is usurpation of a fundamental principle of freedom.

This "new collaborative decision process" called sustainable development, effectively extinguishes the rights of property owners, as well as the idea that government is empowered by the consent of the governed.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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