City government should respect private property rights

When our founding fathers established this nation, they were very concerned with private property rights. British soldiers had been forcibly quartered in people’s private homes, leading to the inclusion of the Third Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments also protect our private property rights against unreasonable searches and seizures, and also forbids taking property without fair compensation. The founders knew that property rights are essential to our liberty and prosperity.

The following quote from the B Square Beacon illustrates that too many of our elected representatives have it backwards when it comes to private property rights:

Committee member Isabel Piedmont-Smith went as far as saying she was opposed to development at the location. “But the more I think about it,.. from its location, this is sprawl and I would actually prefer not to see development there,” Piedmont-Smith said.

Piedmont-Smith added, “”Whatever we put there,…people will have to drive to get there. And it’ll probably be largely people from outside our community that use it.”

The answer to this ought to be very simple: “It is not your property. You should not be permitted to mandate that it remains undeveloped, forbidding the owner from using his own land to benefit himself and create jobs.” If the city wants to prevent development on that land, then the city should purchase the land.

This mentality is not new, of course. From the minimum lot requirement in 1999 to historical designations of private property like the Elks Lodge over the objection of the property owner, city and county government have long been infringing on private property rights.

Because some people are childish, let me be clear: This does not mean private property rights are unlimited. For example, I do not believe that a developer should be permitted to put a hog farm in a residential neighborhood. Government has an interest in reasonable regulations to protect the property rights, health and safety of neighbors. I am not taking an absolutist or anarchist position here.

But the basic orientation of government should be to allow people to use their property without interference. It certainly should not be the position of government to arbitrarily decide that certain property should not be developed at all. That is effectively a taking of private property, even if government does not officially own the land. Property owners should not have to rely on the benevolence of local government to develop their own land for their benefit and the economic benefit of the community.